Skip to comments.Are young Catholics Cultural Orphans?
Posted on 07/10/2003 5:17:05 AM PDT by Desdemona
by Joanna Bogle
Are Young Catholics Cultural Orphans?
Recently a Catholic group concerned with promoting relationships with other faiths sent me a collection of brochures describing family life and traditions in Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Japanese Shinto cultures. Catholics were urged to establish contact and learn about the different festivals.
Losing "Folk Catholicism"
But there was nothing for them to take with them about their own culture. Despite the widespread ignorance among young Catholics about the Church's feast-days, fast-days, calendar and traditions, they were expected to go empty-handed with no materials speaking of our beliefs, prayers, or way of life.
A friend described to me enthusiastically a visit made with her Catholic women's group to a magnificent Hindu temple the decorations, the grandeur, the formalities to be observed. They had been careful to dress appropriately and to observe any rituals required of them. They were intrigued by the meanings of the various things they saw.
These incidents came to mind as I spoke to a group of Catholic writers about Catholic customs the origins of things like pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday, the scattering of flowers before the Blessed Sacrament in procession, May crowning of a statue of Mary, the blessing of throats for Saint Blaise in February.
In discussion afterwards, it became clear that there was widespread concern at the loss of our sense of Catholic culture of belonging to a community rich in a heritage of faith stretching back 2,000 years. Many Catholic boys and girls today are more familiar with football rituals than with some of the basic signs and symbols of our Faith. Few would be able to explain confidently, for example, why we genuflect before the Tabernacle or why the priest wears vestments of different colors at various times of the year.
What are we doing? Many young Catholics don't even know we are meant to fast on Ash Wednesday, or attend Mass on various Holy Days. They don't have a liturgical "map" in their heads with landmarks such as Advent, Lent, or Pentecost. Their ideas about Christmas and Easter are formed not by Christians traditions but by commercial ones, and increasingly a paganized Halloween is replacing even the vaguest notions of All Saints Day and All Souls Day and praying for the dead in November.
We are creating generations of cultural and spiritual orphans expecting them to remain Catholics without any links with the past, and without the sense of belonging to a community that has a glorious heritage of which they are a part and to which they can make their own contribution.
The willful destruction of many statues and shrines in churches in the 1970s (under the guise of "implementing Vatican II") is now generally acknowledged to have been a disaster, along with the deliberate and unnecessary abandonment of virtually all Latin in some parishes, so that words and phrases such as "Gloria in excelsis", "Pater noster" and "Sanctus" now mean little or nothing to many people.
But perhaps the greatest loss was the sense of "folk Catholicism", a confidence in our own value as a faith community, a people on pilgrimage together with ideas, songs, traditions and customs that bind us with one another and with those who have gone before.
Revival of the "Domestic Church"
It's not too late it is never too late to make things right. We can and must revive our Catholic memories and traditions. Modern life makes many things easier: we can travel to shrines and places of pilgrimage at home or abroad, we can enjoy great paintings and music via art galleries, CDs, and the Internet, and even family celebrations are easier thanks to supermarkets, freezers and modern kitchens, which take much of the grim labor out of preparing and serving meals.
Pope John Paul II has spoken often of the "domestic Church", the little human community that is the family. A Catholic family home should be a place of welcome and hospitality, where visitors can "catch" something of the flavor of the Catholic faith and absorb its message.
Grace at meals perhaps varying according to the season, or to reflect specific events or needs. A special meal on the feast-day of the patron saint of each member of the family as it comes round. Traditional dishes for great Church feasts, perhaps discovered on trips abroad or in one's own country. Candles on an Advent wreath. Simple meals in Lent with funds saved going to Catholic projects. Commemorative candles from Baptism or First Communion carefully saved and re-lit for special occasions.
All of these things require planning and encouragement, via the Sunday pulpit, from the clergy, who do need to remind us from time to time that our homes should not be shrines to television or merely places where we sleep, launder clothes, and grab snacks from the fridge.
We need reminders, too, about the importance of having a crucifix hanging in our home, together with perhaps a statue or picture of Our Lady and/or of the Sacred Heart and that every Catholic should possess a Rosary, and know how to use it.
Catholic culture should obviously be widely reflected in our schools. It is a delight, on entering a Catholic school, to find a statue of Our Lady that is obviously well cherished and has a votive light or a fresh posy of flowers in front of it. It is sad when our schools seem keener on emphasizing their secular credentials than on celebrating the real values on which they were founded. I once passed a Catholic girls' school boasting the slogan "Educating girls for success", which struck me as being a quite horribly inaccurate vision of what such an establishment should be doing!
We need to think about Sunday as a special day. How often you hear people speak with respect of the ways Jewish families honor their Sabbath rituals, and yet we seem to think we can ignore Sunday Mass if it is a bit inconvenient, or treat Communion lightly, with snacks and sweets munched without thought to the need for an hour's fast.
In today's society, each of us needs to be evangelistic. People are hungry for real spiritual truths. Aromatherapy, counseling, and various diets may have their uses, but cannot answer our deepest needs. We are made for God, and there is an ache in our hearts until we find Him. Using our Catholic traditions and customs, we can restore our confidence in our own faith and learn to share it with others.
The next time some one asks you about Catholic customs and traditions, don't just mumble that we don't seem to have any make it your business to rediscover them and pass them on.
Copyright © 2002 Women for Faith & Family
Joanna Bogle is a British Catholic journalist who frequently appears on radio and television. Excerpts from her A Book of Feasts and Seasons appear on several pages of the Prayers and Devotions section on the WFF web site. She is the author of a book for girls aged nine and up, We Didn't Mean to Start a School ($10 - write Mrs. Bogle at 34 Barnard Gardens, New Malden, Surrey, KT3 6QG, England.)
This article previously appeared in Voices, the journal of Women for Faith & Family, and is adapted by permission.
I can imagine one saying such things of almost any classical style of church, be it Gothic, Renaissance, Byzantine, Mission, etc. Any style except modernist-minimalist-ugly. Most new churches are MMU. It's hard to develop a positive culture, to be shared with the world, around that.
Amen, Becky. God grant us the strength and the grace to come to this wisdom.
Sometimes this is the case even where there are no non-Catholic students to be considered. I saw a 7th grade CCD text with a chapter on mysticism, in which not one Catholic mystic was mentioned (I forget now who they used -- Hindu maybe and a couple of others)!
(The same book also had a chapter on why it's better to work together than alone -- in a CCD text, mind you -- but that's another story.)
A phenomenon in my parish, too. I'll bet I've heard the word "Catholic" in homilies maybe 2 or 3 times over the past few years because they use "Christian" instead. This is also a concern in the Catholic HS my daughter will be attending next year. It sort of subtly promotes religious pluralism, IMO.
I'm not sure "teach" is the right word exactly -- "inculcate" maybe? And, I think, with Catholics there was never just one "Catholic culture" except in the Platonic sense -- that is, Catholic culture was manifest only in various "sub-cultures" -- where I grew up, Irish Catholic, Italian Catholic, Lithuanian Catholic, Polish Catholic, for example.
Some aspects of "Catholic culture" the author menstions -- "like pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday, the scattering of flowers before the Blessed Sacrament in procession" -- I never heard of. Well, I've heard of and even eaten Hot Cross buns, but only because we made my mother buy them once -- they weren't part of our own sub-culture (I think they're British).
Some of the things the author lists are more matters of doctrine and discipline than culture proper, not that such things don't influence and contribute toward the culture.
My daughter asked me recently why we always say grace before meals. She said that none of her friends families say it (and they are all Catholic). I also got into a disagreement with my sons baseball coach as he started to schedule practices on Sunday. I felt so isolated because I was the only one who complained about it. Eventually, other parents came around and agreed with me and the coach stopped scheduling them on Sundays.
I guess my point is that I myself see many parents leaving the instruction of their childrens faith up to the Catholic school or church school. This is so wrong - they are not the ones who have to answer for your childrens lack of faith. The sooner more parents realize this, the better they will understand their responsibilities!
Also the exodus of middle class Catholics out of the big cities (and therefore out of one's ethnic/religious enclave) and into suburbia is a factor here, too.
But parents sent their children to Catholic school specifically so that the home teaching would be reinforced. And, incidentally, the Catholic schools around here (Boston) anyway were doing a better job on the 3 R's than the public school.
In grammar school, we opened each morning with prayers and a hymn (public schools used to). We said more prayers before going home for lunch, and after coming back from lunch, and again before the close of school.
We also had a custom by which, on the hour, the nun (and our teachers were all nuns then) would break into the lesson and say, "Let us remember the Holy Presence of God," and the class would respond, "We adore His Divine Majesty." It was called "Blessing the Hour."
We studied religion as an academic subject, but the nuns made it clear to us that our general behavior would count toward our religion grade.
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