To church, to rejoice, sort of
January 3, 2016 § 2 Comments
I was raised Roman Catholic and attended church more or less weekly throughout my childhood and adolescence, attended Catholic schools and took all the Catholic rites on schedule.
Like most adults, I stopped practising once I was independent, not through any violent opposition but just because going to church seemed not relevant. Whenever I returned from uni at Christmas or Easter, I felt uncomfortable being one of those ‘special occasions’ Catholics that fill the church at major anniversaries.
I will always be Catholic though.
My children are not baptised, a slightly uncomfortable decision for me but an honest one. I’m not practising religion so why collect an emblem if you aren’t planning to be a member of the community?
We did, however, sign our kids up for (optional) christian education in their state school, and they like it. A few days ago, 9yo asked if he could ‘get some of that religion thing’ I have so I said I’d take him to church.
It was…nice. We sang songs, recited time-worn phrases, sat, kneeled and stood at the appropriate times. I took Communion, showed the kid how to get a blessing. I remembered most of the words of the prayers, though strangely the language has become more, not less, flowery and brimstoney. Like the penitential rite, which I learned as
I confess to almighty God,
and to you here present,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
…and I ask the blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you here present,
to pray for me to the Lord, our God.
I’ve always quite enjoyed its rhythms. Except now instead of “I have sinned” it’s “I have greatly sinned”. And before the second paragraph they’ve added “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” with the instruction “[striking breast]”. Pshhhh.
The priest was kind but, as is mostly the case nowadays, very old and rather fragile and weary, and so was the Brother. Church music has not, I’m afraid to say, improved. There are still prayers set to illogical, unmusical tunes; such vaguely melodic chanting has never inspired me.
This artwork made an impression on me, as an example of the church’s rather depressing mixed messages. The Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel gives Mary her big assignment (being the mother of Jesus), is a major deal. But did you ever see a more downbeat messenger? Rejoice Mary!
Mary receives this news with an equally rapt demeanour. Bugger.
I feel like Alain de Botton now.
To be fair, the Annunciation has almost always been depicted with similar severity and even a sense of grief, perhaps at the gravity of all that is to come. (You’ll be homeless, on the run, and eventually your misfit son will die nailed to a cross.) It weighs on the mood in church though.
Anyway, I’m sure there are better masses and more eloquent priests and more inspiring places of worship to take a child to, but 9yo seemed pretty damn satisfied. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of it.