Thursday, August 18, 2011

Distinctive Catholic Markers

Archbishop Dolan of New York has been fullsome in his praise of our own Bishops for the re-introduction of "meatless Fridays". He calls it "an external marker of our faith".
He says, "Scholars of religion–all religions, not just Catholic–tell us that an essential of a vibrant, sustained, attractive, meaningful life of faith in a given creed is external markers."

For some religions, it might be dress; others are noted for feastdays, seasons, calendars, music, ritual, customs, special devotions, and binding moral obligations.

Islam, for example, is renowned for Ramadan, the holy season now upon them; dress; required prayer three times daily; and obligatory pilgrimage.

Orthodox Jews are obvious, for instance, for their skull caps, for the seriousness of the Sabbath, and for feastdays.
Then he asks, "What about us Catholics? For God’s sake, I trust we are recognized for our faith, worship, charity, and lives of virtue." I am sure he is right that these of real importance but I am convinced Judaism has survived precisely because of its strong identity, most especially in its dietary demands.

But, "What about us Catholics?"

Catholicism was so rich in external signs, and yet we have stripped ourselves or been stripped of so many of them.

Here is my attempt at a list:
Fasting, Feasting, Holydays during the week
Crucifixes, Holy Pictures, statues, holy water marking homes
Family prayers, Family Rosary, Grace before meals
Medals, scapulars, Rosary beads, holy pictures in a wallet or handbag
Novenas, special prayer, Litanies, devotions to Our Lady and the Saints, Angelus
Knowledge of the/a Catechism
Corpus Christi & Marian Processions
Specific Feasts or occasions for celebration First Communion/ Confirmation etc
A specific Catholic way of dying, preparing for death, and remembering the dead
Signs of the Cross, kneeling for prayer, blessing yourself passing a Church
Open Churches with people praying in them
Distinctive dress of priests and religious
Groups, solidalities like the the Knights or the Legion
Having a relative who is a priest or nun
Distinctive architecture marked by Catholic iconography
A particular style of worship, with a distinctive music and as Fr Z points out a distinctive language: Latin
A Catholic way of reading scripture
Monasteries, convents
Retreats, pilgrimages and missions
Lay people concious of Catholic moral and social teaching: hence Catholic doctors, pharmcists, trade unionists
Lay Catholics able to teach or talk about the faith in the public forum
A sense of internationalism, of being Catholicism transcending nationalism, sexuality etc
Loyalty to the successor of Peter
It is not an exhaustive list, I am sure you can add to it.


Bring Back Kneeling said...

I am sure you have missed it, Father, becasue it is so obviously the main difference between Catholics and others - The Blessed Sacrament. Genuflecting towards the tabernacle and receiving the Sacred Host on our tongues while kneeling was once THE obvious and public outward mark of a Catholic. Restoring meatless Fridays is worthless if the real issue of the reception of the Blessed Sacrament is not addressed. Accepting the Host in the hand while standing is NOT Catholic and this is the first 'problem' that must be addressed by the bishops before all others.

B flat said...

Very good , Father. I would add two things, which were distinctively, uniquely, Catholic:
popping in to church, to pay a visit to The Blessed Sacrament.

The other item which was not unique to Catholics, but everywhere recognised as such, was Confession.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes so right, I didn't mention because it is still there, Exposition is coming back, but youi are right about genuflexion.

I have added Corpus Christ & Marian Processions.


Excellent post. This is the stuff we need. Brilliant!

I personally believe that anything we can do beyond the walls of the church, in the community, i.e. more processions (by this I mean the 'long route' instead of the 'short route' because everyone is just a bit embarrassed) then this is the way forward.

An investment in Walsingham is also needed (time, not just money). England need's our spiritual home back. Let's get those candle-lit processions going at Walsingham like they do in Lourdes.

georgem said...

Schools attached to churches arranging for the whole school to attend Benediction every Friday afternoon (well, that's what we used to have).

. said...

I may be becoming a bit of a bore on this subject, but here's one that's sadly near-universally overlooked: the Divine Office! Surely this is a key subject, particularly given the extent to which it has disappeared (even Trads seem to largely ignore it).

Which, given that much of the liturgy is the Office, is problematic. It's like cutting out the Mass of the Catechumens.

I do think that the plainchant settings of the Ordinary are essential, and must be restored to both the EF and OF. It's one area where the need for translation is rather less, since it remains unchanged throughout the year.

But I also think the Church needs to follow that with a junking of over-the-top baroque visual aesthetics and a return to more authentically ancient and Christian art-forms - the Gothic, or, for my preference, the Romano-Byzantine style found in some of the older churches in Rome (San Clemente) and Ravenna (Sant'Apollinare in Classe). Churches are the gate of heaven, and the place where Christ and the Holy Angels come to Earth. They need to look it.

Megan said...

You need a non-Catholic for this.

Crosses with the figure of Christ.
Holy water on the way in.
Social mix.
Genuine enthusiasm about the saints.

Don't announce the hymn numbers.
Don't say when the collection plate is coming round.
Uncomfortable folding wooden communal kneeler with each pew so difficult to stand, and there is a lot of standing.

I think nowadays Catholics go to Mass because they want to rather than feel they have to and that enthusiasm comes across. The feeling that Catholic friends believe there is no salvation outside the Church seems to have faded.

And it's surprising how many I know who go to light a candle, including two Quakers.

Little White Squibba said...

..."this is the first 'problem' that must be addressed by the bishops before all others."
The first? Really?

GOR said...

Yes Father, you covered a lot of bases there. Something I miss is the unashamedly public face of Irish Catholicism of an earlier time. Many of the things you list were part of it but there was an underlying faith that was evident in how people spoke and dealt with day-to-day things. For example:

On hearing of someone’s death: “Lord have mercy on him/her”

Regarding the bereaved: “God comfort them”

Upon entering a home: “God bless all here”

To someone going on a journey: “May God go with you” “May God keep you safe”

About a future event: “God willing…” “Please God…” “With the help of God”

And a lot of “Thank God” upon hearing good news or safe deliverance from harm.

Much of this came from the Gaelic where the standard greeting was: “Dia ‘s Muire dhuit” (“God and Mary be with you”). To which the reply was: “Dia ‘s Muire ‘s Padraig dhuit” (“God, Mary and St. Patrick be with you”).

You’ll still hear that among the older generation in Ireland, but rarely among the youth. While some might consider it quaint or even embarrassing, it was born of a deep faith that recognized God’s hand in everything we do, experience, or suffer in this life – and that this life is merely a preparation for the next.

Mike said...

Here's an example of how they used to do processions, from the Michell and Kenyon Collection:

Would it be appropriate to add Altar BOYS to the list?

Megan said...

I have come back because I am shocked at what I have just read on another blog on one of the "markers" I referred to here= The empty Cross/the Crucifix.
Beneath a photo of a simple wooden Cross it says:
"Bland, meaningless and insulting"

The empty cross is a sign of the triumph over death and evil, the suffering endured, the price paid.

"Bland, meaningless and insulting"? The empty Cross? This symbol of the Resurrection?

With so many Churches Together and Interfaith groups, how has the significance of the empty Cross passed him by?
Crucifix and Cross. BOTH please.

Gigi said...

Benediction - yes please!
Definitely caryying medals, "The Little Cross In My Pocket", Rosary Beads, the little inserts in yuour wallet that state " In the event of an accident, I am a Catholic, please call a Catholic priest, wearing Sunday best for mass, Holy Water sconces in homes, REAL crucifixes in homes, popping into to church just to light a candle and say Hi; and genuflecting! The latter has become a proper bugbear for me now. Relatively few Catholics still genuflect: aside from incapacity, why? When did it cease to be the part of church etiquette and devotion?

Annie Elizabeth said...

How about hoping/praying for a religious vocation among your children? When abroad recently, a atheist acquaintance saw my youngest son (2) walking around solemnly and chanting the asperges as he pretended to sprinkle people.. "Haha" said the atheist, "you'd better be careful or you might end up with a PRIEST in the family" -- said as though he was predicting an avoidable calamity. "Oh wow! Wouldn't that be WONDERFUL!" I replied. He was literally lost for words, didn't know where to look. I had a big grin on my face.

Seriously though, a different approach to the whole life/exams/career thing permeates most faithful Catholic families I know. Vocations - married, religious - are considered, rather than simply "career options".

Fr Ray Blake said...

Anne Elizabeth,
I've just said an Ave for him, not that God gives him a vocation to be a priest, but to be a holy priest, and Gloria Patri for you because that is what you desire.

Mike said...

Here’s how they do it in Munich. (Fronleichnam is Corpus Christi). It says that the procession was 3 kilometres long.

And here’s the procession in a much smaller town in Austria:

They like their processions in Germany and Austria. Any excuse to get into their local costumes and play their brass bands. Wonder how many of them attend Mass on Sundays?

Kneeling Catholic said...

Hey BBK!

love the name!

Annie Elizabeth said...

A profound thank-you Father!

You might enjoy this snippet from our summer hols (the last paragraph):

God bless!

misericordia said...

A post on "Rorate Caeli" discusses the abandonment by many priests of the wearing of cassocks,or even just of clerical suits and Roman collars, in public.

If our priests are now so reluctant to display their Catholicity with pride, what hope for the rest of us?

shane said...

I recognized GOR's statements from my own experience. As a child and a young teenager, I often used to stay over for the Summer in the Irish language districts of west Donegal. Even as a fairly areligious young boy the piety amongst the older peasantry fascinated me and made a very very deep impression on me at the time.

. said...

I do feel a few of these may be a little unrealistic, on reflection. What about turning up late to Mass, or genuflecting on the way out of the cinema?

Bring Back Kneeling said...

Little White Squibba said...
..."this is the first 'problem' that must be addressed by the bishops before all others."
The first? Really?

Yes, the first. If we do not treat the Body of Christ - God - with the utmost respect and reverence then everything else we do is empty and meaningless. Mother Teresa is reported as saying that the biggest problem in the Church today is the reception of holy Communion in the hand.

Daryl said...

"Accepting the host in the hand is NOT Catholic"

Please remember Our Lord's words on the night He ws betrayed...

TAKE, eat, this is my body." (Mark 14.22, Matthew 26.26)

TAKE. A gesture of the hand.

donbtex said...

Holy Days observed on the proper day even if it falls on a Saturday or Monday.

Bring Back Kneeling said...

Daryl said...
"Accepting the host in the hand is NOT Catholic". "Please remember Our Lord's words on the night He ws betrayed...
TAKE, eat, this is my body." (Mark 14.22, Matthew 26.26). TAKE. A gesture of the hand."

On that night the Apostles left their lay status and became priests and bishops.
Also, 'take' is not necessarily a gesture of the hand; people can take in a view, they can take stock of a situation, they can have an intake of breath, etc, etc. In matters of faith and religion we are required to move away from earthly, human, explanations for everything and see things in a more spiritual setting - hence not treating the Body of Our Lord as an object to be given, or received, in hands that have not been anointed for the task. If it now acceptable for every Tom, Dick, and Harriet to handle the Body of Christ then it follows that newly-ordained priests need not have their hands annointed. What is the point of this special ceremony when anyone can finger the sacred Host with unwashed hands?

And while I am on, I think it also scandalous that extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion can receive the pyx after Communion to take out to the parish and they stuff it into pockets and handbags which contain handkerchiefs, cosmetics, and goodness knows what. And then they stand around chatting to friends afterwards before they set out on their way. When I was a boy the priest used to have the pyx on a cord around his neck. If you saw a priest in the street with his head bowed and his hand on his chest you did not speak to him or he to you. We would bow our heads and stand aside. How times have changed.

Little White Squibba said...

"They like their processions in Germany and Austria. Any excuse to get into their local costumes and play their brass bands."
That's got them into trouble in the past.

georgem said...

Small gestures, too. My parents always said "God Bless You" when saying goodnight. Or, when I was travelling: "Goodbye, God Bless You".
It became so second-nature that my family and friends today still get it from me.

Laudator temporis acti said...

A letter commenting on the instruction over Friday penance had this to say:

'At this time Catholics ought not be looking for a separate identity but, together with all Christians, seeking to be identified and bear witness in the way Jesus said his disciples should: "By the love you have for one another everyone will know that you are my disciples." It was precisely in this way that the early Christians were identified, causing their pagan neighbours to comment: "Look at these Christians, see how they love one another." It is, surely, this same witness that our bewildered, struggling communities need today.'

External markers are all very well, but they easily remain merely external. It is the change of heart that really counts.

Gigi said...

@Georgem: I always sign off with "God bless"; it's become a natural thing now. I've always made a point of saying "Love you" when I say goodbye to those closest to me, in person or on the 'phone, and "God bless" just sums up everything that is good, warm and full of grace: I want you to be safe, happy, and know that you are loved. I don't believe it ever sounds trite.
My Mum used to cross herself when a funeral procession went past in the street; I've inherited that, to the embarassment of some friends. My Dad used to kneel for the Pope's Easter blessing, watching it on TV. I think some Catholics may be self-conscious or even apologetic about little traditions being perceived as sentimental. Why? Our faith is strengthened by actions, words, and sentiment.

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