Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Early Remembrances of Religion

I don’t remember the exact moment how or when religion got introduced into my life. I was aware of my older brother and sister going to Mass on Sunday at the children’s Mass at 9:00 A.M...

I would be going to mass every Sunday when I entered the first grade. School at six was more of a concern to me than the church thing.

My mother did the 6 A.M. mass and then came home to start cooking breakfast. In those days you had to fast from Saturday midnight from both food and water if you wanted to receive Communion. Brushing your teeth was a no-no etc. Rituals had their demands.

I did go to church with my mother in the first grade. Mandatory attendance for school children did not start until the second grade.

The people going to mass at 6A.M. were working class who had to go to work on Sunday. No Saturday evening masses back then. The attendees were working people or other mothers who would go home to tend to household duties.

My memory of the first grade was that there was something like 103 students in the class. That rounded down to about 99 after the first week and more or less stayed at that number. The old wood and cast iron desks were bolted together and sometimes you got to sit three in a row. God forbid you got sick and stayed out a day or two. Not only did you lose your desk and seating arrangements but you were likely to lose your pencils, books and boxes of cardboard letters and numbers.

I’ve told people that I started in first grade with 99 kids and graduated in eighth grade with 66 children. I don’t think that they believe me. More about Catholic education in another article.

I didn’t have a clue what was going on when I first attended services in first grade with my mother. There was Father Dougherty who taught at a high school but was in residence at the rectory and helped in the warehouse factory schedule of the and 12:15 masses. Father Dougherty empathized with people who were going to be late for work on Sunday because they felt an obligation to attend. He would race through the mass in something like fifteen to twenty minutes. No sermon and diction that sounded like it was fueled by five cups of coffee.

The nuns in first grade started the religion thing with topics about angels, saints, Jesus, the Blessed Mother, the devil, Protestants and Communists.

In second grade you memorized a lot of boilerplate Catechism and received Holy Communion. I never liked the stepping into a dark space of a confessional and waiting to talk to the small screen and priest beyond. This fear touched something primal within.

Confirmation was more of the same with questions and answers but this time a bishop got to rub some sacred oil on your forehead and you got to wear a red robe, symbolic of the blood of martyrs for the faith.

I was an altar boy and got to see things at a closer range than the congregation. I did accept what was ever handed to me in the text of faith and never questioned anything.

There was high school and in freshman religion class they made you carry around a bible the size of a cigar box. The reading of the bible was in keeping with the PR freshly put out by church management and conforming to the mission statements of Vatican II etc.

I am certain that the awkward size of the bible and the physical pain in carrying it every day to class had to do with the deal or price offered by the publishing company. I doubt that the size of the book discouraged anybody from reading it. Of course there is the old joke about “you’ve never read the bible, you’re a catholic”. It was something I would hear many years later and understand.

After high school, I stopped attending church. It would be something like fifteen years before I started to read the bible and after I read it, something remarkable happened. I had always thought that the New Testament would explain everything. I expected that the gaps in the Catholic religion thing would be filled in and explained in black and white. I expected a boost to my spirituality among other things.

What happened after I read the New Testament from cover to cover was that I realized that I was no longer a catholic. I had become more or less Protestant.