The Pope’s visit has raised a lot of long buried ghosts. Memories of attending mass with my father. Kneeling with my shoulder pressed against him, the hardness of the wood of the kneelers barely disguised beneath the velvet, the smell of incense and dad’s aftershave, prismatic light pouring through the stained glass window, the music of the latin, and the music. When I was a child the congregation didn’t sing. Just the choir and what music they performed — Mozart and Bach, Pergolasi and Handel. When hymns sung by the congregation were added after Vatican 2 my dad always laughed and said Catholics weren’t good at singing. He was right and apparently it’s still the same. Bottom line — nobody does pageantry and ritual as well as the Catholics.
I never did go through the full confirmation. My mother had been raised in a fundamentalist church, The Church of Christ, and dragged me back there to try and offset the “Popery”. It was an “every word in the bible is literal truth”, full emersion baptism, kind of place, segregated Sunday school classes where the girls were told to be silent, get married and have babies. I kept bringing up idiocies in the bible and getting banished into the hall. The fundie church would send home pamphlets with my mom about the evil of Catholics how the host was made out of dead babies and other crazy stuff. All of which hurt my father a great deal. Not that there wasn’t idiocy on the Catholic side too. I never did get limbo and my dad who had been educated by Jesuits told me to just ignore it. And the whole transubstantiation thing baffled me too.
Upshot was that my parents basically fought the 30 years war over my small person. When I started college I drifted to the Anglican/Episcopalian church. It had the beauty, ritual and music of the Catholics without the guilt or at least not as much. From there I went to Eastern traditions and finally I woke up one day and realized that none of it made any sense to me, anymore then Zeus or Zoroaster or the Egyptian gods made any sense. For me religion had become quaint myths and fairy tales.
But now I’m watching the Pope officiate at mass and the memories come flooding back. I remember being an altar girl at Saint Marks on the Mesa at the early communion service, and missing that sense of wonder. Is it endorphins released by prayer that give people that ecstatic feeling?
I was discussing this with friends who are semi-lapsed Catholics and Mike made a good point. We’re Catholics by culture and tradition not by belief any longer. For although I found myself fascinated by the Pope’s visit, moved by the memories, and this man’s evident kindness and humbleness I can’t forget that the teachings of the church are anathema particularly for a woman. I can’t be equal if I can’t control my reproduction. No woman should have to risk death from a pregnancy. The decision not to have children should not be something worthy of castigation. Gay people should be entitled to equal rights and equal protection. Condoms can save lives in countries ravaged by HIV. This particular messenger is kinder and more appealing, but he’s still singing the same old song with only the addition of issues of climate change which makes him seem far more liberal then he actually is.
So I’ll remember my father, and be glad that Bach and Mozart wrote music for church services and that cathedrals rose to the skies — monuments of beauty, and the Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel but I won’t go back. I can’t.