Thursday, October 9, 2008

Harold Be Thy Name

There's an old joke about a kid who asks his father why God's name is Harold. "What makes you think God's name is Harold", the father asks. Because when we pray the kid answers, we say: "Our Father, who art in Heaven, Harold be thy name".

In the fifties, kids were taught religion by rote...there weren't a lot of explanations. I attended Our Lady of Lourdes in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. There were many prayers where I didn't understand the words, but we dutifully recited them. Those were the days when the Mass was said in Latin; the lyrics to those Latin hymns were pounded into our heads by Brother Justinian, the choirmaster, and I remember them to this day.

We were required to attend 9 o'clock Mass every Sunday; if you were absent, a note from your parents explaining why was required. We sat with our classmates, and listened for the cue from the nun's "clicker", telling us when to stand, kneel or sit. The nuns patrolled the church aisles looking for kids who were talking, chewing gum, or being otherwise unholy. They were then required to sit in the pew next to the nun for the remainder of the Mass. Most of them didn't exhale until they got home.

There were many Catholic rituals that had us gather in the church for elaborate celebrations. The girls were enrolled in "sodalities" dedicated to Mary the Blessed Mother, or to a special Saint. They usually dressed in white, and wore something like laurel wreaths in their hair. From the choir loft where the boys choir sang, the procession of girls as they marched into church looked like a hedge moving up the aisle.

We also had to go to "Confession" at least once a month. (For non-Catholics, the sacrament of Confession requires that you enter a small, curtained booth, kneel to speak through a screened door opening, and tell your sins to a priest, who then gives you absolution or forgiveness). Being kids from Brooklyn who always looked for an angle, we usually lined up outside the confessional booth of Father Gonzalez who, it was rumored, could not really understand English. It never dawned on us that God had no such language problems, and despite the linguistic shortcomings of His representative on earth, would know every dirty little sin we committed.

The fifties was also the height of the Cold War, and air raid drills were routine. We were huddled into the closet, and told to put our coats over our heads. (Any scientist knows that a courderoy jacket is a match for A-bomb radiation fallout). My wife tells me that the nuns in her Catholic school were so tough they told the kids that if the Communists ever invaded America, they should swallow their miraculous medals. C'mon commie, you wanna a piece of me.

The Catholic church's Vatican Council II changed a lot of the things about the Mass that I remember from when I was a kid. These changes were supposed to make our religion more "fan friendly". All I know is that in those days, the church was packed to the rafters; not so today. Maybe we need to go in the other direction.


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