Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, June 23, 2018

M. Regina Cram

We’d been Catholic for about a year. I wanted to have a Mass said for a deceased relative, so I stopped by the parish office to make the arrangements. I wasn’t certain I had the terminology right but I was pretty sure I could explain myself without sounding like a complete idiot.

So much for my self-confidence.

I stated what I thought was a coherent request. The secretary looked at me curiously, then launched into a complicated reply that made no sense to my unenlightened ears. I tried again, explaining that I was a new Catholic so I might not be saying it quite right but that I wanted an anniversary Mass celebrated for my sister on June 21.

This time she asked if I wanted Option A or Option B. I didn’t understand either one. I’d even practiced my request with a priest friend the previous week; he hadn’t said anything about Option A and Option B.

After two more attempts, the secretary finally understood what I was asking. Great, I thought. We’re done.

We weren’t done. The secretary wanted to know something about greeting cards. At least, that’s what I thought she was asking. It turns out she was asking if I wanted a Mass card. I’d never heard of Mass cards and could not begin to imagine what it was. I’d spent most of my life as a born-again Christian, and born-again churches do not have Mass cards.

The beleaguered secretary sighed. She explained Mass cards to me, and again I had to ask for clarification. Finally she blurted out in exasperation, “You don’t know much about being Catholic, do you?”

I thought for a moment, then answered honestly, “I know a fair amount about what we believe, but not very much about how we do things.”

No kidding.

This fact became evident recently when I observed a curious phenomenon: I saw a woman praying a rosary during Mass. It baffled me. As Catholics, the Mass is our highest form of prayer, so why would we do anything else at the same time?

So I’m writing to you, dear readers, to enlighten me. Can you explain why someone would pray a rosary during Mass? I know it was done pre-Vatican II when the Mass was in Latin, but that was a long time ago.

I have other questions as well. Why do people scurry to arrive at church half an hour early, then sit in the back pew? Why do folks leave Mass after Communion? The Eucharist is the most glorious dinner party we’ll ever attend; it’s like responding to a personal invitation to dine with the emperor. Why, then, would you bolt while the emperor is lingering over coffee? What could possibly be on the agenda that is so pressing?

Then there’s the whole patriotic holiday thing. Why do people leave before the final hymn if we’re singing about God, but remain till the end when we sing a patriotic hymn?

My questions are not meant to be judgmental. Despite the fact that it’s been eight years since we completed our journey into the Catholic Church, there is still much that I do not understand. I’m hoping that readers can shed light on my endless ignorance.

Perhaps my biggest question has to do with passing on the faith to our children. In my former life, children’s enrollment in Sunday School was only a small portion of their religious training, most of which was done at home. As Catholics, however, many parents of my generation don’t know the faith. In such cases, do they hope the CCD program will teach matters that they find difficult to teach themselves?

The problem is that, as one teen remarked recently, if all we do is teach children the rules and prayers, we offer them a dry powder of a religion, not a relationship with the living God.
The faith is not primarily something that’s taught; it’s something that’s caught, and that’s best accomplished at home.

Again, I do not mean for these questions to be judgmental. Parents work hard to raise children these days, and they make an enormous commitment to get their children to CCD, especially considering all the competing activities. I would like to better understand why they make such a major commitment. And if the faith is so important, why would they not attend Mass each week?

I hope to pass along readers’ answers in a future column. In the meantime, you’ll be glad to know that when I stopped by the rectory recently, I was able to hold a perfectly intelligible conversation with the secretary.

At least I thought so.