Thursday, November 1, 2007

All Saints' Day

Today, November 1st, is All Saints' Day and being raised Roman Catholic but no longer practicing, I still remember that it is a HDO - Holy Day of Obligation. Growing up, my non-Catholic friends never understood the difference between a holiday and a holy day. I would just say: "On holidays we don't have to eat ground glass."

All jokes aside, I do remember many of my family's traditions involving our faith and I still remember all the rites, the customs and the HDOs. And I remember how my mother was raised in the Catholic church but she took a more modern view towards it when I was a young boy.

My great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes Austin, was raised in a strict Catholic home in New York City. With her mother, Bridget Farren McGinnes being from Ireland, this made sense. During the turn of the century women had to wear a veil when entering the church, there was no meat consumed on Fridays, you had to fast on Good Friday, etc.

When I cleaned out my mother's house in upstate New York last year, I found evidence of my great-grandmother's faith: many sets of rosary beads, lace veils, missals, mass cards, statues of St. Anthony, St. Christopher and St. Jude. I knew all the saints growing up - my brother and I would take turns grossing eat other out with stories of how certain saints were martyred. My favorite was St. Catherine who was placed on a wooden wheel and tortured, but miraculously the wheel blew apart.

I still think about when I'd call Mom from California and ask her what she was up to. She'd say, "Oh I'm praying to St. Anthony." I knew what that meant - she lost something. St. Anthony was meant to help you find lost articles. As Mom's Alzheimer's progressed, there was a lot of praying to St. Anthony.

My other memories of the Catholic church and my family include my great-grandmother's dismissal of the post-Vatican II mass and practices. They did away with the veil. The started the folk music Mass in the 1970s which she called the "Hootenany Mass." And then the Saturday night Mass at 5:30 pm where people wore jeans! The last straw was the late Sunday Mass at 4:00 or 5:00 pm for some churches. That was the "Lazy Can't Get Your *ss out of Bed because You're Hungover Mass" according to Grandma. She didn't mince any words.

I grew up under Vatican II so for me the priest always faced the congregation, you could always go to Saturday night Mass and wear jeans, and you always sang songs like Kumbaya. But I remember one time when the practice of Offering of the Sign of Peace was introduced right before Communion. You were to turn to the person behind you or next to you and shake their hands and say "Peace be with you." My mother turned around to shake the hand of an elderly woman who had been in the congregation a long time, since dirt. And the woman said "I don't do that crap!" We just howled about that for years.

But what I remember most about Mom and the Church is her independence. Mom was a tough cookie when she had to be and she had strong convictions as strong as her faith. One year around election day when the local priest took it upon himself to tell the congregation who they should and should not vote for (most likely due to their stand on abortion), she stood up and marched herself and her two young boys down the aisle and right out the front door.

Photo: Therese McGinnes Austin poses for her Confirmation photo, 1907.

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