Recently, a dear friend and I were writing back and forth about our ideas on religion. Because we’re having this ongoing discussion long-distance, from Ontario to South Carolina, we tend to elaborate on our thoughts, really flesh them out. It struck me that with a bit of tweaking there was good blog fodder in much of my reply to one of her thoughts, to wit:
I loved your description that religion “takes spirituality and instantly begins to institutionalize it.” Exactly! Until only recent decades, very few people on this earth have been able to enjoy their own spirituality without some institution coming down on them for ‘heresy’, or trying to teach them the error of their ways. Just think of all those zealous but frustrated missionaries who have labored in the fields of the ‘pagans’. Very few groups practicing any one religion have been able to get away unscathed by persecution and prosecution (think of the unfortunate Galileo who was ahead of his time.) The stories of the Inquisition, among others, make me cringe.
I’ve always been puzzled by the Catholic Church’s excommunication. I suppose that in the days where everyone pretty much stayed where they were, it would be a bit difficult if you were shunned by all and no one could or would talk to you, and because it was a big deal to have all the sacraments it was a big deal not to be able to have them. Technically, I am excommunicate. I suppose someone there is waiting for me to repent – they’ve probably got my name, rank, and serial number, right? - but they’ll have a looooong wait. Repentance implies wrongdoing and a conscience that nags at you to rejoin the fold. I guess that in my youth no one could inculcate me properly in the ways and wants of the Roman Catholic Church. Quite the opposite: they alienated me in several ways, one being the change from Latin to bastard English. (More on this at a later date!)
I still do love all the pomp and circumstance. Give me a high mass, even a sung funeral mass, in Latin and I’d be delighted. I loved all the incense and singing. I know most of the mass because I quizzed my brother when he was a new altar boy, and I know the songs because I was in the choir. And do you know that they now have altar girls? (You might not, as I didn't, if you haven't been to a Catholic church for a while.) “Servers” they’re called, just like waitresses are no longer waitresses but servers. (Thought: do they live to serve, or serve to live?) When I was in maybe sixth grade I’d have loved to have been an altar girl. Two of my Granddaughters are servers, and boy (girl?) how times have changed.Recently, the older one was asked to serve at one of the two upcoming ceremonies where the Cardinal would be officiating. Her role there was to hold the book for him. Well, poor child, the Cardinal had bad breath that would fell an ox, and, on top of that, in speaking he continually spit all over her and the book. Now that was a trial: suffer it out and offer it up! Do you think she got her reward for bravery and forbearance by being allowed to carry the cross in the next ceremony? Certainly not! She held the book so well – you’d think it was a practiced skill – she was asked to do it again!
Now that I think of it, maybe I’m glad I couldn’t be an altar girl all those years ago.
I once went to a Russian Orthodox wedding and was just mesmerized by the ceremony – many things done three times in honor of the Trinity. One of the nicest weddings I’d ever been to by the way. The Reception was twofold: champagne and hot hors d’oeuvres, then coffee and wedding cake and petit fours – all of this on the lawn of a lovely restaurant overlooking the harbor.
I love big university or college ceremonies where all the Profs wear their gowns and hoods that signify their school and/or field of study, and have all manner of mortarboards, tams and other hats. I was to one once where the Profs from Spain had black hats with light blue fringe all around the edge. I'd never seen the like before.
And then there’s all the ceremony attendant on any occasion in Great Britain – I love all the tradition and color, all embroidered and tasseled in gold, all red velvet and ermine trim. Have you been watching Queen and Country on PBS? If you are a ceremony junkie like me you will really enjoy this series. I can’t wait to see the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in London. I’m sure they’ll come up with something smashing. And the Queen will be there, so I’ll be doubly delighted.