Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rare Catholic Customs

Andreth's comment about knocking on wood jogged my memory, and I thought of an episode in The Path to Rome where Belloc sees a priest on the road and touches an iron key in his pocket. He mentions this action very casually, as if it were a well-known superstition; but I have never heard of such a custom. Does anyone know if this is, or was, a French thing? Or if it has classical precedents? (Belloc had a way of semi-sardonically performing little pagan actions, like pouring wine on the deck of the Nona in the midst of a storm.)

Three years at Christendom have brought many such quirks to my attention. The College has given me innumerable blessings, and not least is the character it has of being a sort of petri dish or scale model of that fabled edifice, the Catholic Culture. We call it the Christendom Bubble; often in scorn, but often as not in gratitude. Once you step inside and remain there for about two years, a remarkable thing happens: something toggles in your mind, and the Catholic worldview becames your default. It's analogous to having "learned" French in high school and then going to live and study in France for four years. Something clicks and then even your dreams are in French. Maybe the Christendom experience isn't that dramatic, at least for people who didn't attend public schools their whole lives, but it seems to come close. The college's Rome program deepens it even further, of course.

(I think the moment I starting "dreaming in French," as it were, was when I first said "Saint Uh-gus-tin" [as opposed to "Ah-guh-steen"] without meaning to.)

So one of the things about living in the Bubble is that you run across random Catholic customs you've never seen or read about. You just notice people doing them, or they mention them in passing. For instance, one of my friends told me to "remember to make a wish" when we went into a certain church in DC. I learned that this friend (and several others) had been told in their childhood that they could make a wish whenever they entered a church they'd never visited before.

There seem to be a lot of customs that have to do with sleeping and dreaming. For instance, some of my CC friends have told me that if you want to know your guardian angel's name, you say a Pater, an Ave, and a Glory Be when you go to bed, and let your desire be the last thing you think of before falling asleep. When you wake up, the first name that comes to mind will be your angel's name. It reminded me of that even more dubious tradition of St. Agnes' Eve, chronicled by Keats, yet more of an urban legend than a real custom - unlike the definitely real labor of the Benedictine nuns over in Trastevere, making palia for all the bishops at "the holy loom / Which none but secret sisterhood may see, / When they St Agnes' wool are weaving piously." (Keats, apparently, also knew the more respectable truth.) Then there are the customs that have to do with water. When we were in Bracciano the other day, one of my friends blessed herself in the lake, just as if it were a huge font. When I asked about this, she said that her dad always blessed himself like that when he came to the ocean or to a large lake. She didn't know why. But it was similar to a custom that turned up on a thread at Amy Welborn's blog awhile back: washing in the sea on the feast of the Assumption in order to get "the cure in the water." If I remember right, everyone who said they had done this was from New Jersey.



Johnno said...

I too found many such oddities when I was in Seminary... glad to see I'm not the only person who'd never heard of such things!

Anonymous said...

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Здравствуйте! Я завершила педагогический вуз. Но методикам обучения дошкольников не обучалась. Сейчас мне предложили учеников 5-6 лет.Скажите, с чего же стоит начать?Спасибо заранее