JH is a senior at an all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives in Pasadena, CA.
JH talked to me about a school retreat he just went on, which they host every year:
“We have a different retreat every year, but the senior retreat is called ‘Kairos’…we spend like the last week of classes at a center near Santa Barbara, but they don’t really tell us where we’re going…we just left after school one day. It’s pretty religious-based and we talked a lot about God and the Catholic Church and stuff, but more of it was spiritual, like we talked about our personal relationship with God and spirituality and stuff. On the second day they surprised us with letters from our parents, and both of our parents had to write us a letter with stuff they may not have told us or with like, things they wanted us to know…some people got letters from siblings too, and they mostly talked about how we’re at an important transition in our lives, talking about becoming an adult and stuff. And then we all had to share a lot too, and people talked about really awful things that had happened in their past that we had no idea about, and our teachers and the priests did too…I think we all got a lot closer, opening up like that…I wasn’t expecting to really buy into the whole retreat thing, but I think I learned a lot in the end. When we got back, they led us into the auditorium where all our parents were sitting, and they were cheering for us, and we went and sat up on stage where they talked a little about the week, and then we all had to go up to the microphone and talk about our experiences that week, and then we would go and sit with our parents.”
I asked JH if he felt it was more of a religious retreat or a school/class retreat:
“Definitely more about our class than religion. The religion was a big part of it, but even just going to a Catholic school they were never necessarily trying to convert us or anything, and they were really inclusive both at the retreat and at the school like in general.”
A lot of high schools that have the resources put on these “retreats” for their students, especially at the end of senior year, or the end of their high school career. It helps usher these students through the liminal period, or help them slow down and understand the importance of the transition they’re in the midst of, and by emphasizing parental involvement JH’s school highlights the community aspect, where families would play a big role in celebrating the child’s transition to adulthood. This is actually the first kind of retreat I’d heard of that gave parents such a role – usually it revolves more around the school’s influence and presence in the students’ lives.
I aksed one of my catholic friends if she had any traditions that her Church did.
Me: Really, just whatever you have.
Informant: All right. I was just considering talking about Confirmation. Cause, I’m Catholic, well sort of-ish. I haven’t gone to church in a while, or done anything real religious in a while. But, maybe then I can talk about…Do you want an overview of what it is?
Me: I know more or less what it is, as I did go to a Catholic school for several years.
Informant: Then do you want a specific part, maybe what the actual ceremony is like?
Me: Yeah, maybe.
Informant: Okay. ‘Cause it is a two-year thing, well at least in my church. It might vary from church to church. And some places, the times at which you do confirmation vary some. Like some Catholics would do it younger. But I didn’t go to Catholic school, I just went to the church nearby.
Me: Yeah. At my school, we had the preparation for Confirmation, the class that would prepare us for Confirmation in eighth grade.
Informant: Today is the 26th, right?
Me: 25th, I believe. Okay. So just start talking then. So I went through something similar. I’m not Catholic but I am Protestant, but we went through a “Confirmation of Faith.” I remember that what we did was we wrote up a statement, like a one-page paper essentially confirming our faith.
Informant: Yeah. We did something like that, but it was more to choose your “saint name” – you had to research he saints, find one you liked and then do a little report on them and why you picked them.
Me: Interesting, ’cause I remember that my statement of faith was not what everyone else’s was like, what people were expecting. ‘Cause I did my confirmation of faith in my ninth grade, and we were studying the scriptures in our religion class in school. And so my statement was completely different from most people. ‘Cause most people were like writing about how the church has changed them, how they have so many fond memories of the church. I wrote about, I can’t even remember what exactly I wrote about, but it was completely more academic. It was like entirely academic or something.
Informant: Well the point of confirmation that they told us was that they wanted you to, it was when you become an adult in the eyes of the church. So you could go up and do readings for the church, you can serve the church in ways that you couldn’t before, when you weren’t confirmed. I mean, I can’t remember precisely what you were allowed to do after you were confirmed besides read in front of the church during the masses, it was probably organizing fundraisers or something like that. Anyway, that’s what they told us, and that’s why, instead of baptizing us in front of the church, which doesn’t count, because it is not performed with you’re consent, as you’re like only a baby, you have no idea what’s going on.
Me: Yeah, I know that that is one of the reasons why some religions wait until their children are old enough to be able to give their consent to baptize them.
Informant: I guess the thought was that you were baptized, but weren’t really thought of as a member until you were confirmed. So that was the point. Basically the way Confirmation worked was that you went to class on every other Sunday after church. You would all go to ten o’clock mass, you would all have to go to mass together, and when you were at mass, the people who were in confirmation were the ones who did the ushering, passed the collection plates around, brought the bread and wine up to the altar. So we would all have to go and show up for ten o’clock mass. And at my church ten o’clock was like the mass where you dress nice. Normally my family would go to eight o’clock because all you had to do was go there for an hour, hour and a half, get communion, and leave. But for ten o’clock mass you had to dress nice and you had to stay the whole time, cause you were in confirmation class, you couldn’t just leave early. And after that you had a class. The class was…it was about…they had this little Christian magazine thingy that they gave to you that you had to read through it. It had different aspects of the faith, different moral values, that kind of stuff. But mostly you had to do a lot of service – a lot of community service.
Me: Not surprising, yeah.
Informant: Yeah. It’s, actually during a lot of the time that we were talking about the magazine thingy we would do some kind of service thing. You had to do a certain amount of hours and there were all kinds of events that you could go to. Like, there was the winter sweet shop thing where you would help to bake cookies and would then help to sell them at the bake sale later that week. And the Easter thing where you would help plan the Easter egg hunt for the little kids who went to the church, and have a little Easter baskets and set up the place and stuff Easter eggs. Those are the two that I remember the most but there were other ones. There was one on Thanksgiving where we made lunches for the homeless, and another one where we made cards for Christmas or something. I can’t remember exactly.
Me: Yeah. I remember that we did community service in our youth group at church.
Informant: Yeah. That was more or less it. It’s been a while after all. I do remember that one of the other important things was that you had to go up and read in front of the church, ’cause our church, and I’m not sure if it is structured differently with other Catholic churches, but there are three readings, the first two are from the first part of the Bible and the third one is the Gospel.
Me: Oh yeah. That’s pretty standard.
Informant: Yeah. So you had to go up and read one of those two readings and you had to do it at least once or once per year. And the first one that I had to do was the Palm Sunday reading, which was this really long reading right before the Gospel, and it was also the narrator which was the longest part. That was terrible. Thankfully, the people at church are forgiving, and said that I did fine. And one of the things that we had to do was we had to pick a saint name. We were told to go on the internet, to look up the different Catholic saints, choose which one you liked and have a one-page paper about who that saint is, what the represent, and why you picked them.
Me: Uh huh.
Informant: Yeah. So the one that I picked was Lucia, the patron saint of eyes, writing, light, and in her story, she was betrothed to this pagan person and she refused to get married to him so he had her eyes cut out, but she could still see without them, thus why she is the patron saint of eyes. Although, personally, I question, I guess, what’s so brave, still, there are braver things than being mutilated and dying. But maybe that’s just me. Also, it’s kind of funny that I have terrible eyesight and I chose the patron saint of eyes as my patron saint.
Informant: So for the actual ceremony, which was at the end of the second year. It would be at a different church entirely and you would go with other churches who were in the same dioces. What I remember is that you had to dress nicely, but not fancy ballroom nicely, just church clothes nicely. You got a robe and you went in there for service with the bishop of the dices, and you stayed there and you would all go in a line. At least our class in particular had to do readings. After that, you come down, you are blessed as your saint name, you are a member of the church, shake hands with the bishop and then you leave to celebrate with your own families. And that was Confirmation.
The practice of confirmation became a tradition most likely around the time that people began baptizing children when they were infants, rather than when they were adults. There are three important milestones in a Catholic’s life, at least in terms of the church – baptism, which is performed soon after birth, first communion – which happens at about 7-8 years old, the “Age of Reason,” and confirmation – which happens around 14-16 years old. Confirmation became a tradition because it was the ceremony, the sacrament that made a person an official member of the church. Confirmation is a ceremony in which a person simply states their faith for the entire congregation to hear. It is a right of initiation, and those who go through it are then seen as adults in the eyes of the church, and anyone who is not confirmed will forever be seen as an outsider to the church, never a full member. It is a right of passage into adulthood, at least in the eyes of the church.
The informant (L) is a senior film major at California State University Los Angeles. L also nannies on the weekends. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and attended Catholic schools before coming to Los Angeles for college. Though her interpretation of Catholicism is more modern than those of the previous generation, she still calls herself Catholic. I asked her if she had any religious folklore and she responded by telling me about the patron saint of television. She said that it was something her friends told each other and she had read in a book when she was about 10 years old. Below is the paraphrased story that she gave as the explanation as to how Saint Clare became the patron saint of television.
Saint Clare of Assisi was a nun in Italy many centuries ago. She was a very devoted nun and never missed a day of mass, ever. One day, however, she got sick and even though she wanted to go to mass, she just could not physically get her body to take her to mass. It was then, in her bedroom, that the Holy Spirit “projected the mass on the wall” of the bedroom so that she could still experience the mass without physically being at the mass. Because this is like what a television does, she was made into the patron saint of television even though she lived a long time before TVs even existed.
Though she had read this in a book, she did not know until later that it was “real” and that Pope Pius XII had actually made her the patron saint of television in the 1950’s. St. Clare is especially important to L because her school and future work life is entirely based on television and film.
It is important to note that L used the word “projected” to describe how St. Clare saw the mass, whereas the more religious sources (like http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-clare-of-assisi/) use other words like display and “able to see.” I think L’s choice of words connects St. Clare to the idea of television (as film etc. used to be projected on to a screen). Additionally, the fact that L skipped a lot of the other important things St. Clare did, like follow St. Francis and other religiously significant things, and got right to the part that mattered: how a saint became connected to television. This says a lot about the way L sees the story: it is a connection between her religion and the way she grew up and the life she is now leading. She feels connected to her religion through St. Clare.
“Okay, so, I’m Greek Orthodox, um, and there’s a number of, like, traditions in the Greek Orthodox church that, um, are not found in a lot of other Christian churches. Um, Greek Orthodox is very similar to Catholicism, um, maybe a litter stricter, um and on Easter… First of all Easter is not with the Western Calendar, um, they go off of a different calendar, um, and so their Easter is not, um, always the same Sunday as, um, regular Easter, I guess, or what most people think of… the Western Easter. Um, or the Easter found in most other Christianities. Um, and so it’s normally, like, 3 or 4 weeks after, sometimes it’s before, a couple times it’s, like, coincided, um, but so you– we have lent and everything, similar to Catholicism, um, but you’re not supposed to eat meat at all, there’s no meat at all, it’s not just a no-Friday thing, uh, and, um, so, during the week of— I guess during Holy Week, leading up to Easter you’re supposed to… So Easter is always on a Sunday. But the Orthodox Church does their Easter service on Saturday night and it’s normally at, like, ten o’clock Saturday night and it goes to about 12:30am, um, sometimes later, um, and afterwards at the Church there’s normally, like, a big feast. Because you haven’t eaten meat the whole time and you come at, you know, one o’clock in the morning and everyone’s eating and has the big, like, breakfast celebration. Um, and then the next day you’ll, like, get with your family and have another big, massive feast with a lot of meat, um, so that’s fun. And normally the services, like the Mass services, last at least two hours, um because its different in, like, Catholicism the, the priests have to, um, they prepare all the communion stuff beforehand, before everyone gets to mass. Um, in the Orthodox Church, they do it in front of you. So when you get there, you’re watching the priest set up and they have a lot of little, like, rituals they have to do um in order to prepare the communion, um, so that’s why it lasts so long. Partly because in the beginning, it’s just a lot of rituals and things like that and a lot of people come in, like, halfway through the service so it’s not uncommon to see people coming in like halfway through um and then normally the homily is a little longer than it would be in a, um, Catholic church.”
My informant is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, a faith she inherited from her mother’s family. My informant is well versed on the practices in the Catholic Church as she attended a Catholic high school. Her understanding of additional branches of Christianity can be contributed to her father’s Protestant faith. My informant feels most connected to the Greek Orthodox Church and remains connected to her faith, even on the USC campus.
As a student who also attended Catholic school, I find it interesting that religions who are very closely related belief-wise have so many differences in practice. The manifestation of faith is as diverse as the people who practice it.
The calendar that my informant was referring to is actually two calendars. The Greek Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar.
Read more about the calendar of the Orthodox church here:
The following are the informant’s exact words:
“This is a story that my grandmother tells. It’s a pretty popular story, umm… that involves that… Juan Diego, a young man’s name… a peasant and a Mexican. And when she tells it, it is that he is walking one day, uhh… and the Virgen di Guadalupe appeared to him and said, “I’d like you to build me a church, here.” It was a particular hill I believe. And uhh… and he was like, “Well okay, I guess”. And ummm… then he goes to, I believe, the power that be, the kinda Catholic Church, the bishop. And he says, “Okay well we need to build this church because the Virgen di Guadalupe appeared to me and said she wants a church.” And, uhhh, the bishop, because of, you know, the lowly statues of this peasant, Juan Diego, said, “Well you know, why should we believe you, you need to have some proof, you need to find some proof.” So he’s kinda turned away. And the next day, or I don’t know, a week later I suppose, he’s walking by the same place, but he actually tries to go a different way, he’s kind of trying to avoid her I think (laughs), but she appears again! And she’s like, “Hey, why are you trying to avoid me?” You know. And he proceeds to tell her, ummm, you know, “They don’t believe me, you know, there’s no proof.” And she says, “Well, climb up on this hill and uhhh pick some roses, and uhh pick these roses umm to bring to this bishop.” And umm so he does that, he picks these roses. And he carries them in his ‘thilma’, in his shirt, uhh kinda like this, like makes a kind of pouch with his shirt and carries them. And then goes to the bishop and says, “Okay, she appeared to me again.” And uhh the bishop’s like, “Well where’s your proof?”And so he, he drops the flowers from his shirt. And you know, he’s thinks like, here’s my proof, the flowers, the roses. But actually, the roses, being carried in the shirt, had stained his shirt, his ‘thilma’ and there was an image of the Virgen di Guadalupe. And then the bishops all got down on their knees, because this is a holy thing, you know, and imagine this miracle, ‘milagro’, and so he got down on his knees. And there’s a church there today, right this is a church, a famous church, and that’s the story of that church.”
The informant said that his grandmother told him the story when he was much younger. The informant is half Mexican, and he included several Spanish words in his retelling of the story. The story seems very personal to the informant, because he learned it from a cherished family member and it ties back to his heritage. However, he said that he could not remember the name of the church, though he knew it at one point. Thus, the story meant more to him as a tale in itself, tying back to his grandmother, his Mexican heritage, and his religion, than a tale about a specific church. When he was telling it to me, his voice became more excited towards the end of the tale, when Juan Diego’s proof succeeds in convincing the bishops to believe him and build the church. The informant believed in the tale and regarded it highly.
Many narratives have meanings beyond the literary plot. This narrative has ties to heritage and religion. The informant, living in Los Angeles, doesn’t often get to celebrate his unique heritage and religion, and narratives like this help to reaffirm some of his beliefs. The story venerates both the Virgin of Guadalupe, the new Catholic church, and the efforts of a poor peasant man following the will of God. Thus, it is held dearly by a religious common-man. I found the tale interesting, more so because of the informant’s enthusiasm and emotional connections to it. I don’t know if I believe that the roses stained the shirt in the form of the Virgin, but I believe that something similar could have happened, or that the stain could have looked similar to her form. In any case, the connotations of the story are more important that it’s actuality. I think this legend is a good example of the strength of Mexican heritage and familial ties, the prominence of Catholicism in Mexico and its emotional power, and the tendency of legends to connect with the common-man.
It should also be noted that I didn’t know how to spell some of the Spanish words, specifically “thilma”, and I couldn’t find it online. I spelled it phonetically.
“I remember a religious custom which I think my paternal grandmother brought with her from Sonora, Mexico. It utilized a dried palm frond that had been blessed on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Good Friday which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus.
In the New Testament Jesus is described as entering Jerusalem seated on an ass where he was greeted by crowds of people, cheering and waving palm fronds in welcome. Thus was fulfilled the messianic prophecy of Isaiah.
In the religious Mexican folklore I refer to, the dried palm frond blessed on Palm Sunday bore special power. That is, at the onset of a thunder and lightning storm (a sometimes powerful phenomenon in Arizona), a small piece of the palm frond would be burned to ward off any potential lightning strike.
It worked. Our home was never struck by lightning.”
Today, my informant regards this practice as a superstition, rather than a religious practice. Yet, this unusual ritual seems to exemplify the fine line between religious ritual, folk ritual, and superstition. Although not specifically sanctioned by the Catholic Church, this practice was clearly a spiritual experience for my informant’s family, as they believed that the palm frond bestowed their home with divine protection. At the same time, however, this practice seems rather like homeopathic magic–it employs palm fronds due to their association with Jesus in the New Testament.
My mother was told – and believed- that if she bit the uh Eucharist wafer or whatever, it would bleed forever and that you would drown in the blood. Like it would just fill your stomach. I guess you wouldn’t drown, I don’t know what would happen if your stomach was just forever filled with blood, you’d probably get sick.
My informant was told this by his mother who heard it at church as a girl. What’s interesting is that this could have multiple purposes. Maybe another kid told it to her just to scare her within a religious setting as a form of children folklore backlash against an establishment and ritual associated with parents. Perhaps she was told this by an adult who believed that biting the communion wafer was disrespectful, because it represents the body of Christ and biting it might represent mutilating it, thus s/he scared my informants mother into not biting it.