Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sunday School

As a renegade Catholic, I think the words, Sunday School, sound Protestant.  We had Sunday School but it was only for children and was to instruct them in biblical and church teachings toward making first Communion and later so they could be confirmed in the Church.  It was called Catechism class. In the old days (and perhaps today), Protestants used to be able to go either to Sunday School at 9:30 or Church at 11:00.  Shamokin township Catholics, on the other hand, went to Mass every Sunday...rain or shine, winter or summer, come Hell or high water.  And Hell beckoned if you didn't go.

Children like me who didn't go to Parochial school were "publics" and all of us children, parochial and public, attended the nine o'clock or Children's Mass each Sunday.

This was a mass where the old fire and brimstone pastor would stop the service to call out to some offending child, "stop fiddling with your purse" or, "stop whispering, you're in God's house!"  If he wasn't saying the mass, he would patrol the aisles like an avenging angel saying: "Kneel up, you're not crippled!"

After the service and the words, "Ite, missa est," or "Go, the Mass is finished" were spoken, the parochial school kids, naturally sitting in the front of the church, marched past us in superior silence and out to freedom.

We publics then rose and filed out to the vestibule, down the stairs to the school area and down the long hall where we separated and went into various classrooms according to age.

When I was six and seven and was preparing for first holy Communion, I remember us standing by our desks as Sister came into the room.  We would then fold our hands and recite the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be and sit down with our Baltimore Catechism in front of us.

The lesson always began with:

"Who made the world?"
"God made the world," was our chorused response.

We would then go on with the assigned chapters of questions and answers and Sister usually added a cautionary tale about martyrs and how we were never to renounce Mother Church even if we were threatened with death.  This was always sobering information and I can still see Sister telling us little people all this in that old, chalky, damp classroom with its blackboards, crucifix and holy pictures.

At the end of the class, we would receive homework assignments and march out the door and down the hall, up the stairs and out to home, funny papers and Sunday dinner.

I made my first communion and still have a picture of me standing with my neighborhood friend, Lorraine, who was perfectly turned out with white dress, white stockings and curls while I, in knee socks, smiled weakly above my freckles.  My Dutch boy bob hung straight under my limp veil.

Several years and many chapters of the Baltimore Catechism later, I was confirmed.  This was a solemn occasion complete with a high mass, presided over by the bishop himself, and incense.  It was our due, after all, because today we would become true members of Holy Mother Church.

After the mass, we were to march up to the front of the church and each in turn would give his or her confirmation name.  I had chosen Mary -- or perhaps my mother did.  Mary was short and safe.  In return the bishop would give us a light ritual slap on the cheek, reminding us to renounce the devil, and then formally welcomed us into the church.

The little boy in front of me, apparently having much experience at home, neatly ducked the slap.  The bishop didn't miss a beat, but went right on as if nothing had happened.  In due time, we were recognized and welcomed and were now grown up members of the church--well, sort of grown up.

When I moved to Pottsville two years later, I continued to go to religion class as it is now known.  I attended St. John's, one of two Catholic churches in town and nearest to my house.

It was a beautiful old church, vast and quiet, with banks of flickering votive candles on either side of the alter.  This was the German rather than the Irish church.  Our religion teachers were devout, semi-cloistered German nuns and our particular teacher was a tiny, unworldly soul who took her work very seriously and, when she came to the word "devil" actually whispered it.

When I reached high school age in Washington, there were no formal religion classes.  I think they tried to start up a social club of sorts for "publics" but by then I had sophomore and junior years at St. Cecilia's so I was beyond instructing!

All through my life, I had many Protestant friends and went off and on to their Sunday schools with them.  I liked the services because even though I knew these people weren't in the True Church and probably weren't going to go to Heaven, they had proper Sunday Schools which taught Bible stories and sang neat hymns.  Years later, my kids went to what was now called CCD.  So we Catholics have had catechism class, religion instructions and then CCD, but the Protestants truly have Sunday School.

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