Catholics don’t suffer like they used to

Catholics don't suffer like they used to by Bob Karolevitz Catholics don't suffer like they used to!

I can say that because I've been one of them for almost 80 years.

Take the no-meat-on-Friday thing, for instance. Our Protestant friends called us mackerel-snappers, but in those days I never saw or ate a mackerel that I knew of.

Catfish-snapper would have been more appropriate for those of us who lived along the pre-dammed Muddy Missouri. Or maybe even carp-snapper � but somehow the mackerel epithet stuck.

Not eating meat on Friday was just one of our Catholic sacrifices. For me it wasn't such a bad thing, though, because I liked fish better anyhow.

I recall a story about our old parish priest who was hearing the confession of a man who said he'd eaten spareribs on the wrong day.

"Where did you get the ribs?" the priest asked, and the man gave the name of a local butcher shop.

"Oh," said the pastor, "that's all right because there wouldn't have been much meat on them anyway."

I remember how we weren't supposed to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day we were going to receive Communion. At our school when I was young, the sisters covered the water fountain with paper so we wouldn't be tempted. But, gosh, we were hungry when we got our cocoa with a marshmallow after Mass.

When I think of the pioneer families driving to church in horse and wagon with nothing to eat until after the service, I appreciate the new rule of an hour's fasting even more. I'm sure the priests do, too.

We had all kinds of restrictions in the old days. I think we young altar boys thought our hands would drop off if we ever touched the chalice. Now the acolytes don't give it a thought.

Of course we had to learn our prayers in Latin which was all Greek to us. Many decades later I can still recite some of them, but I'm still not sure what they all mean.

We weren't allowed to say naughty words; and if we did � and got caught at it � the sisters would get out the strap and thrash us good. Today they'd all be convicted of child abuse.

In those days black was beautiful, especially at funerals. The priest's vestments were black; so were the candle pedestals by the bier. For a little kid it was mighty scary. Even the music was kind of spooky, we thought. The "dies irae" was eerie!

We worried a lot, too. I wasn't sure that my mother, who wasn't Catholic at the time, could ever get to heaven. We wondered who kept track of all the days of the indulgences we prayed for "the poor souls in Purgatory." We were even taught that we had to suffer like the saints of old if we really wanted to be good Christians.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't believe we'll all go to hell in a hand basket if we don't wear our sackcloth and ashes. On the other hand, I think a little immolation is good for all of us.

In a way we were unfettered by Vatican II. Sometimes a friend thinks it was too much, with all that clapping and handshaking.

But, then, nobody calls me a mackerel-snapper any more. Come to think of it, it's more of a sacrifice to eat a burger on Friday when I really wanted a fishwich.

© 2001 Robert F. Karolevitz

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