Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (6): Some Things I Learned as a Catholic ChildOctober 26, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in 1950s, Catholic doctrine, Catholicism, Education, Memoir | 5 Comments
Tags: Catholic dogma, Catholic education, Fatima, green catechism, guardian angel, heaven and hell, missal, papal infallibility, prayer, purgatory, sin, Virgin Mary
Religion – the Catholic Church – was always an integral part of my daily life until I was in my mid-teens.
As well as Sunday Mass, there was regular Confession, attendance at special rites and rituals, and saying the Rosary – that last one was every evening especially in the bad times. A statue of the Sacred Heart (Jesus) always stood in a prominent position. It had been a wedding present to my parents (I think it was from Mum’s parents), and I have it now as part of our family history artefacts.
We all had our missals (Mass books) with the words said by the priest and altar boys in both Latin and English. The congregation did not respond to any of the ritual in the Latin Mass. We also had the Green Catechism, from which we learned by heart the basic dogma of the Church, in the form of questions with answers. Eg, Q.1: “Who made the world? A:”God made the world”.
We were instead taught to accept everything the Church told us as irrefutable Truth. This dogma, well learned and integrated into young lives, was aimed at creating good Catholic children who would do good in the world and eventually carry the word to others. Here are some of the things that I learned and accepted:
- God was omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.
- The Pope was Christ’s representative on earth and the repository of God’s truth, therefore infallible; the priests & nuns were the teachers of this Truth to their, with the priests (bishops, etc) being the only ones who could forgive sins on God’s behalf.
- We are all born in a state of original sin due to the sin of Adam and Eve.
- Christ died for us, but it was our obligation to live a pure life; we would go to Hell when we died if we weren’t pure or committed a mortal sin that we didn’t confess, or to Purgatory if we had small sins on our soul.
- Satan was always there to tempt you to sin and you had to stay away from ‘occasions of sin’ so you would not be tempted to do wrong.
- We were given a Guardian Angel who we should always ask to help us stay away from sin. It was nice to think a lovely, white-robed angel with big white wings would always be there to help us, but I never felt really protected.
I always had feelings of inadequacy because I was not perfect; I wanted to be like the angels and saints, but thought I must be a bad person because I often sinned by getting impatient or angry or fighting with my siblings or disobeying my parents, etc, etc. I feared Hell but desired Heaven, whilst believing I was not good enough to go to Heaven.
- God’s Word in the Bible was to be interpreted for us by the Pope. We had only short readings from the Gospels and Epistles within the Mass, and were never taught what the Bible actually said apart from that. The Pope was the one from whom the Word of God came down to the people.
- If babies died before being baptised, they would go to Purgatory because they were in a state of original sin.
- Non-Catholic Christians could not enter Heaven because they did not conform to the original teachings of the original Church. I think they went to Purgatory too.
- Those who did not believe in our God had no hope of Heaven and would, instead, spend eternity in Hell.
- If we prayed to the Virgin Mary, she would always help us. She was a powerful ally and would speak to Jesus for us.
- If we said lots of prayers for the souls in Purgatory, and made little sacrifices for them, they would be allowed into Heaven more quickly.
We were constantly told of God’s love, but I at least always lived in fear of committing a sin. I didn’t question, but somehow lived with the inconsistencies of what we were taught. Also, because we were not to question any Catholic teaching, I never learned to question anything.
Our lives were focussed on religion – church, school, praying the Rosary at home, at school & at church, reading the lives of the saints. The only movie I saw until I was in my teens, aside from those on TV, was “The Miracle of Fatima”, based on the appearances of the Virgin Mary to three children in Fatima, Portugal, between May and October 1917. I wanted to be one of those children, even though they were treated badly by the authorities. I firmly believed the Miracle of the Sun had happened and that Our Lady had truly appeared to those children – and to Bernadette at Lourdes.
Making my first Confession and First Communion were special days that I believed would make me holy. I loved getting holy cards with pictures of Jesus, Mary, the saints, angels, etc. These would be given as rewards for doing well at school, for good behaviour and for doing special, extra things to help the nuns. I felt guilty if I missed Mass, even if I was ill,
Looking back, I have often realised that my Catholic upbringing had both positive and negative aspects. The major positive influence was the inculcation of a moral code together with development of a strongly developed conscience. I do not regret that aspect.
However, my religious learning was mostly based on fear, and what that created (in many others besides me) was a child ridden by guilt who had no ability to question what I was taught. The constant striving for perfection against the forces of evil, and especially the guilt of not achieving what I felt I should, adversely affected me in many ways and for many decades. But that’s another story.
(c) Linda Visman