Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (5): The Brown Scapular

October 19, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Catholic Church, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 4 Comments
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When I was writing about Catholic rituals (like Confession, Holy Communion, the Holy Rosary and the Children of Mary), there was another religious sacramental that I overlooked. The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, the earliest of several scapulars, is a very old devotion to Mary. It is said to have been instituted by the Blessed Virgin herself in 1251 when she appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite monk.

Our Lady said to St Simon:

“Take this Scapular. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire”.

She also said to him, “Wear it devoutly and perseveringly. It is my garment. To be clothed in it means you are continually thinking of me, and I in turn, am always thinking of you and helping you to secure eternal life.”

Mary appearing to St Simon

Mary appearing to St Simon

This has become known as the “Scapular Promise.” There was also an additional promise, given later to Pope John XXII by the Blessed Virgin Mary:

“I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in purgatory I shall free so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

This is the “Sabbatine Privilege” of the brown scapular, named for the Jewish Sabbath. This saves the wearer from an extended stay in purgatory. There are certain conditions to be met.

  1. to obtain the graces and promises, one must be chaste according to their state of life (whether married or single);
  2. an action must be performed that shows the wearer’s devotion to Our Lady, such as praying the Rosary, reciting the Little Office of Blessed Virgin, or something else the priest may give at the time of investment.

Scapulars were once given only to the monks the Carmelite order. However, in the sixteenth century, the Carmelites began distributing Brown Scapulars to the laity. There is a requirement for its proper investiture during a simple ceremony in which a priest enrolls the wearer in the Confraternity of the Scapular. Once invested, the person wears the scapular as a visible sign of their devotion to Mary.

Holy card: Our Lady with Jesus, offering the scapular

Holy card: Our Lady with Jesus, offering the scapular

All of my family were enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular at some stage in our childhood. I don’t remember just when, though it would definitely have been when we attended St Paul’s Primary School. I certainly remember wearing mine then. Mum’d had hers since she was young I think. I don’t know if Dad actually had one. He became Catholic in 1941, when he converted so he could marry Mum.

A scapular, before and during the early Christian era, was simply an apron that protected one’s clothes from dirt. The religious scapular, from when it was first instituted in the thirteenth century, would also have been rather like an apron. I suppose the name has continued on since then. There have been some changes though since then.

When we were young, it consisted of two small pieces of brown woollen cloth with pictures sewn on. These pieces were attached to each other by brown cord, making a kind of necklace. The scapular went over the head, around the neck and (usually) under your clothing. One piece of fabric went to the back, the other to the front.

The brown scapular

The brown scapular

We weren’t supposed to take the scapular off – after all, we might just happen to die when it was sitting on the bed when we were in the bathtub, or in a bag when we went swimming. If we did die without it, we might go to Hell – or at least spend a long time in Purgatory. Although we believed in the efficacy of the scapular as we’d been taught, we kids didn’t like wearing it. It was ugly, it chafed, it looked silly (to us), and often poked out of our shirt or dress. In summer, when we wore light clothing, it was a real source of embarrassment when that happened among non-Catholics.

Man wearing the scapular

Man wearing the scapular

Devotion to the Virgin Mary in the form of wearing the scapular still exists in the Catholic Church, as does this traditional scapular. However there is now also a scapular medal, which may be worn as well as or, I’ve heard, even instead of the old cloth one. A medal, like a piece of jewellery, would certainly look better and be more comfortable. You can even get them in sterling silver!

Sterling silver scapular medals; worn as the cloth ones are.

Sterling silver scapular medals; worn as the cloth ones are.

I have no idea when I stopped wearing my brown scapular – probably after I went to a public high school. I don’t know where it went either, and I haven’t even thought about it for many years – about five decades at least, I’d say.

An interesting source of information on the brown scapular can be found here.

http://www.stpeterslist.com/9345/7-things-you-should-know-about-the-brown-scapular-of-our-lady-of-mt-carmel/

(c) Linda Visman

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Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (4) – Confirmation

August 31, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Catholic Church, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Religious rites | 8 Comments
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Confirmation was once a part of the baptismal ritual; it took place immediately after baptism, sealing in the Holy Spirit and anointing the new Christian with a threefold ministry as priest, prophet, and king.

Long ago, Confirmation became a separate sacramental rite. For much of history, any priest could baptise and celebrate Mass, but only the bishop administered the sacrament of Confirmation. That was still the case when I was confirmed.

Confirmation is a ritual that involves bishop, priest and congregation bringing someone into a full membership of the Catholic Church. Postulants can be any age of course, but in most cases where a child has attended a Catholic school as we did, or received adequate instruction, they are aged around ten or eleven.

My older sister and I were confirmed towards the end of 1958. She was eleven and I was ten years old. The other children confirmed with us on that day were of a similar age. As with our First Communion, we wore white dresses and veils for the ceremony and sat together at the front of the church.

L to R:  Sheelagh, Pauline with our baby brother David, cousin Judith in front, Peter on the bike, me (Linda) & cousin Philip.

L to R: Sheelagh, Pauline with our baby brother David, cousin Judith in front, Peter on the bike, me (Linda) & cousin Philip.

The ceremony is a short one for each individual, but many children in the parish could be ‘done’ on the same day, making a long morning in church; I don’t remember how many we had. It involves the bishop anointing each person with the Oil of Chrism while saying, “Be sealed with the Holy Spirit”. The person responds with, “Amen”. The bishop then shakes their hand while saying, “Peace be with you”, and the person responds, “And also with you”. Then you sit and he goes to the next person.

We were taught that being sealed with the Holy Spirit turned us into “Soldiers of Christ”. In fact, I think Bishop McCabe actually said the words, “You are a soldier of Christ”, at our ceremony. This was to make us strong, as we may have to suffer hardship, torture and even death in defence of the Faith.

Linda

Linda

We were also given a Confirmation medal. I was proud to become a Soldier of Christ and from then on, one of my favourite hymns was “Faith of Our Fathers”.

We all had to choose a Confirmation Name, that of a patron saint, a friend in heaven, to model ourselves after and rely on for prayers. I chose the name Bernadette, as I loved the story of Bernadette Soubiros of Lourdes. For some time, I added Bernadette as a second middle name. I can’t remember who my sister chose, though it may have been St Agnes.

I received a book about St Bernadette as a Confirmation present from my parents. When we got home after the ceremony and Mass, Mum got out the camera and took three precious photos (they were expensive to buy rolls of film and then to get developed, so they were rationed out for important occasions).

Pauline

Pauline

Two photos were of my sister, then me, by ourselves, taken at the front corner of the house, then of all the children. Mum’s brother’s family lived with us then. On that day, they attended a different Mass because ours took longer. As a result our two cousins were not dressed up. However, they were included in the photo anyway. The motorbike (with a side-car) that we are clustered around was Dad’s work vehicle and, as the photo also shows, he was still building extensions onto the house.

(c) Linda Visman

Coal Trucks & Wagging School

August 17, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Catholic Church, Discipline, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Transport | 5 Comments
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When we lived in Dapto, we went to the local Catholic school, St John’s, where Sister Cecilia ruled with an iron rod. Then Dad got a job working on a new concrete bridge for Huntley colliery at Avondale, a few miles from Dapto. They needed a watchman to keep an eye on supplies, so Dad moved our caravan out there.

St John's School and convent

St John’s School and convent in the early 20th century

It was dairy country between wide swathes of forest, in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, below the Illawarra escarpment. We camped next to a creek, from which we drew our water. The grocer in Dapto would bring a regular order out to us each week, and we would also go to town on Saturday mornings when the shops were open. Dad bought Mum a Baby Brownie camera from McGovern’s Chemist shop.

I loved the general store run by JG Fairley. They had a wonderful contraption for dealing with money. The shopkeeper would put the docket for purchases and the customer’s money into a brass container. He would pull a cord and the container would zoom along a wire up to the cashier’s office on a mezzanine floor. The cashier dealt with the money and gave change, which he sent back in the container to the shop assistant. No money was thus kept in the public area of shop. This process never failed to enthral me. Waters in Wollongong also had these contraptions.

My older brother was nine when we moved out to Avondale, and he loved nothing more than going into the bush with his mongrel terrier, Patch. On their rambles, they would find snakes and kill them. It wasn’t unusual for Mum to come back to the van to find a four-foot red-bellied black snake stretched out in front of the door. She was never amused. Peter led us three younger girls astray too.

We were several miles away from town, with no chance of getting a bus to school and Dad couldn’t take us. But we were right near the road that led down from the coal mine in the steep hills above. Some of the trucks took their coal to Tallawarra power station to the south east, but others went north, through Dapto. Dad arranged with one of the truck drivers, Charlie Keys (who only recently died: RIP), to pick us up on one of his morning runs from the mine and bring us back on an afternoon return run. It was a great adventure for all of us, sitting high up next to Charlie on the huge wide leather seat.

This photo taken about the time we were going to St John’s, though none of us is in it.

This photo taken about the time we were going to St John’s, though none of us is in it.

Peter decided one day that he didn’t want to go to school. Obviously, he couldn’t wag while we three girls went and possibly got him into trouble. So he persuaded us that playing in the town park was a much better option than school. We had quite a few days off school before Mr Shipp, the newsagent, noticed us hanging around the streets and dobbed us in to our parents. I remember that green leather belt Mum used as punishment for major crimes, and she doled it out in good measure that day. I never could accept though that Sister Cecelia also gave us a hiding in front of the school. Two punishments for the same crime seemed unfair. But I never wagged school again.

When the job on the bridge was finished, we went back to Reed Park in Dapto. Not long after, the unwelcome attentions of the farmer from Avondale on my very attractive mother led to Dad looking for an alternative place to live. He bought a block of land on the shore of Lake Illawarra at Albion Park Rail, and moved us and the caravan onto it We loved life there, but I have never forgotten the wonderful time we had living out in the bush at Avondale.

(c) Linda Visman

Rites of Passage 2: First Communion

July 27, 2015 at 8:33 pm | Posted in 1950s, Catholic Church, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Religion | 7 Comments
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I had made my First Confession. Now, my First Communion Day had arrived. Like the other kids, I was full of excitement, and more than a little nervous. I was hungry too, because we had to fast from midnight until after Mass. We weren’t allowed to have Holy Communion if we’d eaten; that would have been an awful thing to do. This was the first time I hadn’t been able to eat breakfast before Mass, and it was already nine o’clock.

First Comm catechism

Mum had fixed up my older sister’s white dress for the occasion. I had new white socks, and Dad had freshly whitened my sandshoes. Mum had cut my straight blonde hair short, so it wouldn’t get in the way of the white veil I had to wear – that had been Pauline’s too when she made her First Communion two years before. I felt very special in my white clothes, and I was very careful to keep everything clean.

There wasn’t much room in our little Triumph Safety 7 car when we all piled in. The four of us kids had to squash up in the back seat. Mum held on to my veil, and the elastic and bobby-pins to fit it on with, until we got to the church. I tried to keep my dress from getting crushed, but it was useless. When we got out, I saw that someone’s shoe had made a mark on my clean shoes. I tried to brush it off.

“Don’t worry about that now,” said Mum. “We have to go over to the school with the other children. Sister wants you to line up ready to make a procession into the church. Come on.”

The boys wore navy blue shorts, white shirts and the school tie, navy blue with yellow stripes. They also wore knee-high grey socks, held up with elastic garters, and black shoes. Some parents wanted to hang around and help, but the school headmistress, Sister Mamertus, shooed them off to find their places in the old, white-painted stone church.

“Make two lines,” Sister ordered us. “One for the boys and one for the girls. Hurry up now, we mustn’t keep Father waiting.”

Each girl took the hand of the boy in the other line, giggling.

“Stop that and make your line straight. Remember, Jesus is watching, and you will soon be receiving Him for the first time.”

Thus, suitably chastened and demure, we walked across the grass to the church door. Sister lined us up again so that, when we got into the church, the boys would go to the pews on one side and the girls to the other. Someone must have given Mrs Harris warning, because, up in the loft at the back of the church, she launched into a hymn, though I cannot remember what it was.

The altar was a mass of flowers, and Mrs Harris had probably helped the nuns to arrange them. The first two rows of wooden bench seats on each side of the aisle were decorated at the ends with big white satin bows and flowers. This was to show that the seats were set aside especially for us. It’s a pity the red aisle carpet was worn and patchy, but everything else looked beautiful to me

We joined our hands together in front of us, as if in prayer, and walk to our seats quietly and sedately. Each of us genuflected before we turned into the pew, respecting the presence of the Lord Jesus in the tabernacle on the altar. We tried to keep our heads bowed to show we recognised the miracle that was about to happen. Receiving the Body of Jesus Christ was a momentous thing at any time, but the first time was extra special.

The Mass began and Father Greely, brightly vested and attended by several altar boys, launched into the usual Latin prayers, along with other special ones for us. Later in the Mass, his sermon was all about the importance of this day and the difference it would make in our lives. He reminded the older people of when they had made their first Communion, and asked them to re-dedicate their lives to Christ. Then, the ringing of the bell accompanying his movements, he consecrated the Host. It was time for us to fulfil the preparation we’d been undergoing for the past few months.

Strangely, about the only thing I remember about receiving my first Communion was how the thin wafer of Host stuck to the roof of my mouth; my mouth was dry I suppose, from nerves. I kept poking at it with my tongue, trying to loosen it. I did wonder if I was doing something awful to Christ’s Body, and when the Host did finally come loose, I made sure not to touch it with my teeth. I didn’t want to be accused of chewing His Body! The hymn that Mrs Harris played and the congregation sang was “On Your First Communion Day”.

At the end of Mass, we were presented with a silver medal, which we wore about our neck, and a certificate, attesting that each of us had made out First Holy Communion on that day at St Paul’s church. My sisters still have their certificates, but mine has been lost somewhere along life’s way.

After the priest announced, Ite Missae est (Go the Mass is ended), we processed down the aisle and out of the church. As we had not yet eaten, having had to fast from the previous midnight in order to receive the Sacrament, there was a Communion breakfast after Mass, at the school. There our families joined us to celebrate our special day. I, along with my schoolmates, tucked into the food, enjoying the sandwiches, cakes and cordial more than anything else.

A first communion group

A first communion group

Although I have copies of both my sisters First Communion photos, there isn’t one of mine as far as I know.

© Linda Visman

Rites of Passage 1: First Confession

July 20, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Catholic Church, Family History, Memoir, Religion | 2 Comments

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This day in August 1956, was one of excitement and promise, the culmination of months of preparation at the hands of the Sisters of St Joseph. I would be eight in a few days time, but this day was even more important than that. Birthdays happened every year, but this day came only once in a lifetime. It was the day of my First Holy Communion.

The stress of making our First Confession was over. That had happened the week before. We had sat in the pews at the back of the old stone church – St Paul’s – waiting our turn to go into the dark, wood-panelled confessional box. We’d practiced, but that didn’t make it any easier. There was a central priest’s box, with a confessional box on each side. The shiny wood was dark with age, and the designs carved into the door frames were almost black. The wooden kneeler was worn smooth by thousands of knees, but it was still hard. When the person in one of the confessionals had finished, the priest slid the little door over the grille on that side shut, and opened the one on your side.

Confession child

The real thing was even stricter than the practice had been. We had to kneel and pray while we waited our turn. There was to be no fidgeting whilst we Examined our Conscience. Even though we were used to kneeling, it was hard to keep still. However, Sister Mamertus was there, so we did. I was both glad and scared when my turn came. At practice, when the priest slid the little door open on my side, I’d jumped, even though I’d been waiting for it. I jumped this time too.

We’d been well drilled in what we had to say, but I was flustered at first. Then Father Greely’s voice spoke quietly through the grille.

“Take your time, my child.”

Confessional

Then I was all right and I started the routine, first making the sign of the cross.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Bless me Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession, Father.”

Then I had to list my sins – how many times I disobeyed my parents, how many times I quarrelled with my brother and sisters, or didn’t pay attention in class – I don’t recall what I said. I was so relieved when I could finally say the Act of Contrition. Then Father Greely gave me absolution, told me to say three Hail Marys for my penance, and blessed me, telling me to go and sin no more.

“Thank you, Father.”

Then, his little grille closed and I could leave the confessional box, go to the pews on the other side of the church and say my penance. After that, I could go outside, feeling a great sense of relief that the ordeal was over, and that my soul was pure and white. I had made my First Confession. Now that I was pure, I could make my First Communion.

© Linda Visman

Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (3)

July 12, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Catholic Church, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 10 Comments
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The Church had sodalities (clubs I suppose they were) for different groups of the parish. Men joined the Holy Name Society; women the Sacred Heart Society; girls the Children of Mary; and the boys could become altar boys, serving the priest during Mass. We three girls joined the Children of Mary after our Confirmation. Sodalities had their own Sunday each month, so, on the Children of Mary’s Sunday, the girls would attend as a group, all wearing our blue cloaks, white veils and medal, and carrying our Missal (Mass book).

Medal of Our Lady

Medal of Our Lady

 

Sometimes, our parents decided not to go to the main church at Albion Park for Sunday Mass, and instead, we walked the two miles or so each way to Oak Flats. There, an early Mass was held for the people of that area in the community hall. I know I loved that early morning walk, especially when we went on Christmas mornings. Then, there was the added joy of knowing that, on our return, as well as being able to eat at last, there were presents under the tree for us to unwrap. No matter that they were almost always gifts made for us in the shed out the back by our father in his rare spare time. The wooden scooters he made for my younger sister and me one year were prized as much as any bought ones – even if they didn’t last as long.

 

I was an avid reader as a child, devouring Enid Blyton and other adventure books as fast as I was allowed to borrow them from the local library. But I also loved to read the lives of the saints that were written for children. I often imagined myself in a perilous situation, being asked whether I would die for my faith – I always believed that I would. I absolutely loved the movie “The Miracle of Fatima”, and cried through it. I wanted to be Jacinta – she was the one with spirit. I believe it was the first movie I ever saw.

 

Our family, like many other Catholics, were devoted to Our Lady – Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Every evening after the dinner dishes had been washed, dried and put away, we knelt as a family to pray the Rosary. It meant a great deal to us, especially to my mother, and I particularly remember saying the Rosary on my own in the lounge room when my father came down with polio in the epidemic of 1961. It was the only thing I could think of to do in that time of powerlessness.

Rosary beads

Rosary beads

 

We would never consider eating meat on a Friday. Eggs were the closest we ever got. But anyway, for me at least, Friday meant a break from those awfully tough mutton chops that Mum fried so often, and which usually took me so long to chew that I was the last one to leave the table. Instead, we could buy fish from the local fisherman – usually mullet from the lake because that was the cheapest. But, best of all, we were sometimes allowed to go to the local fish and chip shop to buy cooked fish in batter and chips. That was a real treat.

 

Religion permeated every part of our lives as we were growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s. Those were the days when the Church was at its height in the Australian community. For the first time, Catholics were no longer persecuted and discriminated against. It was a period when we felt safe and secure in the practice of our ancient traditions. Our religious upbringing certainly helped to keep us kids on the straight and narrow. It provided us with a basis for living a moral life, but in the process lumbered us with an overwhelming sense of guilt and inadequacy that many people were never able to overcome.

 

 

 (c) Linda Visman

Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (2)

July 5, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Posted in Australia, Catholic Church, Family History, Religion | Leave a comment
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School was, apart from home, my security. I was good at my lessons, which usually involved rote learning of facts and passages. I was good at spelling, maths and Social Studies, and at Catechism. That was the ideal in the system – no questioning, just blind acceptance of what you were told. I was good at that, so I did well. I strove always to please and, mostly, I did.

The nuns schooled us in our religion, and we were expected to know our Catechism by heart. I can still picture the little green book we used that was set out in question and answer form (“Q: Who made the world? A: God made the world.”), and I knew every answer to every question. We were taught the importance of the Sacraments, and were prepared for receiving them at the appropriate age by the nuns. We made our First Confession just before receiving our First Holy Communion when we were about seven or eight. It was scary, having to confess my sins of fighting or being disobedient to Christ’s representative. I was always petrified that God would see me doing something bad, like sneaking a penny from my mother’s purse to go buy a lolly at the local shop. It didn’t always stop me from doing it, but boy, I sure enough felt so guilty about it that it was a long time before I did it again! I made sure I went to Confession every time too, so that I would be forgiven and not go to Hell if I died.

St Pauls Catholic Church 1959

St Pauls Catholic Church 1959

At about ten or eleven we were Confirmed by the bishop; in our case, Bishop McCabe of Wollongong. I took the name Bernadette as my Confirmation name because I loved the story of St Bernadette of Lourdes. We attended Benediction at the church every Friday, and visited at the day-long Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament[1] on the First Friday of every month.

The Latin Mass was an ongoing institution, and we attended every Sunday. We also went with our parents on Holy Days, like Ascension Thursday and All Saints Day, as if they were a Sunday. I think the kids from the state school were jealous that we had those days off school. On Sundays (and Holy Days), as we often didn’t have a vehicle, we went to Mass on a special bus. It cost sixpence (6d) per school age child and a shilling (1/-) per adult – 4/- for the six of us. Dad received about eight to ten pounds a week wages.[2] Our parents were also supposed to pay for our schooling. But, as we were poor, there were many times when Mum didn’t have the money, and we were treated as charity cases.

There were two money collections taken up at Sunday Mass – one assigned to the maintenance of the parish priest, and the other for the church and its operations. Everyone, no matter how poor, was expected to add coins to the collection plate. Whenever we saw a ten shilling note in the plate, we were amazed that someone had so much money to give away. From school, we also attended Mass on other special saints’ Feast Days, e.g. St Paul (as our church’s dedicated saint) and St Joseph (the nuns were Sisters of St Joseph).

[1] Exposition is a manner of honouring the Holy Eucharist (Christ’s body, in the form of the consecrated Host), by exposing It, with proper solemnity, to the view of the faithful in order that they may pay their devotions before It.

[2] One pound was equal to twenty shillings.

(c) Linda Visman

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