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

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

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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