Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

A Dream Parish or Chapel


All right now... I'm going to just dream aloud here: Imagine a parish. Since I'm dreaming big, let's place this parish near the ocean, name it after Our Lady, and call it something beautiful, like "Star of the Sea." Because I'm Italian American, I'll place this parish in an Italian American Catholic neighborhood, but if you prefer a neghborhood that's ethnically Irish, German, Mexican, African-American, French, or what have you, feel free to dream this dream your way.

The East-facing church building is beautiful. Make it Gothic or Romanesque at your pleasure (oh OK, or Baroque if you must), but fill it with stained glass, dark wood, just the right number of statues and other icons. That it smells of beeswax and incense goes without saying.

Make sure there are at least six bells in the bell towers, and let's give those bells names -- names with which the parishioners are fondly familiar. They'll toll for Mass, to ring the Angelus, to mourn the dead, and will sound especially glorious at the Easter Vigil.

As you enter the narthex, to the right you see a large vessel, with a spigot, filled with holy water that the parishioners can tap at will. Next to it is a barrel full of blessed salt and a scoop to use to fill containers with the sacramental so the people can take some home. Nearby is a bulletin board for notices from parishioner to parishioner, and underneath is a shelf on which people leave books and other things for others to take as they need.

In the church proper, a holy water font can be found on one side of each door, and they're never filled with sand. There are pews, kneelers, an altar rail, and, on either side of the high altar, votive candles burning before statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph. In the back of the nave are statues of St. Anthony and St. Michael, each with their own votive candles. On either side of SS Anthony and Michael, the walls are covered by ex voto offerings left by the people to thank God. Stations of the Cross line the nave, and they look to date to the early 19th c. You see three dark wood confessionals which are populated by priests ready to hear confessions at least 45 minutes before each of the two Sunday Masses, and for at least a half hour every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evening. The tabernacle is front and center, as it should be, and over it a sanctuary lamp burns perpetually. Christ is adored here 24/7, around the clock; the Adoration Society makes sure of it.

The Novus Ordo is never offered here; it's traditional Latin Mass only, with three gorgeous Solemn High Masses on Sundays. Nothing but pure masculine voices offer the responses, but hymns are sung by all, accompanied by the giant pipe organ. All of the sacramental rites are offered only in the traditional way. Sermons are interesting, inspiring, and consistent with authentic Catholic teaching. There are numerous altar boys (never altar girls), and at least two of them at the moment dream of growing up to become priests.

The liturgical year is alive here in the deepest ways. There are: a Eucharistic procession on Corpus Christi; a Marian procession on the Assumption; a palm procession on Palm Sunday; the Way of the Cross on Good Friday;  the beating of the bounds on Rogation Days; bonfires on St. John's Eve and St. Lucy's day; old school May Crownings, with little girls dressed in blue, and little boys in their little suits; St. Joseph's tables on St. Joseph's Day, and a big Italian festival on St. Anthony's Day. They came up with a "new tradition," too: on St. Barbara's day, they place cherry branches in two vases, setting one in front of the Church's statue of Our Lady, for the women, and the other in front of St. Joseph, for the men. Whichever sex's branches blossom first is the winner, and the other sex has to spoil them all day long the following Sunday.

Behind the church is the rectory, where the priests live. It takes four priests to serve this busy parish, and it takes an older Italian woman to tend to and feed them. Old Mrs. Corrado has her quarters there, too, and is much beloved, especially for her sauce and cannoli. Like the other buildings on this property, the rectory is beautiful, built in the 19th century, with lots of dark wood. It's comfortable, and done up interiorly in a style that manages to blend Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and Deco aesthetics. The parishioners tend to spoil the priests (and Mrs. Corrado), but know when to leave them alone, too.

To the right of the church as you face its entry -- to its South -- is a huge, walled-in courtyard. On the East side of this yard, toward the back end of the church, is a beautiful Mary garden with a lovely koi pond dotted by water lilies. On the West side of the courtyard, toward the front of the church, divided from the Mary garden by a low iron fence, is a mosaic-paved plaza. Toward the front of this plaza is a fountain, the basin of which is encircled by symbols of the zodiac to symbolize the cosmos. Figures representing the theological virtues -- Faith, Hope, and Charity -- stand at the center, pouring water into the basin from urns they hold. Grace flowing out into the universe. In between the Mary Garden and fountain is an area outfitted with benches, tables (two with heavy outdoor chess sets that are always ready to be played with), and a bocce court. Ornamental trees cast lovely shadows during the day, inviting people to hang out there.

To the right of the courtyard is the parish community building --  a huge building built in the same style as the rectory, and decorated inside in the same way. From the courtyard are two entries to this building: the first -- a set of sliding French double doors -- opens to a 20X40' room that's set up as an informal gathering spot -- a place the people call "Marta's." Marta's acts as an unstaffed communal cafe, family-sized kitchen, and parlor, and is equipped with a refrigerator, coffee making necessities, a stove/oven range, a sink, a dishwasher, family-sized sets of cookware and bakeware, dishes, flatware, drinkware, a few teapots, trays, decks of cards, and ashtrays, all set behind a counter. There are also hooks on the wall from which hang parishioners' personal mugs which they've brought in for themselves and keep there. On the other side of the counter are a number of 4-top and 6-top tables, and two large, long ones with benches on either side. The tables are covered with oilcloth to make things feel homey. In two of the corners are arranged small couches, chairs, and coffee tables, forming conversation areas. People bring their own pastries, snacks, and drinks or prepare some on the spot, and baked goods are sold there on the honor system: take six amaretti cookies and a coffee, leave $2 in the box, rinse off the plates and cups you use, and put them into the dishwasher yourself; when it's full, someone will run it. Someone donated a DVD/MP3 player to Marta's, and it's usually 1940s Big Band music or Caruso that can be heard while visiting. The unwritten rule is that the oldest person present gets to control the music that plays, if any plays at all. During the day, it's mostly older folks who come to hang out at Marta's and the plaza its wide doors are always open onto. They socialize, maybe play some bocce or chess or cards, or just read the newspaper and complain about politics. When someone brings a bottle and they make their coffee "cofffee royale," they might complain a tad more loudly, but it's all in good fun. People gather here after Mass, too. The priests' cats often drop by, as do strays, who always seem to get fed by someone while visiting. Maybe they're attracted by the catnip -- er, Mary's Nettle -- growing in the Mary Garden...

The other door leads to a small foyer with doors to restrooms and a utility closet, and to a hall from which can be accessed the building's beautiful and more formal reception rooms -- one very large, high-ceilinged room, and two smaller ones --  for wedding receptions, wakes, teas, meet-and-greets with visiting lecturers and Monsignori, and other such gatherings. In between those rooms, and accessible to each, is a large, restaurant-style kitchen that's used to prepare food for those who attend those affairs. It's used, too, by the Funeral Ministry to prepare food for a few weeks for those in mourning. A new ministry is starting up that wants to use the kitchen to make food to take to the elderly, poor, and those who are homebound with sickness. At Christmastime, the kitchen's busy with women who make lots of Christmas cookies together to trade with each other for their families. The kitchen is used, as well, to make food for the parish's big Italian festival.

The community center building also contains a theater used by guest speakers for lecture series, by the school and Church choirs for shows, for one-off events like school or parish talent shows, for programs put on by the parish's schoolchildren, and for plays put on and by the parish theater group. The theater group puts on not just medieval Mystery, Morality, and Miracle Plays, but plays that two literary night-owl parishioners have written themselves. These plays are usually directed by a fabulously talented, creative man -- a homosexual who is openly and unashamedly who he is, and very dedicated to a life of chastity. He is loved and respected by all, and considered an Uncle by most of the parish's children.

A large part of the huge basement of the community center building acts as a big rumpus room where teenagers can hang out. It's got a pool table, ping-pong table, dart boards, tons of board games, tables, couches, cozy chairs, a stereo system, and a large screen TV and DVD player for movie nights, but which are usually kept off at other times. Phones aren't allowed to be on when in this room, either, and most of the kids are very relieved at that rule. The young people have lots of fun playing games, getting creative, making music, just talking, dancing, having informal rap battles, and whatever other wholesome things come to their teenaged minds (most of the older folks don't like that rap battle business, but the kids are doing no harm. And you think it's easy to throw down some rhymes? You try it!). The organized youth group meets here and plans group activities, too. This year, the kids, among other things, had a few cook-outs and bonfires, went horseback riding, visited a planetarium, visited a local "living history" reenactment village, went to an amusement park, cleaned up a local city park, organized a Gregorian chant flash mob, made a scary haunted house for the younger kids at Hallowe'en, went caroling at Christmas, set up elaborate "alternate reality games" that covered the entire parish's territory, and volunteered to do yard work for 3 elderly widows, 2 young widows, and 2 shut-in widowers. The old bus that's used to pick up people who live farther out and don't have transportation to Mass on Sundays serves its purpose well here, too, in getting the kids around. (The young folks don't know it yet, but ten of their group will be married to each other within a decade. It, of course, goes without saying that five of those ten will be men, the other five will be women, and that they will be married as couples, not as throuples or in any other configuration, doesn't it?)

Also in the basement is a rumpus room for adults. This is where the Bingo nights and poker tournaments happen, and socializing less formal and more raucous than those that take place in the fancier, upstairs reception rooms.

The basement also has a laundry room where (mostly) women get together to do their families' clothes, hanging out in the adult rumpus room while they wait. Families in the parish don't have to buy washers and dryers, and they also don't have to buy many of the things families use for brief periods of time because next to the laundry room is a storage room with donated cribs, high chairs, play pens, bassinets, car seats, diaper bags, childrens' toys and clothing, first communion dresses, boys' suits -- things that are borrowed as needed for a time, cleaned, and returned so other families can use them later. Next door to the storage room is a library filled with donated books, movies, and board games that families can check out. Only if an item is lost, damaged, or returned late is there any charge.

None of the rooms in any of the parish's buildings use fluorescent lighting; everything is lit up in a warm, incandescent way, which fits the decor perfectly. Even the basement rooms are made to be beautiful, with dark wood and gorgeous art prints making them so.

To the East of the Community Building, and separated from it by a large group of trees, are the two schools attended by the parish's children all the way from kindergarten to senior high. From the 6th grade on, the sexes are taught separately. Both schools are staffed by religious sisters and brothers (who wear traditional habits, of course), and by very talented, very Catholic lay people. The curricula are rigorous, but kids are also given lots of time to play and to pursue their own unique interests and projects. They're taught to read using phonics in kindergarten, and by first grade they've memorized their multiplication tables all the way up to 12X12. By second grade they're doing long division and fractions. They're exposed to the great art and music of Western civilization all throughout their years in school, and are taught in such a way as to give them an appreciation for the lessons of history and to sense themselves as being a part of something much bigger than themselves. And, of course, all along, they're taught their catechism and instructed on how to live lives marked by the cardinal virtues.

In grades 9-12, kids can opt to take classes that prepare them for work in the trades, computer technology, and homemaking. The older kids are encouraged, too, to tutor younger children who need extra help -- as are the parish's retired seniors whose skills are put to good use.

The school's gym is used after school and on weekends by parishioners wanting to get a basketball game going. The school is also equipped with a workout room designed to help people engage in strength training and do general workouts. This workout room has its own entrance, and is available to all in the parish at certain times of the day all throughout the year -- at times allotted by sex. That entrance is locked during school hours, of course.

The kids wear school uniforms of black shoes, black socks, white, button-down shirts, black ties, and skirts or trousers made of what looks to be a sort of Black Watch plaid. Black berets are a part of their uniform, and they express their individuality by pinning pins and brooches onto them (only one at a time, per school rules).

Across from the school and hidden by trees are the two convents for the religious who teach at the school: one for the male religious, and one for the female. Some of the male religous also make caskets which they make available at low cost to the people of the parish. Some of the female religious make confections to sell locally; their specialties are marzipan and macarons.

The yearly 3-day Italian festival centered on St. Anthony's Day is a big money-maker for the parish. Everyone pitches in, and folks come from all over the State to partake of the Italian foods, Italian music, marionette shows, grape-stomping, carnival rides, and other such things. A Mass and Marian procession take place during these festivities, which have caught the attention of people who'd never before seen such things. After the Mass and procession, pamphlets are made available to teach visitors about traditional Catholicism and the parish. Many over the years have converted because of the outreach that takes place during the festival. Outreach is also made outside of the festival by teams of catechists who pass out information, go out of their way to talk to others about Christ, make invitations to Bible studies, and other like endeavors. People also learn about Christ and this particular church of His through the corporal acts of mercy offered to the entire city by people in various ministries the church has set up.

Most people who attend Mass at Star of the Sea live near the parish, and walk to church. Others drive in, and some are picked up by the parish bus mentioned earlier -- the one the youth group uses to make excursions. Though some parishioners are introverts who keep to themselves, most do a lot of socializing with each other. Families get together for parties and cook-outs. Block Rosaries are prayed. A parish directory with addresses, phone, and email contact information ensures that everyone who wants to not be alone has a way of meeting others and is kept apprised of parish goings-on.

Feelings of isolation are rare here; for stay at home mothers, other homemakers are usually right next door or across the street. Older women whose children have left the nest are almost always available to babysit and help overwhelmed young mothers as well, and those mothers often get together at each others' houses while their children play together. Because the women have a shared vision of the good life, their kids run around outside together, with their parents as assured as one can be in this world that no one will be teaching their children to hate what they've been taught at home and otherwise harming their souls.

The men get together with each other, too. Camping and fishing trips, ball games, pub outings -- they have their fun and buoy each other up. Some of the men run a scout group for young boys, who are taught to treasure and sharpen their masculinity, to be proud of being men-in-the-making. They've especially invited into the group, and take extra care of, the boys of two young widows in the parish. Those boys will grow up to be fine.

Star of the Sea parish isn't Utopia. Sin, sickness, death, emotional problems, addiction, gossip, spiritual struggles, and teenage angst and rebellion exist here as they do everywhere. But no one is alone with those problems unless he wants to be. The priests are attuned to the community, and talk a lot about tolerance and the problems of "toxic traddism," "purity spirals," gossip, and rash judgment.  And if something in particular needs addressing, they have a way of pulling people aside privately and coming up with sermons that smooth things over and keep the place generally content and happy. And that's pretty much the best we can hope for this side of the veil.

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