The Joy of Being Catholic

     Before I leave behind the last posting of recently won awards, I realized I forgot to mention that the junior high girls won the Manassas City Gingerbread House Making Contest with their representation of Seton's new chapel in edible form.   Wouldn't you know that God's House would triumph!   Congratuations to the bakers and the makers.  Now onto Tradition and the Joy of Being Catholic.

     Of course, when talking about the joy of being a Catholic, one would naturally turn to a movie about Jews.   TRADITION!   That was the key word in the movie Fiddler on the Roof  which also happened to be the first musical Seton performed.  One sympathizes throughout the show with the central character, Tevye (Fran Buser), who sees traditions fading, and ultimately sees one of his daughters marrying a Catholic and embracing Catholicism.   We would think this conversion would make a Catholic very happy, but there is a real sadness for the father who loves his faith and its traditions and feels his heart taken from him by the conversion of his daughter.

     Now joy can be found in the worst of situations.   Father Maximiliam Kolbe found joy in a Nazi death camp and sang in his starvation bunker.   To talk about Maximilian Kolbe is to talk about the virtue in its most perfected state.   Let’s assume we aren’t quite there yet and look at joy in a simpler, less perfect, but still important form.

    This is the joy we find in traditions inspired by the Faith.   I was reading about traditions practiced by Catholics in Austria.   It was written by an Austrian whose tone was cynical and disparaging of Catholicism, yet there was clearly some attachment that he maintained to the traditions celebrated publicly. 

   Here are some of examples of Austrian Catholic traditions and the Seton traditions that parallel them.  

   Epiphany:  “Sternsinger” or Star Singers go door to door through villages.   Typically this would be three children dressed as the Magi and another carrying a star.  They bless each house, mark the doorpost with the initials of the Three Kings, sing and collect money for charity   This reminded me of the Seton students who go door-to-door on Halloween collecting items for a local food bank.    This tradition was begun by a couple of students and has continued through the years.  It also reminds me of the teachers who would dress as the Kings, mark the doorposts and bless the rooms with students bringing baskets of candy. 

    February is ball season which culminates in “Fasching” or the Carnival before Lent.   There are parades and processions and children have a party in which they dress in costume and older people have a fancy dress-up party.  This brought to mind Seton’s Enthronement Dance and the consecration to the Sacred Heart at the Friday Mass before the dance. 

    Palm Sunday:  Bouquets of seven different plants (the author called them weeds) called “Palmbuschen” are blessed, then placed in fields (here the author said “until they rot since blessed things can’t be discarded”) asking the Lord for a good harvest.  The author failed to mention that the seven plants, such as pussy willow, are used to represent the Seven Last Words.  In addition, the Palmbuschen are not always put in a field – they are sometimes kept in the house and then brought back to the church to be burnt and used on Ash Wednesday.   The closest I could come to this at Seton is the May Crowning where each student (if he/she remembers) brings a flower for Blessed Mother.  Then the bouquets are put in the chapel – always  very beautiful.  More distantly related would be the blessing of candles for families on Candlemas.

   In May there are Maypoles and “Narzissenfest” or the Daffodil Festival in which thousands of daffodils are woven together to form figures that are paraded  through the streets or on boats in a lake.  This festival doesn’t seem to have a particular Catholic history, but it is a celebration of the beauty of the region and who is there to thank for such beauty other than its Creator.   The mention of parades brings to mind the drum line and the girls with the flags (I can’t think of their name) who march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Towne.   Mom and I watched the parade one very cold St. Patrick’s Day from the porch of what was then the Uribe’s house, now the Lalli domicile.   The drum line (no flags at that time) was our favorite participant. 

    June finds some villages celebrating with a “Samson Procession”.  (The author says it is a tradition that makes absolutely no sense.)   Traditions, like a fiddler on a roof, don’t have to make sense.  The Samson Procession consists of carrying a giant figure of Samson through the streets.  That’s as much info as the author gave about this.   At least he didn’t say that the statue was left in a field to rot.  Gleaning from other sources, I think there is a Catholic side to the event.   In the Middle Ages Old Testament figures who were types of Christ were carried in Corpus Christi processions.  For some reason, Samson became the most popular, and eventually the only one carried in the procession.   Somehow the carrying of Samson became a thing unto itself.   It does seem that it could be a great tradition to start up again – having Old Testament types of Christ in a Corpus Christi procession:   Joseph and his coat of many colors, Noah with a dove and an olive branch in his hands , Melchizedek with gifts of bread and wine, Isaac carrying his load of sticks, David with his slingshot and smooth stones,  Anyway, you can google Samson Procession and see some of these giant Samsons.  Seton pays public honor to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in its Christ the King Procession at the end of the liturgical year.   It was always one of my favorite school days.  The singing of “An Army of Youth” is forever connected with this tradition.        

    The author says that at the end of  July (his mistake) to mid August there is “Prangstangen”.   This is a festival in which long poles decorated with thousands of flowers are carried through the streets of villages.   In two villages, this is done in one on the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist, June 24th, and the other on the Feast of the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, June 29th.  Other villages have similar processions on other feasts days such as Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart.  The flower poles are then taken to the church and remain there until the Assumption.      This tradition, the author says, began after the villagers promised to do this if spared from a plague of grasshoppers.   He adds, “They were so they do.”  Another, probably more reliable source, says that the area suffered one year from a plague of locust which ate everything except daisies.   So the villagers promised to make these floral poles each year to ask to be spared from a similar plague.     The author also fails to mention that after celebrating the Assumption, the dried flowers are blessed and taken home by the parishioners to be made into incense that is used to bless the home throughout the year.   Note:   The poles, which have bark on them, can be 24 feet tall  and have 50,000 flowers.  In one village they are decorated with wool instead of flowers.  Seton hasn’t been plagued with locust yet, but if it ever happens we know what our response should be:   Break out the Prangstangen!  Maybe the tradition of classroom decorating for Spirit Week has been enough to keep all locust away.       

    There are other traditions in the fall and then in Advent (which the author called Lent), so it is clear that the Austrian celebrations throughout the year revolve around the Faith. 

   And so it should be for us all.   I think that the New Evangelization could be helped along greatly by families celebrating “Catholicly” more throughout the year and sharing these celebrations with other families.   The joy, the fun of celebrating goes a long way to helping us to appreciate the Faith and to embrace it in its entirety.   There might be many fewer fallen away Catholics if family traditions marked the year.   Traditions spring up within families, but it seems in our more secular times that we might need to make more of an effort to ignite these traditions, both in home and in school.  A great example of a family initiated tradition was the Vander Woude Marian Day held for many years at the end of May.  Seton’s pilgrimage to Mother Seton’s Shrine at the beginning of May is a great school initiated tradition.  

    An example of a tradition that has come to be part of Seton and now part of many Seton families is the praying of the “Hail and Blessed” prayer during Advent.   The tradition at Seton began after Father Fasano mentioned at a Holy Hour that this prayer was said fifteen times a day from the Feast of St. Andrew through Christmas Eve by the Italians.  That ignited it, and so it has continued.    The visit to the homeless in DC on Super Bowl Sunday is a great tradition of charity as is the Haiti Run and the Cystic Fibrosis Swim and Dance.   The Foreign Language Club marks the year with many traditions from Oktoberfest to Mardi Gras to May Poles.   All of these are ways to put joy into our faith.

   I was always looking for traditions to cut into teaching time!  One of my favorites, which I don’t if anyone does now, was indirectly begun by Meg Seale, one of those heroic students who had a long, long commute – Meg drove in from the Winchester area.   For her Advent project she made a “stained glass” representation of the Three Kings out of tissue paper, glue and construction paper.   It was so good that we decided that everyone would make stained glass for Lent.   There were some beautiful representations of Christ’s Passion, and collectively with them in the individual windows in St. Teresa’s classroom, it made a great display during the day for us with the sun shining through the pictures, and a great display at night when I would leave the lights on in the classroom for passersby to see the display.

   TRADITION!   Joyful  and very important. 

Jezu, ufam Tobie.  









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