21 October 2010

Popular Piety

I urge you to retain an appreciation for popular piety, which is different in every culture yet always remains very similar, for the human heart is ultimately one and the same. Certainly, popular piety tends towards the irrational, and can at times be somewhat superficial. Yet it would be quite wrong to dismiss it. Through that piety, the faith has entered human hearts and become part of the common patrimony of sentiments and customs, shaping the life and emotions of the community. Popular piety is thus one of the Church’s great treasures. The faith has taken on flesh and blood. Certainly popular piety always needs to be purified and refocused, yet it is worthy of our love and it truly makes us into the "People of God".
Benedict XVI, Letter to Seminarians, 10.19.10 

My grandmother prayed the rosary every day.  In fact, she went to mass daily and then prayed the rosary, aloud, in Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Wood-Ridge, NJ.  Typically, she would lead the first mystery of the rosary, then another devoted "Church Lady" would lead the second and so forth.  As far as I can tell, this went on Monday through Friday, each day of the year.  Rare exceptions were made for snow and other unforeseeable acts of God.  My grandmother, I'm proud to say, died in her pew, after morning mass on a Thursday, after she had declared the first Glorious Mystery of the Rosary to be the Resurrection of the Lord.  

Before her death, my grandmother taught me prayers.  I can still remember kneeling next to the guest room bed in her house and praying an Our Father, a Hail Mary, a Glory Be and then the Guardian Angel prayer.  Each time I slept over her house, we prayed, together.  She would sit in a chair next to the bed (a concession to her arthritic knees) and we'd pray in unison.  I'd give her a kiss and off to bed I would go.

The next morning, I'd sleep in and be waiting for my grandmother to return from mass and the rosary.  She'd make oatmeal for my grandfather, herself and me.  She'd toast Polish rye bread and pour me a tall glass of Florida Natural orange juice.  (The orange juice always tasted better at her house.)  Before we dug in, we'd say grace in unison.

Each year, on the respective name days of her son (my dad), my two brothers and me, my grandmother would have us over for dinner.  She'd make a vanilla cake shaped like a country church, iced with cool whip.  She'd wrap Andes mint chocolates in aluminum foil to make the doors and windows.  She would also wrap quarters with foil.  We'd rush through the unwrapping process, licking the cool whip off the foil enclosing the Andes and quarters alike.

My grandmother, if I may be so bold to label her, was popularly pious.  And continuing my boldness: she is a saint.  Her faith, authentically Catholic and rooted firmly in a love for Scripture, found its incarnation in the rosary, common prayers and the cult of the saints.  Yet at first glance, one might not be able to draw a straight line between foundational theology and my grandmother's popular piety.

Yet, in the dark and turbulent hours of the night, I cling to the practices of my grandmother for I believe that they led her to holiness and eternal life; and God willing, they will do the same for me.


UP said...

Absolutely beautiful memories turned into heartfelt words. Thank you, my brother.

Brittany Elise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brittany Elise said...

Orange juice? Toasted rye bread? Cool whip? I daresay you're becoming a food blogger...

I'm so proud! Excellent work, beautiful words.

-Your Protestant Editor

Anonymous said...

well said!

Chris J