Three Pious Practices for Every Devout
Gloria, Tea and Thee:
Recovering the Disreputable
There are three pious practices
that we no longer encounter and that had been not just customary, but
instinctive to Catholics — up to 40 or so years ago when the
notion of piety fell into disrepute, together with many of the customs
long cherished — and practiced — by Catholics, not for years, but for
centuries. They are simple things really, that we seldom see because
... well, they are rarely done and yet of themselves, speak volumes
of our loss (perhaps a calculated deprivation, actually) of the sacred.
Let me give you both the long and the short of it. Here is the short:
We no longer bow our heads
at the Name of Jesus (see Philippians 2.5-11)
We no longer make the
Sign of the Cross over our hearts or foreheads when we pass by a
Catholic Church where Christ dwells, really and truly, in the Blessed
We no longer make reparation
whenever we hear the Sacred Name of Jesus uttered blasphemously.
We have lost collective memory
of things instinctually Catholic. Much of it has been superannuated
by “policy” or simply jettisoned in what became a totally unilateral
effort at ecumenism in which the Church embraced, en masse, much historically
alien to it — with absolutely no other denomination embracing anything
remotely “Catholic” in return. The Church surrendered much unique to
its identity. The other “communions” wisely surrendered nothing. This
is not to say that ecumenism has failed. It has only failed for Catholics
— the only ones who have been resolute in failing to recognize the obvious.
Now the long version, a vignette really, that captures much of what
once was — not long ago — is no more, and ought to be: (the Boston
Catholic Journal wishes to express its gratitude to P.G. of San
Francisco, formerly of Massachusetts, for the following contribution)
flood of memories came rushing in upon me one day recently
I noticed an impeccably dressed elderly woman with stark
white hair nodding. Not just nodding, but nodding at what
I began to realize were predictable times. To be sure I
continued to observe this almost imperceptible movement
of her head downward until I became aware that it occurred
precisely each time the priest uttered the Name, "Jesus".
It did not occur when the priest uttered “Christ”, —- except
when it was preceded by “Jesus”.
I looked around the congregation and saw to my surprise
that this gentle gesture was accompanied by other nods —
mostly among what one “Minister of Music” described to me
as the “Grayheads”. I even observed it, much to my surprise,
in one young man. Out of a congregation of perhaps 300,
this almost imperceptible but curious behavior was instantiated
in perhaps 5 or 6. And always — always and only — at the
Name of Jesus.
Memories returned. Memories of my father. A tall man (to
me as a child, anyway) with a gentle voice; strong, in the
quiet way that only gentleness can be remarkably strong,
he walked beside me, straight and assured, proud but not
arrogant. Holding my hand we walked the several blocks to
Church with my younger brother alternately walking and being
carried effortlessly in the strong arms of my father. It
was Sunday morning 1957. Upon entering Church (Saint Clement’s),
he removed his hat and made sure we blessed ourselves properly.
In those days matrons wore fur stoles that still had the
eyes of the poor Minks in them, which endlessly fascinated
my brother, and frightened me. Dad would have to prevent
Mikey from poking at them during Mass.
It was here that I first remembered Dad nodding his head,
too. I did not know why ... but he did, and so did everyone
else. I remember asking him if his tie was too tight. He
put his fingers to his lips and pointed in the direction
of the Altar. As time went by I began to understand that
one simply nods ones head whenever the name of Jesus was
uttered. Catholics just did that. The priest did it. Dad
did it. Even Mikey did it! And so did Tommy Mason, the freshest
kid on the block! Soon it became second nature, in Church
and out of it. I remember my father gently scolding me once
when I deliberately said the “Holy Name” several times in
a row to make the boys around me nod their heads! I even
did it twice to Aunt Vickie!
But I also noticed two other peculiar things about Dad (and,
in fact, a lot of other Catholics back then). Whenever we
walked in front of a Church — even on the other side of
the street — Dad would make a tiny Sign of the Cross over
his heart in a hidden kind of way, and quietly utter :
“Gloria (presumably Aunt Gloria), Tea and thee, Dom and
I thought it a cute riddle that rhymed, although I never
had an Uncle Dom. Later Dad unraveled the mystery to me
one day when I finally asked him who “Dom” was. I distinctly
remember that it was Winter, for Dad crouched down beside
me in the snow, threw his muffler around our faces to keep
out the snow and wind, and told me, “It is Latin, son. “Gloria
tibi, Domine”, which means, “Glory to You, Lord Jesus.”
Yup, even as he spoke he nodded his head when he said “Jesus”
— and so did I. I was learning. “Whenever you pass in front
of a Catholic Church you always say that, son, and make
the Sign of the Cross over your heart.” But Mom does it
over her forehead, I protested. “Well, Mamma is right, too”,
he said. “The important thing is that you always do it,
because Jesus is inside the Church.”
Walking, driving, on the bus — wherever — Dad did it and
I felt it was like a little secret between us, and, of course,
Jesus (yes, I just now bowed my head).
There was one other thing that Dad did that stayed with
me all my life. Whenever he spoke with someone who was either
angry or just crude and said something like, “Jesus Christ!
I told him he was a crook!” or, “Jesus, was I
I noticed that Dad very unobtrusively did two things!
First, of course, he slightly bowed his head. Then he would
usually cross his arms and underneath them secretly make
a small, totally unnoticeable movement with his thumb, pressing
it against his heart.
It took a long time for
me to catch on to that one. Again, it was something he did
so naturally and quietly that it almost escaped me. “Dad”,
I later asked, after he had a very animated conversation
with one of my uncles, “what do you do with your thumb when
people are angry, like Uncle Mario was a few minutes ago?
And why? This really escaped me — but stayed with
me all my life as perhaps no other gesture he taught me.
He paused a moment, as though trying to look for simple
words to explain it.
“What”, he asked me, "is the Third Commandment?” I told
him, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in
vain.”, proud that I remembered it quickly (back then we
had to memorize them and Nuns taught us our Catechism
— and boy, you had better remember!)
“Well”, Dad continued, “Uncle Mario
just used the Lord’s Name in vain. Instead of just letting
it pass as blasphemy (I did not know what “blasphemy" exactly
was at the time, but knew it was not good) against God,
I just “finished” the sentence for him, adding, “Have
mercy on us” and striking my heart as we do at Mass.
That way, it brings something good out of a sin — I make
it an opportunity to ask God’s mercy both for Uncle Mario
and for myself.”
I began to understand what kind
of man my father really was — and what kind of man I should
try to be, too. So often it is the little things a person
does — especially when they do not know that they are being
observed — that leave the most lasting impressions.
Dad would not recognize most Catholics
today. Neither, I think, would Saint Paul. What was second
nature to them seems to have disappeared altogether —except
for a few of those beautiful elderly women or old men at
San Francisco, CA
Sad to say, not only
do the laity no longer exercise these pious and beautiful practices
— but neither do our priests or bishops. They use what Catholics once
called the “Sacred Name” so lightly, attaching to it a significance
apparently no greater than any other name that passes from their lips.
But it was not always so. For many, many centuries it was not so. But
piety has become so … disreputable in our time. It is a term
of disdain, a concept fraught with an intolerable “otherworldliness”
that no longer has a place in our time, and in our world.
What P.G., I think, was alluding to when he wrote that Saint Paul would
probably not recognize most Catholic today, is this:
Saint Paul's Epistle to the
Iesu qui cum in forma Dei esset non rapinam arbitratus est
esse se aequalem Deo. Sed semet ipsum exinanivit formam
servi accipiens in similitudinem hominum factus et habitu
inventus ut homo. Humiliavit semet ipsum factus oboediens
usque ad mortem mortem autem crucis. Propter quod et Deus
illum exaltavit et donavit illi nomen super omne nomen.
Ut in nomine Iesu omne genu flectat caelestium et
terrestrium et infernorum. Et omnis lingua confiteatur
quia Dominus Iesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris."
“Christ Jesus, Who being in
the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with
God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as
a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death,
even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also
hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above
all names: That at the name of Jesus every knee should
bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the
earth. And that every tongue should confess that
the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”
The very Angels in Heaven bow
at the name of Jesus. And even the demons in Hell.
But we are somehow more enlightened than that …somehow superior
to both — such that what is binding upon those in Heaven and Hell itself,
is not binding upon us. How vastly superior, enlightened, (sanctified?)
we have become in less than 50 years of the 2010 years of Christianity!
What a quantum leap! But I think not of grace — at least for us who
have been made “a little less than the Angels” who bow in Heaven at
the Sacred Name — and who have made ourselves less subject to God than
even the demons!
Think about it — and perhaps make
a very ancient effort at what is "disreputable" to the world and more
in keeping with your beautiful Catholic identity.
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