I am a six-year-old little girl with a folded piece of Kleenex bobby-pinned to the top of my head, sitting in my family church pew. I always forget to bring my chapel veil. My father gets us up every Sunday to attend 9:00 Mass. I wear a dress, and my brothers wear suits and ties that fit little boys. We always sit in the same pew. My father sits on the pew’s aisle side, and my three brothers sit next to him. This is in case he has to reach over and pinch any of them when they whisper or giggle. I sit next to my mother at the end of the row.
The priest walks out, and we stand up. He has his back to us as he faces the altar. He begins the Mass in Latin. The homily is the only part of the Catholic Mass spoken by the priest in English. My father nods off in the middle of Mass and wakes up sometime around communion.
I haven’t made my first communion yet, so my brothers and I wait in the pew for our parents to return. I see my friend in the next pew and wave to her before my parents return. We kneel on the leather kneeler until my parents finish their prayers, and then we proceed to sit down on the pew bench together.
The Mass ends, we file out, waiting for families in the pews ahead of us to go first. We exit the church. The priest stands outside and shakes hands with the parishioners. My parents stand around and talk to their friends, and we run and play with ours.
We stop at the donut shop and get two-three dozen donuts. As soon as we arrive home, friends begin to appear at our house for coffee and donuts.
Growing up a Catholic gave me a sense of belonging.
We are approaching Easter Sunday in no less than seven days. I want to share my memories of Lent and Easter.
My Lenten Childhood
This is what I remember of my Lenten Childhood from 1960-1970.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance when Christians confess their sins and profess their devotion to God. Ashes symbolize penance and the dust from which God made people. Priests mark our foreheads with the ashes. “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” recites the priest.
My second-grade class stands in line after Mass to get ashes on our foreheads. The ashes are formed like crosses but end up looking like smudges. Our teachers tell us not to touch our foreheads. I brush mine off as soon as I get home. I don’t mind being a Catholic, but I don’t want to be different. I want to be like the “public” kids in my neighborhood.
No candy after Ash Wednesday
We are told to give up something during Lent. Most adults give up alcohol or tobacco. As children, we give up candy. There will be no candy until Easter.
Money for the poor children in Africa
The teachers give us small paper folded boxes and tell us to save our pocket change to donate to Africa’s needy children. I don’t have any pocket change. I never receive an allowance. I take some of my father’s pocket change which he lays on the table every day when he comes home from work.
Confession every Friday
I attend a Catholic school, and we go to church every day and confession every Friday. We confess our sins to the priest who sits in a box behind a screen with a sliding window. The room is dark. I kneel down, and the light comes on. Does this priest know who I am? Many of the parish priests are often guests in our home. I confess that I hit my brothers, told lies to my parents, stole my dad’s pocket change, and disobeyed. I receive the penance of five Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers. I return to my seat as everyone shares their penances.
No meat on Friday
We can’t eat meat on Friday. My father hates fish, so we eat fish sticks (they aren’t real fish), waffles, or pancakes.
The last Sunday of Lent. After Mass, representatives of the church give a palm to each family. We take it home and fold it in the form of a cross and hang it on the living room wall. It stays there until Easter Sunday.
Holy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter Sunday. We go to Mass, and during the Mass, some of the chosen parish men sit in chairs, take off their socks and shoes, and the priests wash their feet. The men then wash the feet of the priests.
We go to church and walk the stations of the cross. My mother walks the stations, but my father doesn’t. He stays home to take care of us because we are too impatient and too young to participate.
The day we boil four dozen eggs, color and decorate them, and leave them in the refrigerator. The next day the Easter Bunny hides them in the yard, and my brothers and I hunt for them. Some of them are not found until later in the summer, and they are rotten.
Next to our beds are decorated Easter baskets filled with chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and plastic eggs filled with candy. Yes, we can eat candy again. We go to Mass and my brothers wear their suits, and I wear a new dress my mother made and an Easter hat. Everyone at mass comments on each other’s attire. We go home, and my mother makes a big breakfast with sausage, eggs, bacon, and pancakes.
Easter is over, the candy is gone, and we can eat meat on Fridays again. The adults can start smoking and drinking again.
This is how I remember my Lenten Childhood.
Happy Easter, Everyone!