St. Joseph’s Altar: The Lenten Feast?

Every year in my school, the classes would take a bus to a nearby banquet hall in our town of Opelousas, where we’d be able to eat some of the great food prepared for the St. Joseph’s Altar, a practice especially popular in Catholic southern Louisiana. That “altar” was really just a few tables adorned with flowers, breads, desserts, and meatless meals to commemorate the Solemnity of St. Joseph.Since the Solemnity falls during Lent most years and is not technically a Feast Day, the rules of th … [Read more...]

That Old Catholic Magic: Jacob Popcak Explains St. Patrick’s Day to Sick Pilgrim

We invited some Sick Pilgrims over to talk about one of our favorite saints, St Patrick, in honor of his feast day this Friday, March 17. And then Jacob Popcak took us all to school.First things first. St. Patrick wasn't Irish.Jacob Popcak: Patrick was a slave of the Irish, who escaped, became a priest, and came back to convert his captors. He loved them. Which is ... insane, from a modern perspective.David Russell Mosley: He wasn't "Celtic," or at least not Irish.Jonathan Ryan: H … [Read more...]

Advent: Kicking your Darkness

Since I first heard the song in college, I've meditated on a lyric by Canadian folk musician Bruce Cockburn. It's a phrase that I've considered tattooing over my heart.  In the song "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," he sings that you've got to "kick the darkness until it bleeds daylight."Advent is a time where we talk about the light shining in the darkness and the darkness not understanding it. But there have been times in my life when I've felt nothing but darkness. And I've understood it much … [Read more...]

The Anointing of a Sick Pilgrim

I hobbled into church yesterday for the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick, holding the railing to relieve the pain in my left leg as I climbed the steps to the choir loft. I tore my meniscus on Election Day, when, distracted and anxious, I tripped over myself in my kitchen.People smiled at me sympathetically, but this isn't why I'm here. I didn't come to get anointed. I'm in the choir, and I volunteered to sing.The organist begins the opening hymn as I'm still shuffling through my music. … [Read more...]

La Toussaint: How Cajuns Care for Cities of the Dead

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ydvm_GQClEIn October we clean graves.  We gather in the early morning or late afternoon (because it’s still hot in south Louisiana) with our scrubbers and soapy water, rakes and trimmers, a picnic basket and maybe some beer.  We go to the cemetery to clean the graves of our ancestors and to offer some prayers for them or to them, the distinction never mattered much.  This tradition has been handed down through the generations, finding its roots in our Cath … [Read more...]

Blessed, Bewildered: A Former Altar Boy Remembers Benediction

Of all the mysterious rites of Catholicism, perhaps the most mysterious is the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, known to the laity as ‘Benediction’. As an altar boy for six years, I served at countless masses, funerals and weddings almost every week, but only a handful of Benedictions, and only one or two of them were of the Solemn variety. They were that rare and that special. And what made them even more special is that we never really understood what was going on.But it all starts wit … [Read more...]

I took a crash course in Gregorian chant. Literally.

When the email circulated that there would be a traditional Latin Mass at our parish for the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, I immediately and foolishly wrote back that I wanted to be in the Schola Cantorum, the chant choir.The extent of my Gregorian chant experience at this point was one weekend at the Abbey of Gethsemani five years prior, a year of Latin in college, and a CD of hymns by Beth Nielsen Chapman in heavy rotation in my house every Christmas. I’d been to exactly one Latin M … [Read more...]

Sick Pilgrim at the Ministry Fair

One of our priests gave a rousing homily on the Prodigal Son on Sunday. Priests love to preach on this one, he said--you got your prodigal son, your pharisaical son, your all-forgiving father--there's so much to work with! But then he remembered this weekend was the parish ministry fair.*Sad trombone*How to tie these two together?The ministry fair is the day you're supposed to sign up to contribute your time to your parish through acts of service--lectoring, cantoring, ushering, fe … [Read more...]

Adventures in Popular Piety: Confession

There has always been something unappealingly puritanical to me about getting up early. It’s so Midwestern. I’m a native of a strange territory, Southeastern Louisiana, where people like to stay up late and sleep past sunrise. Like my mother, I thrive in the late night and need a good 10 hours of unbroken sleep to function. Of course, I haven’t slept like that in the 10.5 years since my daughter was born. Mornings in our house are a horror show of kids stealing my phone and yelling at each other … [Read more...]

Marian Apparitions: Blessings or a Curse?

 As a kid, I grew up in the Charismatic renewal that swept its way through the Catholic Church in the late seventies and early eighties. Much of my childhood was spent at prayer meetings with nuns running up and down the aisles, priests speaking in tongues, and a two hour (!) mass healing service.I threw myself into the whole experience. I read the Bible cover to cover when I was in second grade. I tried to imitate my parents as we swayed and sashayed through the mostly bad praise … [Read more...]