So as I work my way through the major faith traditions I come to Catholicism. In a way this may be one of the more difficult “13 things” because although I do know Catholics I’ve never set foot in a Catholic church and most of my knowledge of it comes from movies, books and television. Yet even though my knowledge of the tradition is so very second hand, it is such a broad, intricate and old tradition that finding only 13 things may prove difficult, and it has such a body of art associated with it I fear I may get carried away with images and video.
I also have to admit, this may be the hardest of this series to write, because of all the branches of Christianity this is the one that has historically done the most damage to Pagan religions. I’m fairly certain that as I write this I will shed a tear or two and bite back bitter words.
13. Pope Benedict XVI
I have to admit that I really love this pope for very silly and superficial reasons. I realize he’s caught up in scandals rocking the church, a person to seriously study and take moral measure of, but I love that he looks like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. I know it’s ridiculous but just looking at him warms the cockles of my geek heart. It’s as if someone loved Star Wars so much, they decided to be in costume everyday. Plus, I love waiting for a pope to get picked. It’s better than waiting for the ball to drop on New Year’s!
12. Council in Nicea
As a Pagan, it is unfathomable that I could gather all the various Pagan traditions, sit down and come up with an official Pagan calendar, theology and creed, as well as setting up the foundations for religious law regarding Paganism, all in one meeting. This is by no means something I would want, but just the idea of trying to accomplish it is overwhelming. The fact that the early Christians were able to come together and make such important decisions despite all the sectarian squabbling is impressive. Well done!
11. Bing Crosby, Rosalind Russell, Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman
From a young age I have loved the movies of old Hollywood. It was a glamorous foreign world where everyone was Catholic. I find this odd looking back, that there were so few Protestants in Hollywood classics, but I think part of it may have been due to the rating system the Catholic church had for movies. At any rate, the traditional vestments of priests and nuns will always make me think of fabulous entertainers.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a86VaRTuCaw
10. Candles, Incense, Choirs, Wine and Stained Glass
As a Pagan I like worship that engages all the senses. The Catholics do that very well, as every sight, sound, movement, smell and taste within their service has been sacralized. It’s a really lovely thing.
Maybe this sounds odd, but the people who branch off of Catholicism to go their own way are just as fascinating. The Cathars, the Huguenots, the Lutherans, the Anglicans, the Eastern Orthodox, the Assyrian church and even modern heretics such as Matthew Fox. As a teenager I found nothing more fascinating than the history of the Catholic church and it’s heretics. I could while away an afternoon reading about the Waldensians. From the diverse Christian faith traditions it has birthed, albeit unintentionally and unwillingly, the Roman Catholic church truly is the “Mother Church”.8. Depth of Tradition and Sense of Identity
The Roman Catholic faith is a world of it’s own. The language, the customs, the calendar year, the dress, it goes on and on. There is a sacred element to everything in the Catholic faith. To study Catholicism is to study not just a religion, but a culture, a tribe, a people. Although there are regional differences the Roman Catholic faith is the same the world over. I imagine this must be comforting for practitioners and attractive to converts. I imagine a Catholic can walk into a Catholic church anywhere in the world and feel at home. That’s impressive.
7. The Virgin Mary
It is comforting to know other traditions have a Divine Feminine. Although I come from a Baptist background, I have love for Mary. It’s good to know she’s there.
6. The Saints
It’s a Pagan joke that the Catholics are almost as polytheistic as we are. There is a saint for every purpose and season, and their stories are fantastic. Saint George has always been a favorite of mine, also Thomas à Becket, that turbulent priest!
When I was a child the Virgin Mary appeared at a farm in Conyers, GA. It was a big deal. Pilgrims poured in from all over, causing traffic jams and attracting the local news. The fact that “miracles” still happen in Catholicism is comforting to me. Science has robbed us of so much that was once ineffable and mystic.
4. Sacred Places
Westminster Abbey. The Sistine Chapel. Saint Peter’s Basilica. The grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Notre Dame. Such beauty and serenity. Such holiness. I’ll admit to being bitter regarding Pagan temples being converted to Christian use in the early days of Christianity, or temples being destroyed, their stones scavenged to build Christian churches in the same holy locations. However, I cannot deny that Christianity has created buildings of great beauty, grace and honor. It’s a bittersweet pleasure for me to see the Pantheon still standing in modern day Rome as the lone Pagan temple still in use.
Ave Maria. Handel’s Messiah. The incredible body of early choral music that still survives. Christmas carols. Some of the heavenliest sounds on earth.
2. Deep Symbolism
If you aren’t aware of the deep levels of intricate symbolism in the Roman Catholic church, then you’ve never read Dan Brown. The artwork of the Catholic church is a vibrant visual catechism, with every decorative element and color imbued with meaning.
1. Historical and Literary Legacy
For the history buff, the Roman Catholic church is a treasure trove. The evolution of religious, scientific and political thought can be traced through it’s literary legacy. If you love stories of intrigue, mysticism and spiritual fortitude you wade through them for years in the length and breadth of Catholic history. The Vatican has preserved documents for centuries and has become a repository for the knowledge of the Western world.