PART 5 - SOME CUSTOMS, RITES AND TRADITIONS OF THE LATIN CATHOLIC CHURCH
THE 14 PAINTINGS OF THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS
Grandpa: If you look at the walls on either side of the church you can see paintings of the Stations of the Cross. Do you know what the Stations of the Cross are?
Guillaume: I don't know this path grandpa…
Grandpa: Well, also known as the Way of the Cross, it is an artistic representation of the last hours of the life of Jesus. We do not find in the bible a definition or description of the Stations of the Cross. This religious practice came later in the history of Catholicism. It was the Franciscan Brothers, present in the Holy Land since 1220, who first established an external Stations of the Cross. This path included 7 stations at the beginning but over time 37 stations were seen. In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV fixed the number of stations at 14 showing precise moments from the last hours of Jesus' life. I would like you to look at the pictures on my phone to help you understand as I read off the titles of the 14 stations:
1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus carries His cross
3. Jesus falls for the first time
4. Jesus meets His mother, Mary
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls for the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls for the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of His clothes
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
14. Jesus is placed in the tomb
Grandpa: It was Curé Desrochers in 1842 who first decorated the church with a Stations of the Cross.
Delphine: Grandpa, we are now in front of the choir and we have a statue of the Virgin Mary in front of which we find candles. Can you explain the purpose for having these candles there?
Grandpa: Well Delphine, we find candles in almost all Catholic churches. In old times and still in many places in Europe and elsewhere, candles are burnt in churches. I have some photos where you can see other examples of candles in churches.
Grandpa: But you Guillaume, can you tell me why people light candles in churches?
Guillaume: Maybe because before electricity you needed candles to light up churches?
Grandpa: It's a good point, but in truth, this tradition began long before Catholicism. The presence of candles in a church is a borrowing from Judaism. Among other things, there was in the Jerusalem synagogue in Jesus' time a candelabrum with seven branches that burned perpetually. The idea of using candles came about on its own because from the earliest days of Catholicism it was used during masses. This is how candles still remain an important symbolic tradition.
Delphine: And what is this symbolism?
Grandpa: The flame represents the light of God, which illuminates humanity. The flame also suggests the prayer that goes up to God. That is why if you look on the altar of the Church, you can see candles that are lit during Masses. Look also near the altar, you can see the Paschal candle. We talked about baptism earlier. Well during this baptism ceremony the priest lights a small candle with the flame of the Paschal candle. The flame of the little candle is then extinguished. This candle is then given to the new believer as a sign of this light of God, which will now light his path through life.
Delphine: But grandpa, I now understand a little better the use of candles during rites but why all these candles lit here under this statue?
Grandpa: Well, this idea of having a place in a church where you can buy a candle is a popular tradition. These candles are often placed in front of a chapel, which honours a saint. Here before you we find the statue of the Virgin Mary, certainly the most venerated woman of Christianity. The believers by lighting a candle make a gesture of prayer towards her. It can also be towards a saint whose image or statue is in front of them, it can be a prayer to Christ, it can be a prayer linked to the veneration of a relic, it can also be a prayer in sign of thanks. There are a thousand and one reasons for praying and they are all good. By lighting a candle, the believer sees his prayer rise to heaven, he also sees his prayer perpetuated as long as the candle takes to burn. Finally, lighting a candle is also a demonstration of a believer's faith in God.
Guillaume: Do we have to light a candle when we come to church?
Grandpa: Of course not, Guillaume. Lighting a candle is a demonstration of a person's faith. Another person may have just as fierce a faith in God but without having to light a candle. As I told you, lighting a candle is an act of popular piety. Each is free to choose to do so.
GROTTE DE NOTRE-DAME-DE-LOURDES
Guillaume: Grandpa, you talked earlier about a cave at the foot of the promontory. Are there any stalactites and stalagmites? Can we visit it?
Grandpa: No Guillaume, there are no stalactites or stalagmites. The small cave at the foot of the promontory is a stone construction, which is a replica of the cave of “Our Lady of Lourdes located in France.
Delphine: It represents the Blessed Virgin Mary right?
Grandpa: Yes, Delphine. Our Lady is another name for the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared 18 times to the clairvoyant Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 in the Massabielle cave in Lourdes, France. This place is today a place of pilgrimage because it is said that there are miraculous cures linked to the spring water from the cave. This influx of pilgrims resembles the practice that can also be seen close by in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré where miraculous healings have also been reported and annually, many pilgrims seek miraculous healing through prayer in Sainte-Anne, mother of Marie, grandmother of Jesus.
But back to the Massabielle cave in Lourdes. Many churches around the world have built replicas of this cave like here in Château-Richer. It is the veneration towards the Virgin Mary, which has pushed the believers to build these places of devotion. This allows believers to get closer to the Virgin Mary or even to the place where she appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.
So if you go for a walk at the bottom of the promontory you can see this small cave inside which you will see a statue of the Blessed Virgin at the foot of which you will also see a statue representing Bernadette Soubirous. Look I have some photography of Sainte Bernadette Soubirous as well as pictures of this cave, which I told you was in France.
Grandpa: Do you see the large paintings hanging on the wall on each side of the choir?
Grandpa: Well, at one time the Sisters of the order called “Du Bon Pasteur”, which could be translated to “Sisters of the Good Shepherd” worked to make copies of famous art works. This is how this church ended up with four magnificent paintings, two of which remain in the church today. In addition, the sisters also painted the frescoes of the vault of the church. Raise your head and notice the beauty of these frescoes that adorn the vault.
Grandpa: Well, let's talk about one of these paintings specifically the one on the right of the Choir. It represents the apparition or the vision of the Sacred Heart to Margaret-Mary Alacoque.
Grandpa: In fact, the painting before us is a frequent representation of Saint Margaret Alacoque praying at the feet of Jesus Christ who shines with light. You also see the heart that is painted on the chest of Jesus Christ. You will understand why. Sainte-Margaret-Mary Alacoque was born in 1647. She demonstrated strong devotion towards God early in life. She practiced severe mortifications on her body such as flogging, she whipped her own body in the image of Jesus who himself had been flogged before being crucified. This practice was done for the purpose of penance because she believed that she could be forgiven of her sins by the sufferings that she inflicted upon herself. At around 10 years old, she was paralyzed and remained bedridden for four years. She then made a vow to the Virgin Mary to dedicate herself to religious life. And suddenly she was cured of her paralysis. During adolescence, she remained pious and continued to flog herself as well as inflicting other means of torture. During one of these flogging sessions, she had a vision, an apparition of Christ. During one of his appearances, Jesus Christ would have shown his heart to her and said: "This is the heart that loved men so much ...". As she shared her experience with the Bishop, she would report that God had let her know that Jesus Christ’ s heart had to be honoured. The Catholic Church at the time saw in these apparitions and these revelations a logic that one had to glorify the heart of Jesus Christ as a symbol of divine love. Thus for the Catholic religion, also for the Anglican and Lutheran churches, the Sacred Heart represents a devotion to the heart of Jesus Christ. Over time, this practice of honouring the Sacred Heart has become a cult, a way of paying homage to Jesus Christ. This is the story behind the veneration of the Sacred Heart. You should now better understand the meaning of the painting in front of you.
PRAYING HANDS JOINED
Grandpa: Tell me, why do believers pray with hands joined together?
Guillaume: Because this is how they are taught to pray to God?
Grandpa: Yes, but that doesn't explain why. Do you have an idea Delphine?
Delphine: Is it a gesture to beg?
Grandpa: You're almost there. In fact, this posture for praying did not start with Jesus Christ. The Bible does not mention the idea of praying with hands joined. This practice appeared in the 9th century. And since then, this posture has been represented in paintings and sculptures. At the time, joining hands before ones Lord meant pledging loyalty to him. This is why the Church adopted this practice to demonstrate complete submission to the authority of God, to its creator. By joining hands, the believer today shows that he internalizes his faith and he does so in order to meditate that he is in the presence of God.
Guillaume: Grandpa, you told us about some Saints like this Saint Mary Alacoque ... and here in the province of Quebec we have many villages that are named in their honour. Why are all these people Saints?
Grandpa: The answer could be very long Guillaume, but I will try to give you the essence of what sainthood is.
Saints are men or women who have distinguished themselves for their great piety, their unconditional faith in God as well as for having demonstrated a model of life, an exemplary behaviour. The Church can then testify that after their death, their soul is in the presence of God in Paradise.
At the very beginning of Christianity, it was mainly those who were martyred in the name of God who were canonized as Saints. The pain they suffered led the priests of the time to raise them to the rank of Holy Martyrs and to venerate them. At the end of the persecutions, around the third and fourth centuries, the Church turned rather to the appointment of Doctors of the faith. In the 12th century, founders of religious orders, preachers and missionaries were also elevated as Saints. The 17th century saw the addition of martyred missionaries. You can think of Saint-Jean-de-Brébeuf, this Jesuit priest who was tortured by the Hurons in 1649.
Delphine: And how do you become a saint?
Grandpa: Well Delphine, the process is called canonization. At the beginning of Catholicism, it is the voice of the people that declared sainthood. Over time it was the Bishops who canonised a person to sainthood. Pope John XV made the first official declaration of a Pope for the sainthood of a person in the year 993. Over time, the rules for defining the process leading to canonization became more and more stringent. Today the Church has three criteria:
• He or she must necessarily be dead.
• He or she must have a spiritual influence after his or her death with human testimonies attesting to his or her martyrdom or his or her heroic virtue.
• He or she must have performed at least two miracles.
Guillaume: Grandpa, do you believe in miracles?
Grandpa: Well Guillaume, I believe that when someone has faith in God it is easier to believe in the ability of God to act on earth through his followers.
Delphine: Grandpa, I noticed that during mass or when a person passes in front of the tabernacle, he bends to put one knee to the ground. Can you tell me why?
Grandpa: It's called genuflection. It’s a form of respect towards God. During mass, before communion, it is expected to kneel on the kneeling pad that you can see between each church pew. This practice is meant to demonstrate a form of devotion, prayer and worship or even submission towards God.
But for the record when a believer makes a genuflection before God, which knee does he or she places on the ground?
Guillaume: I don't know grandpa.
Delphine: Me neither.
Grandpa: Well one would put the right knee on the ground, the right being reserved for God… So what about the left knee?
Delphine: I don't know either.
Grandpa: Well the left knee was put on the ground during a genuflection in front of a king or a queen for example. You will notice that this practice of genuflection is decreasing. Few still carryout a genuflection upon entering a Church or when passing in front of the Tabernacle.
Guillaume: Grandpa, you told us that the organ was blessed. I knew we blessed people but not objects?
Grandpa: I'm going to try to explain Guillaume. I told you that the organ had been blessed. I believe that Father Cloutier, by blessing the organ, wanted to thank God for his help and also wanted to praise and celebrate his generosity. But there are other examples Guillaume. Have you seen people blessing the meal they are about to eat?
Guillaume: Yes, the grandfather of a friend of mine does it for each meal.
Grandpa: So these are objects, not people, and this practice is done by believers to thank God for the meal they are about to eat.
Grandpa: I remember when I was young, on New Years Eve; the whole family knelt in front of my grandfather. He then proceeded to bless us. By this practice of blessing us he recognized the presence of God but he also tried by this ceremonial to lead us to him.
Guillaume: And did he succeed?
Grandpa: Partly Guillaume only partly. But I remember how my grandfather was a pious man, a man who had faith and for whom God was truly the center of his life. My memories of him are also marked by his kindness and his generosity towards me.
Delphine: Grandpa, why can't priests get married?
Grandpa: Ah… a very thorny question Delphine. Let's see what we can find in history to explain this. To begin with, this rule prohibiting the marriage of Catholic priests is called the "Clerical Celibacy". This means that the priest during his ordination vows obedience to his bishop and vows celibacy to devote himself entirely to a life dedicated to God.
In history now, at the beginning of Christianity and for seven centuries, the ordination of priests who were already married was allowed. But in the year 1074 AD, Pope Gregory VII imposed the rule that only single men could be chosen for the clergy. OK, everyone at the onset did not heed his directive and until the 12th century some became priest while still being married. We even saw popes having children. But over time the Pope's directive was applied to the entire clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Delphine: So all Catholic priests are single?
Grandpa: No Delphine. Under the supervision of the Pope, we find the so-called Eastern Catholic churches. These churches are located in places such as in Greece and Egypt. The priests of these churches can be married when they make their vows to become priest.
Grandpa: But your question is topical Delphine. There is a lot of debate and pressure around the world to change this practice and allow once again priests to be married and have children.
HELL AND PURGATORY
Delphine: Grandpa, we often see old paintings and illustrations that show gods in the clouds and in the sky as well as monsters and snakes underground trying to grab people by the legs to pull them underground.
Grandpa: And that intrigues you right? To explain this, I would need to tell you about hell! What is hell to you Guillaume?
Guillaume: Hell is a place of suffering, the land of Satan, a place full of flames and fires.
Grandpa: I see that you've seen a lot of movies ... Well, this notion of the existence of hell is not new. Already 2000 years before Christ, this idea of a world above and one below already existed. Over time, this idea of two separate worlds has evolved. For Christianity, hell was first seen as a place where the soul of the deceased went in order to be cleanses of his or her sins before he or she could ascend to heaven. Hell was also seen as a place of retribution from Satan for those who did not repent of their sins.
Over time, these notions have evolved further. The word purgatory appeared in the 11th century. At the time, the Church was very worried that someone who had committed a light sin could end up in hell forever. So the church created a place called the purgatory where the soul could go for purification, a place of healing.
Grandpa: Well, I'm going to stop here kids because granny is waiting for us. If you each had a thought to define the experience you just had during this visit, what would it be?
Guillaume: I learned a lot about the church and its history. And it's crazy how the story can be interesting and captivating. I think from now on I will apply myself in my history lessons at school.
Delphine: For me grandpa, it was my conception that I had made of the Catholic religion which was false. I believed that everything had been created, either by Jesus or at least in the time of Jesus. You made us discover that the practices, the rites and the traditions of today are the sum of many circumstances, which spans 2000 years. What a great adventure you made us live.
Grandpa: Well, I'm glad you enjoyed this visit.
We hope you enjoyed this visit with grandpa, Delphine and Guillaume and we sincerely thank you for coming.
Too many churches in Quebec disappear every year. We have here in Château-Richer a magnificent church which deserves to survive over time. This visit project is aimed at promoting the history and the heritage of the Côte-de-Beaupré. But we cannot hide the prospect of raising some funds to help us maintain the sustainability of this church. A voluntary contribution would be appreciated. Thank you for your generosity.