My cousin celebrated his First Holy Communion on Saturday, the second-most notable occurrence of the day for me. Since I am a heretic, I viewed the ceremonial first feast of Christ's transubstantiated flesh with a more detached, dispassionate eye. Other people see a young man taking the first step toward embracing the savior and living eternally in His love. Me, I try to look for the weird and the comedic as I journey down the road to Hell.
The first thing I noticed was that Catholics cannot sing. Not that you could really tell, since every single hymn is a lockstep, droning, tuneless dirge. To make matters worse, this church, along with a few others I have attended, has decided that many of its prayers should be sung, but without any attempt to fit a reasonable melody. What results is that a bunch of tone-deaf white people warble, "Ou-ur fa-a-ther/ Who art in hea-a-ven," and the Lord's Prayer takes three-and-a-half minutes to get through, and the Baby Jesus cries.
Maybe my perspective has changed because of the church across the street from my apartment. It was the Christian Layman Church for a few years, and was very sparsely attended. I used to imagine what church services would be like there:
PRIEST: And now, an epistle from Paul to the Corinthians. Be not...
CHURCHGOER: Uh, father? Could you, um, you know...?
PRIEST: Put it in layman's terms?
PRIEST: OK. So Paul is writing a letter to these dudes in Greece, and...
About two years ago, the Laymen were replaced by a large Baptist Church. Now, Sunday mornings on Ward Street feature gospel music, well-dressed African-American families, a multitude of fancy hats. Walking by one afternoon, I heard the minister thundering, "You know the difference between Ice Cube and Vanilla Ice. But do you know the difference between damnation and salvation?!?"
Maybe it's unrealistic of me to hold up my Irish Catholic family to the musical standards of a gospel choir. Still, even if rhythmn is too much to ask for, couldn't there be melody? Couldn't there be meter? Does off-key singing keep the devil away? (Answers: No. No. Maybe.)
It's also a bit unsettling to see a bunch of suit-clad eight year-olds affirming their commitment to following Jesus and rejecting Satan. The little girls wear white dresses and veils, I guess because they're marrying Jesus. I know that when I was eight, I basically treated religion like it was school. Adults would think I was extremely devout and holy, mainly just because I could read and remember large portions of the Bible. I was just worried there might be a test or a Bible trivia competition coming up, which I would of course be expected to ace. There wasn't much spirituality to the whole thing, unless you count the enormous guilt - I once stayed awake at night for a month after I ate half of a butterscotch candy out of the Brach's bin at Safeway, positive I was bound for Hell. Which I guess I am, for different reasons, if Jesus turns out to be right.
My main point is that young children don't really have the capacity to make decisions about their spiritual lives. I got baptized when I was seven (older than normal). When I went up to get my head doused in holy water, the priest had me remove my prized sport jacket, just so it wouldn't get wet. Because of all the Satan talk that followed, I was left with the impression that the suit jacket was removed because it was dark-colored. For years, I would watch anxiously when men in suits would do anything near the altar, for fear that the devil would take advantage of their dark-jacketed vulnerability.
My cousin wore a gray suit for the ceremony, and he can't sing, so I think Satan's out of luck this time!