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Religious faux pas

23 August 2009
by Fergal OP

by Fergal OP

Many of you probably heard about the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s little faux pas back in July. The furor caused by the PM allegedly pocketing his Jesus-wafer has pretty much died down by now, but it reminded me of my own embarrassing brush with Catholic ceremonies.

Now, I was baptized a Catholic because my mom did not want an epic battle royale with her own mother, but after that I never set foot in a church, let alone a Catholic one.  I think both my parents had had all the church they could stand well before my brother and I were born.  However, when my mom’s younger siblings started popping out kids, we dutifully trouped to church to see them baptized.  The occasion of my embarrassment was one of those baptisms.

When I was 11 my uncle and his wife had their first child, and as a half-Polish, half-Italian baby my cousin didn’t stand a chance: he had to be baptized. So we all went to church for the baptism and a full Catholic mass. As my parents were the designated god-parents they were part of the ceremony. So  I was left sitting with one of my aunts in the front pews, trying to stand up and sit down at the right time.  Finally, the priest came to the part of the mass where he asks a member of the congregation to participate in the “presentation of the gifts” (for the uninitiated: basically bringing the bread and wine up to the altar to be blessed).  Because there was a baptism this day, the priest thought it would be appropriate to have a young child present the bread and the wine… and guess who was picked!  I protested vehemently, but my aunt (clearly unaware that I knew nothing about church) pushed me up to the altar.

Before or after presenting the bread and wine (my memory is a little hazy, I mostly just remember sheer panic) I was told to dip my hand in the holy water and cross myself.  After pretty thoroughly soaking my hand, I lifted it to cross myself… only, I didn’t know how. I’d never been to church, and clearly I hadn’t been paying attention when people did it in movies or on tv.  I knew I was supposed to touch my forehead first, and then I touched my shoulders, and finally I touched my sternum.  I made a nice lightening bolt symbol, but not so much a cross. Oops.

I’m pretty sure my grandmother, sitting in the pews, almost succumbed to a heart attack.  Mercifully she didn’t say anything to me, although she may have given my parents an earful after the service.

Needless to say, for the baptisms of my subsequent cousins I made sure to sit behind pillars and away from my aunt, fearing that I would be called on again. I also made sure I learned the proper way to cross myself, although I’ve never once done it since.

Anyone else have embarrassing church/temple/mosque stories?  Saying the wrong words? Spilling the wine? Eating the bread before the blessing? Dropping some important religious symbol?  I need to know I’m not alone when it comes to humiliating myself in a place of worship.

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