Many evangelicals are fascinated by the Catholic churches once they leave their old lifestyle. I realized that I share the same fascination. And today, I want to say something about that.
Living in southern Germany, I’m naturally surrounded by more catholics than I was back in the US. Many people here are catholic, the catholic churches are prominent buildings in pretty much every city, Catholicism is simply a part of the history of this area and that shows. If you take a hike in the woods, you’re likely to encounter old statues and tiny little chapels dedicated to Virgin Mary or another Saint.
The members of my German family are catholic as well, as is my boyfriend, hence I can hardly escape catholic life and ritual.
And I have to admit that I like it.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the mexican traditions of day of the dead – you have seen it, heard about it. What I didn’t know (and I’m sure you don’t know, either) is that there is a similar tradition that’s lived out in German catholic communities. Here, the catholics too decorate the graves of their loved ones with rather expensive flower arrangements. The graves are completely made up – softening the soil, planting new plants, scrubbing the stones, replacing broken decorations and so on. On All Hallows day (day after Halloween), the families go to the graves in the morning and the catholic priest hold a mass on the cemetery. It is impossible not to attend this if you have catholic family. Especially when there are multiple graves, you need everyone you can get. That is because on every grave of the family, at least one family member must be during the mass. Hence it is common for families to split up in order to have somebody by everyone’s grave. This year, it was me standing by the grave of my grandmother’s sister, who did not have any children of her own. After a round to visit every grave of the family and praying a short prayer, everyone went to their designated family member. As you can see, extended family counts as well, and it’s on you to take care of the dead when they don’t have any direct descendants. (picture: German cem before the beginning of the mass)
It felt weird, standing there, remembering a woman I never met (she died young), knowing that I was the only relative to think of her that moment. I could not help but fervently try to pray along Mary’s prayers as well as I could, which felt even weirder. But, despite the weirdness and unfamiliarity of all this, it felt good.
I liked standing there, the entire cem filled with people. Some graves had only one person standing next to it (like me), others had large families huddled around them.
And what felt even better? Realizing that catholics aren’t as “lunatic” as they’re made out to be. When the priest went into a lengthy prayer, asking God to take the sinners to heaven who weren’t ‘saved’ in their lifetime, praying for those who do not know the gospel and nevertheless act according to it in their best conscience, and pretty much for everyone to be saved despite their wrongdoings. Yes, Catholicism feels much more “real”, much more doable, much more just to the realities of life.
I do not think that I will become a catholic because, to be quite honest with you, right now I have no taste to actually “live” religion. But nevertheless, Catholicism is fascinating and, once you get over the evangelical viewpoint, very beautiful.