There’s still a large number of American Catholics who aren’t really represented by EWTN, the blogosphere, et al. They often feel very awkward on the modern Catholic scene, because all the basic cultural assumptions that they were brought up with are “Apollonian”, and even most EF diehards that speak publicly seem “Dionysian” to them by contrast. They’re the ones who show up for Adoration all the time, but don’t really feel comfortable with most apostolates. They like to act in groups or as a parish; as individuals it’s better to act in total secret.
They are misread as “cold”, “indifferent”, “mechanical”, or “afraid to act Catholic” by many, whereas they are actually passionately following a totally different sort of spirituality and aesthetic than what is celebrated by most other modern Catholics, traditional or no. This breeds a lot of resentment; but their culture forbids them to talk in public about being unhappy with stuff like this. Often, this lurks behind some messy, messy blog flamewars, but is never openly mentioned.
I think it’s time to break the rules and talk about our sort of Catholicism. I’m calling this “German-American” for convenience only; there are different brands of German cultures. Also, I’m sure this sort of spirituality is also followed by folks of many other ethnicities; but this is how I know it, so it’s the only one I can talk about. Just by being able to talk about it, I show that I’m a naughty, unrepentant representative of the class.
You might just be a German-American Catholic if:
What other Catholic ethnic groups and rites do is their problem. Your concern is what you and your family were raised to do. You reserve the right to be snarky and critical about people not raised in your traditions, but mostly are glad not to have to worry about them. Criticism is better directed at your family and those raised like you. (And yes, this means your mother feels able to criticize this pope, whereas she would never have thought of criticizing a Holy Father who was an Italian or a Pole.) Heck, criticism is family. Criticism is love.
You came across passages from certain early Church Fathers saying no Christian should ever be too happy or too sad, because getting emotional is unworthy of our position as God’s children, and you thought, “Mom would love this.”
Much of your religious instruction was received tactilely — i.e., some member of your family poked you with a finger or an elbow when something relevant was said at Mass.
You wonder why feminists get upset about St. Paul saying women shouldn’t be heard in church, because you were taught that men and children shouldn’t be heard in church, either. Unless you’re a priest, of course.
Everybody knows what everybody else is thinking and feeling and why, so the only reason to talk about it is to affirm it, or to argue about it. Very seldom do someone’s reactions surprise you, because inside the family you live on top of each other and know everything about each other. When people go away and come back a bit different, it’s deeply unnerving.
You know in your bones that eating everything on your plate is a matter of faith and morals. As a child, you were made to sit at the table for hours after supper staring at the vegetables you refused to eat, only to get them for breakfast in the morning — and this was only right and logical.
Of course families eat together. And of course you can’t come home without being fed.
Behaving with perfect decorum, and making all the gestures and movements correctly and simply, is a very meritorious form of prayer and recollection.
You’re allowed to read any prayerbook during any part of Mass, especially during the homily. Making eye contact with the priest when he’s talking to you is just not right. If you’re being lectured about something, it’s insolent to make eye contact unless specifically directed. (And your parents or superiors have to be pretty angry at you to demand that.)
Mental prayer and meditation is preferred to vocal at all times, but especially at Mass. Very young children are old enough to learn some mental prayer. You don’t have many nitpicky stories about bad Mass celebration or people dressing badly, because prayer often means having your eyes closed a lot of the time.
Of course all boys become servers, unless there’s something wrong and they physically can’t help out at Mass. You can’t understand why male Irish Catholic politicians are always boasting that they used to be altarboys, because all that says is that they haven’t changed religion or sex.
You always pick up a church bulletin because they’re interesting to read, but also because it reassures your mom that you get up on Sunday and go.
Breaking your arm a block away from church during an icestorm was just sufficient excuse for not getting to Sunday Mass, but you did have a serious discussion with your family about whether you could make it to evening Mass downtown. (Before your mother pointed out that you were on drugs and ordered to stay in bed, and made sure you slept through that time. And then she got your brother to take her to Mass while you were safely out of it.) So you understood the guy online who said you should confess allowing yourself to slip, because that meant insufficient effort to get to Mass — even though you didn’t agree.
Failing to make springerle at Christmastime is a sign of the breakdown of family life (though everybody else’s family recipe is subtly wrong). You seriously worried about the Pope’s Christmas provisions and whether they were feeding him enough in Italy, until you found out that he has a friend who brings all the trimmings over the mountains from Germany, including five kinds of Christmas cookies from a friendly convent of nuns. Then you actually went looking to make sure that springerle were included.
The most important point of the Pope’s encyclical on hope was the part when he told people to “offer it up”.
Praying out loud is something only to be done as a group, or in the presence of God alone with nobody else around to hear you. Devotions should never be done where anybody can see you, unless it’s a group devotion. If you tell people you’re doing it, you’re probably a prideful hypocrite. (Again, this doesn’t affect your opinion of other Catholic ethnic groups who do otherwise; but for you to do it would be awkward.)
If you’re not a priest, a teacher, or a parent instructing your kids, you really shouldn’t be talking about God, Catholicism, or any religious topic. If you talk about it in a low voice, you might be allowed to get away with it. (Your mother prefers to think that you only blog about politics, and is sure that the only religious blogs worth reading are ones by priests and religious. It’s just as well she doesn’t get on the Internet.)
Making yourself conspicuous is probably a sin, but it’s certainly grounds to get poked at.
If you sing at Mass loud enough to be audible in the next pew, your parents poke at you until you stop. But if you join choir, that gives you the credentials to be audible.
Any non-church adult hobby activity is a waste of time, unless it makes you money.
Spending too much time at church or giving too much away is a bad thing. Charity begins at home, so you should be dedicating yourself more to your family instead.
Moderation is the best thing in all things, including virtue.
On the other hand, if there’s a way to do it perfectly, that’s the moderate way to do it. Good enough is a failure.
Nobody outside your family should be told anything much about what goes on inside your family — good, bad, or indifferent. Family is supposed to be deeply private. When in doubt about telling younger family members things about previous happenings or the reasons certain family members do things, it’s more socially acceptable to keep quiet.
You know in your heart that if Catholic women got ordained, your mother would not only be a bishop, but would reinstitute the Inquisition in her diocese. So you support men’s ordination. Oh, yes.
St. Nicholas left all your candy in your stocking on December 6th, so that was the morning you really got up early. But you could get up as early as you liked as a kid, as long as you didn’t make any noise at all. Bedtimes were absolute.
Yelling during playtime was not permitted, unless you were far enough away from the house that your parents couldn’t hear you.
What other people call a clean and tidy house is what your mother calls hopelessly dirty and messy. Having someone over for a party requires a week’s preparation and mental anguish.
As a kid, you are instructed that you never, ever invite anyone into the house, unless it’s a dire emergency. If you do invite someone in, you have to offer them something to drink. Right away. Anything potable in the house. If they are there more than half an hour, you have to bring snack food, whether people will eat it or not.
You never, ever go inside anybody else’s house unless you’re invited. If you do go inside their house, you should always refuse food or drink until you know them really well. (Unless a Southern family moves next door, in which case your mother eventually gives you an indult out of cultural sensitivity.)
In public, it’s rude to point, stare, or get visibly interested in… well, anything.
If people outside your family and close friends can tell what you’re thinking from your face, you’re doing it wrong.
Your house should always contain a crucifix, a statue of Our Lady, a picture of the Sacred Heart, and palm branches from last Palm Sunday. But only the crucifix and the palm branches should be immediately visible when walking through the house; they’re not hidden, but they are placed discreetly. Having religious things visible from the front door is probably an act of pride and hypocrisy. (Though again, one doesn’t expect Catholics from other ethnic groups, or non-Catholics, to behave this way.)
You’re allowed to have as many holy cards as you can stuff into your Missal, Bible, or dresser drawers.
You would never call it a tithe, but you give plenty of money to support your parish and to good causes. Because you’re thrifty, you have plenty of money to give. You never ever talk about this, except with your spouse. (This matter of fact generosity is another way I don’t measure up to the older German generation.)
Read the obituary section every day. If you go on vacation, catch up on those as soon as you get back. If you know somebody who died, or you know somebody who knows somebody, or if you have any connection at all, you should go to the funeral or the viewing. Never let anybody see you taking too much interest in the cards on the flowers or the attendance, but always know all about it afterwards. You will be questioned about it by your relatives, even if they don’t know anyone involved.
You’ve been taught to be highly suspicious of non-German innovations like mantillas. Catholic women wear hats or scarves if they wear anything on their heads for Mass. And even though your mother despises hats and gloves and purses, she can’t help adjusting your hat — and angling for you to find a matched set of gloves and handbag, to go with your hat.
It’s almost as wrong to “dress like an old woman” as it is to dress like a floozy.
If something really bad is happening, you don’t mention it to anyone because you don’t want them to worry. Conspicuous cheerfulness and affection is a sign that something is wrong.
If EWTN had been founded by a German nun instead of an Italian one, you’re fairly sure that silence would reign for large parts of the broadcast day, and nobody would ever openly ask for money. OTOH, the entire fishing and game industry would probably have been taken over by the German Mother Angelica’s fishing lure business, and we’d probably have Jaegernuns with Guns as an EWTN show.