Saturday, February 6, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #7: Third Grade

Sister Mary Noreen was my third-grade catechism teacher. She was pleasantly plump and had a sense of humor. I liked her once I got used to her.

The structure of catechism classes changed that year. With Sister Mary Luke catechism had been like a one-room schoolhouse with children from first through eighth grades together in one classroom. But with Sister Noreen we third-graders were together. What happened at the other grade levels, I don't recall. Also, by this year my brother John was going to catechism classes too. But, he was not in my class, as he would have been if the structure had not changed,.

I believe that the change happened because of the Baby Boom. My cohort was actually on the cutting edge of that group. I suspect that, as it became apparent to the school administrators that class sizes were increasing, they could no longer fit all the children of all the grade levels together.

This was the year that those of us in public school were allowed to receive our First Holy Communion. We were required to wait a whole year longer than the children who went full time to Catholic school. Then, I felt it was unfair. Now, I think it was wise. The exposure of public school children to religious instruction compared with Catholic school children is very minimal. I had the advantage of my father's interest and encouragement, which I think gave me an advantage. He had been a seminarian and knew the Catholic faith inside-out.

When it was time to prepare for the ceremony, we practiced interminably---or so it seemed to me. We went to church with the second grade Catholic school children and were seated by size from smallest to tallest; boys on one side and girls on the other. Being a year older than most, we third-graders were nearer to the back. I know I was, and I didn't like it.

We learned certain hymns. We practiced kneeling straight and walking in synchronization with partners for the entrance and exit processions. Our hands had to be folded just like one sees in pictures of "The Praying Hands."

We were allowed, on this occasion, to enter the sanctuary, a unique privilege in those pre-Vatican Council II times. There was an emphasis on form and being just perfect. It was mercilessly tedious and monotonous! In a way, though, the toughness of the preparation that we endured made the reception of the sacrament seem very, very important.

Our pastor, Msgr. Schmidt, came to one of the final practices. He asked that each of us say a "Hail Mary" for him after we received Jesus for the first time. He told us that our prayers on the occasion of our First Holy Communion would be extra special. I remembered to say that prayer for him, as well as other prayers for which we had been prepared.

I do remember the actual day of my First Holy Communion. It was important to me. I tried to remember everything we practiced. I remember the moment of walking with my partner into the sanctuary, turning, taking my place, and kneeling. I remember receiving Jesus for the first time and being very happy about it. I remember leaving the sanctuary and returning to my place, as we had practiced. I remember praying.

Sadly, I have no photos of that day. NONE! I remember that sometime afterwards my mother had the dress dry cleaned and placed in a special box. She wrapped it in blue tissue, which she said would preserve the whiteness of the dress and veil. That's my mother, the scientist! But, although I noticed the box in our basement for many years, I don't know what became of it in the long run.

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