As you probably know about me, I was brought up Catholic and went to Catholic school. . . in fact, until I was twenty three, I even went to mass every week. Not so much because I WANTED to, but because my mum is pretty strict like that, and it was the one thing she wouldn't bend on. But from the moment I moved out, I stopped going. My gran's funeral last weekend was the first time I'd set foot inside a church in more than five years. Mainly because I don't really get the point of certain traditions, two in particular.
These two traditions I am talking about are at the beginning and the end of the forty days prior to Easter which comprise Lent. The first is Ash Wednesday. For those who are not lucky enough to know about Catholicism, this involves you going to church and having the priest smear some sticky, gritty grey-black goo on your forehead. Apparently this should be a cross sign. It rarely works out that way. In fact, you end up looking kinda like you're taking part in an ink-blot test. ("I see a . . . butterfly. No - wait! It's a man wielding an axe!") Anyway, THEN you're meant to walk about for the rest of the day BRANDED with this mark, saying to all and sundry "I'm Catholic and I'm proud". Clearly, this is NOT what it's meant to say. I believe it's meant to be about people realising their mortality and that one day we will all be ashes and so on. It doesn't say that to me.
When I was younger we would go to the nearby chapel with my school on Ash Wednesday and my class always seemed to end up in the balcony. At the end of the mass, we would line up to leave and a priest would smear the gritty shit all over our heads before we went down the stairs. By the time we got to the bottom of the stairs, my ashes would always have mysteriously disappeared and the back of my hand was suddenly covered with the goo. Don't know HOW that happened. All I knew was, I wasn't walking about like THAT! People might think I hadn't WASHED!
The second tradition which I don't get is almost more humiliating* in my eyes, but at least only the people in the church with you are actually privy to it. It is something that Catholics all over the world might be doing at this very moment, as it is a Good Friday tradition. Kissing the cross.
You line up for the privilege of bending down and kissing a crucifix. Or, more precisely, JESUS on the crucifix. I can't even remember what PART of him you kiss, I just know it's utterly humiliating. I always felt like the altar boys holding the cross as you bent over it were amusing themselves by judging your kissing technique (you have to remember here that I am so self-conscious that sometimes I feel eating a baguette is a trial because anyone who witnesses it might be judging my FELLATIO technique!) I found it so embarrassing, and dreaded Good Friday as a result.
So these silly traditions, among a few others, are some of the reasons why I no longer go to church. Add to this: confession (why would telling an old man the bad things I have done absolve me of my sins - especially since, let's face it, I'm going to be selective with my truths - don't want to shock/arouse him TOO much), first communion (why do I have to wear a pretty white dress to eat some unleavened bread for the first time? Although at least it means I've already walked down the aisle of a church in a white dress, albeit at the age of 7/8), the sign of peace (having to shake hands with strangers isn't exactly my idea of fun, unless I'm inebriated at the time); and the church's stance on contraception (they do realise that encouraging a bunch of horny teenagers NOT to use condoms etc is not going to stop them from having sex, right???)
But anyway, that's my rant over for now. Apologies if I've offended anyone, I just think I'm developing a problem with organised religion and, let's face it, the only one I have really any experience of is my own. I still believe there is a God out there, I still pray on occasion, and I like to think there's a Heaven. . . but I don't believe we necessarily need to all troop en masse to a church to celebrate that. Especially when mainly we just end up humiliated.
*That being said, the most humiliating thing that ever happened to me in a church was nothing to do with any of this stuff. I fainted. How embarrassing. Luckily we were on holiday at the time so it wasn't my local church. Phew.