Mrs. Smith’s fish sticks




Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind 

(Douglas MacArthur)

There were other reasons to give up being a Catholic, not the least of which was the propensity of the higher authorities to constantly change the rules, the hypocrisy of which made it hard to keep the faith, much less even to keep abreast of the faith.

What were once venial or mortal sins were suddenly eliminated in an effort to keep ever dwindling numbers of disaffected parishioners still on the hook for mass. And everyone knows that mass is where the money is.

First, the centuries old habit of saying the mass in Latin, except for the  insipid Homilies and begging for money, was switched to English. Converting to the vernacular demystified the ritual, which made the whole exercise seem cheapened and infinitely more boring than it already was. Mass being more like a mindless repetitive TV info-commercial than an uplifting and inspiring religious event, had now become dull, rote pomp and circumstance in English.

For example, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis” sounds much more romantic than “Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us;”  even when it has to be repeated three times.

Then there was the issue of having to fast before receiving Holy Communion. Why a person cannot eat the body of Jesus on a full stomach or drink his blood after a nice glass of orange juice simply makes no sense at all if one is then just headed out to a Diner right after Mass to slake starvation by gorging himself on pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast and sausage.

This is not to mention the fact that not more than one dehydrated diabetic or hypoglycemic grandmother would pass out if they waited to go to eleven-thirty mass without food or water for half a day. Fainting in church is more disruptive than apostolic, so that rule had to go too.

Then of course there was the requirement not to eat meat on Friday, because that was the day of the week Jesus was crucified. Yet how his having been nailed to a cross eventually became translated into a requirement to eat fish is anybody’s guess.

It seems to have had something to do with an allegory of his tortured flesh and the fact that eating meat would somehow thus insult him; ergo torture a fish instead. Nevertheless, liturgical calendars always had a fish pasted on every Friday. It also appeared on a few other Holy Days, as some sort of secret code for what usually turned out to be a culinary catastrophe. In those days it meant at our house we either had Mrs. Smith’s breaded fish sticks, canned salmon cakes or some other overcooked or cleverly disguised deep sea specimen that barely passed for real food.

On “half-fish” liturgical days, designated to be only partial days of self sacrifice, I begged my mother to let me have hot dogs for lunch. I also begged her never to rat me out to any of my especially self-martyring Italian aunts who would always let it be known to any captive audience that they had taken it upon themselves to “whole-fish” the “half-fish” day.

  • We like the old rules and we do it because Father said it would definitely take time off our Purgatory.

I thought to myself:

  •  Yeah. Maybe two and a half seconds off each millennium.

Whereas once upon a time if anyone ever admitted to having a hamburger on a Friday, and any good Catholic would be aghast at the very thought of it, suddenly one day, it was no longer a sin to eat meat, and the fish became optional. This paradoxically occurred at just about the same point in time that eating fresh seafood as well as its availability along with an awareness of how to really cook it, finally came into vogue.

  • So Father. You mean to tell me that the time I had a hamburger on a Friday doesn’t count toward days in Purgatory anymore?
  • Well, not exactly, my son. You see you broke the rule before we changed it so you still have to atone and pay up. You have acquired what we now refer to as a retrograde sin.

The best one of all however, is the concept of giving something up for Lent. This bit of self sacrifice is supposed to correlate with the forty days that Jesus spent in the dessert, resisting numerous temptations by the devil, including the promise to deliver to him the Kingdom of Earth if he would but bend down and worship his satanic majesty.

Maybe if Jesus had just gone ahead and done it, this world might have been a nicer place to live in for the last 2000 years and modern Christians would not feel so compelled at all to mimic this heroic resistance by instead giving up relatively mundane things like chocolate, cookies or pie. How brave. How about doing something really big instead like handing over six paychecks to a homeless person?

Even here the Protestant rules have been changed because suddenly it has been condoned to indulge on all of the Six Sundays in Lent, in whatever promise one has made to give up. The perverse logic here is that because each Sunday in Lent is in reality a “mini-Easter,” Sunday then becomes a preamble to the real celebration and as such is then a dress rehearsal for re-indulgence.

This means that during each regular weekday if I give up a piece of pie for Lent, I could eat an entire pie on Sunday to make up for the loss; provided only that the pie was cut into seven equal pieces. Or would that be no pieces at all? This rule is still being worked on.

People still walk up to me on Ash Wednesday with a black smudge on their foreheads, wearing the silly greasy fingerprint like a badge of smug courage, then self-righteously ask me if I am going to give anything up for Lent.

  • Hey. Today is the first day of Lent. I gave up peanuts, cheese and chocolate. So what are you going to give up?
  • Well aren’t you the cat’s meow. How about something really sacrificial like sex? Or maybe sex with your mistress. But how about this? They change the rules so often I can’t keep up with it. So from now on I will refuse to let some hypocritical holy-rolling priest smear last week’s incinerated palm leaves on my head and then walk around like it’s some kind of a Catholic yarmulke. Then I’m just going to give up Lent for Lent.
  • You will roast in Hell.
  • Not if I don’t believe it actually exists.