Rituals

Rules

Rules

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Rituals Gone Wrong

Rituals Gone Wrong

People thrive on rituals. Rituals serve as reminders of cultural roots, religious ideologies and anniversaries that mark important milestones or events. On a more mundane level they may serve to mark any reasonable excuse to get together for a party. Super Bowl Sunday is one of my favorites.

Ritualistic behavior is really nothing more than a repetitive act that either ensures the ability of a person or thing to maintain contact and equilibrium with its environment or to eat excessively and get drunk. On a social level, rituals ensure cultural bonding, a reaffirmation of life cycles; while in the extreme or at the more deviant level, they ensure a reaffirmation of perverse existence.

For example, my office manager’s husband Fred thinks that every gathering with his friends becomes a first event that should be celebrated yearly, such as the “Annual First Time We Ever Got Together and Ate Chinese Food.” He also likes to drive around playing the same Flying Burrito Brothers or Steve Goodman albums over and over again; a habit that makes his wife have to restrain herself from reaching over to strangle him. Repeatedly playing ones favorite tunes, as many of us are prone to do, is an example of a rather benign form of ritualistic behavior that makes us happy and soothes our nerves; whereas for example an Aztec ceremonial ritualistic evisceration, sexually addictive masturbation or the acts of a serial killer are not.

Some ritualistic behaviors such as repetitive hand washing however fall into the category of the mild psychosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Ritualistic gatherings such as those centered on a holiday define our common roots, bringing us all together to allow or to facilitate both celebrating and reminiscing about the good old days or to anticipate potentially better times ahead. Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years fall into these categories.

In the Catholic Church as well as in the Jewish faith, rituals not only celebrate holidays and Holy days but also center on rites of passage.

Catholics have Baptism, a ritual that abolishes Original Sin. They also have Confirmation, a ritual that inducts a young man, as a Private First Class, into the army of Christ.

In the Jewish faith there is the Bris milah or circumcision, a ritual that affirms Abraham’s covenant with God; then later on the Bar or Botz mitzvah, a ritual that signifies the rite of passage of boys or girls crossing from childhood to adulthood.

Of all the religious rituals however, circumcision seems to be the one most shrouded in mystery and the one least associated with common sense.

Even if one subscribes to the biblical proscription that it is mandatory to identify one as being a certified Jew, something that the Nazis used to their advantage in consigning people to death, this does not explain why the Islamic faiths as well as Eastern Orthodox and Coptic faiths also subscribe to this ritual; or even why the procedure is drawn on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.

This is especially so since there is no clear-cut medical evidence as to whether there is any benefit to the procedure except possibly for the purpose of allowing better personal hygiene, or as far as I know making absolutely no difference in the sex life of males who walk around with or without their putz intact.

The only possible reason would be eliminating the possibility of unwanted odiferous smegma ruining the potential for a good blow job.

I happen to be circumcised, for no apparent reason other than the fact that my mother was told by some Pediatrician that it was a good idea.

However the worst example of pig-headed determination to subscribe to blind ritual happened to my next-door neighbor’s daughter.

She was a Christian of German descent who had married a Jewish man she described as not only being from California but who she also referred to as being a “California Jew.” This is roughly translated into meaning that either he or his family, or both, virtually did not practice their faith at all and is equivalent to being known as a “Once a year Catholic” on Easter or Christmas.

However, when she had her first son, he insisted on having the child circumcised, which was done by a Pediatrician.But when the second son was born he went one step further by insisting that the procedure be done in the customary manner of the faith by a mohel (pronounced moyel).

A mohel is a person specifically trained to do circumcisions in a religious ceremony eight days after birth, in which some unlucky close family friend gets to hold the baby while this person cuts off the foreskin. Simultaneously the baby adopts the name of some other totally impersonal ancient dead ancestor.

In a more gruesome form of the ceremony known as a metzitzah, the mohel cuts of the foreskin after which he sucks the blood off the end of the incision. This practice was known to occasionally transmit herpes to the baby and so was largely discontinued as being an unhealthy; medieval, and outdated practice.

When you grow up how would you like to have to tell any of your potential girlfriends that story?

  • I got genital herpes from the mohel when I was eight days old and he sucked my dick.
  • Right. Pigs can fly too. Then you’ll probably tell me we need to fuck because tomorrow you’re being sent to Viet-Nam and you might die.

Like I said, brushing a little holy water on the baby’s head is quicker, simpler, neater and cleaner.

In any case, my friend’s husband insisted that the person to do the job was the “King Mohel” of Washington D.C., the mohel of all the mohels.

The only problem was that this person, who was in his eighties, had a senile hand tremor that resulted in him slicing off part of the poor kid’s penis. This accident resulted in an injury to the urethra that caused the urinary stream to blast out sideways and then required about five cosmetic repairs. The aftermath caused enormous physical pain along with emotional difficulties for the victim over his first decade of his life. It also almost resulted in a divorce as his mother then had her own cross of guilt to bear over letting this happen in the first place. She said:

  • The son of a bitch never even went to Temple and then he made me get this quack bastard mohel to do the job so he could push his own guilt aside, atone for his sins and bond with his stupid religious roots. I hate him. It makes me want to cut his dick off, too.

I told her I felt the same way about the new craze to let midwives deliver babies. I told her:

  • People forget that the reason infant and maternal mortality is so low is because we have doctors delivering babies. They also forget that the risk is still so high that these guys are at the top of the medical malpractice food chain both in litigation as well as premium costs.

It wasn’t really funny at all, but years later when I thought about it sarcastically, I could envision some tremulous old mohel in 500 B.C. bending over a baby, slicing off the poor kid’s entire penis and handing the baby back to his mother saying:

  • Congratulations. Now it’s a baby gohel.

 

 

Tools of the Trade

The Tools of the Trade

(Circumcision kit: Photo source: Wikipedia)