How do we learn about faith? The other day I asked a lady of Scottish heritage at St. Mary’s Parish (who is in her late 80’s) how she learned her prayers and catechism. What she told me was not about books, but the story of her mother, her brothers and sisters, and of a faith that was taught from the heart and lips of her mother. (The Scottish people were story tellers and passed on their customs, culture, and faith orally – the oral tradition.) I asked her if she would write down a few words, and a few days later she gave me a hand written note. I have decided to type most of it up, and to share it with you. It is a story of faith, a loving mother, of memory, and the oral tradition. Today many Catholics find it difficult to express their faith – they just don’t have the words or the vocabulary. This might help us to appreciate the ways of another era, and to learn a little from days gone by.
I learned at a very young age that prayer was top priority in my life. I came from a large family and it was at the age of 3 that we started to learn our prayers. At 3 years of age our prayer was learning to bless ourselves. I can still see my mother with my younger siblings, guiding their hands in making the Sign of the Cross. That was our first prayer, and we didn’t move on to the ‘Our Father” until we could bless ourselves without help, and we didn’t move on to the ‘Hail Mary’ until we made no mistakes in the ‘Our Father’, and so on down the line.
The task seemed to fall on mother. She would sit on a chair in the kitchen and each one of us would take our turn of kneeling in front of her. We would repeat word for word after her each prayer each night until we could say it well. These prayers were always said immediately after supper in the evening so the younger ones could get to bed and the older ones could do their homework This was a nightly ritual. Then the Rosary was recited before the rest of us went to bed.
My mother and her siblings must have learned their prayers the same way from my grandmother’s knees. I presume this to be so as whenever we went to visit our grandparents, as small children, the last thing we did before retiring for the night was kneel at Grandma’s knees and say whatever prayers we had learned up until then. I taught my own children exactly the same way and this was repeated down the line.
When it came to learning my catechism it was much the same way. My mother taught me until I was able to read well enough to be able to study it myself, but a lot of the Catechism, for me, was by rote – mechanical – a lot of it like my prayers.
Religious Literacy is as much a concern today, as it was in the life of this lady and her mother. We need to know our prayers etc., if we are to celebrate and share the faith. Some of you might be interested in watching this brief video: Thomas Groome speaks about the idea of “religious literacy.”