Friday, 1 April 2016

Easter Traditions & Female Conversions

It's Easter Friday, and I still haven't written a post about the joys of Easter. This is a sign that I have been incredibly busy. Mostly I have been editing academic work, with bouts of baking in between.

Easter is a wonderful time to adopt new traditions and impose them upon the ones you love. For example, I make Polish white sausage soup, i.e. żurek, for Easter Sunday breakfast as well as a baranek (lamb-shaped cake) and the traditional Anglo-Saxon simnel cake. Fortunately B.A. likes żurek and finds baranki adorable, even if he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth. I am not sure what he thinks of the simnel cake although he obviously approves of its inherent Britishness.

For his part, B.A. goes to the Extraordinary Form of the Easter Vigil every year, so naturally I go too, and very long it is. My missal is from 1945 and therefore doesn't have the Easter reforms of Pope Leo XIII, which means a lot of mad page-flipping in the dark by me. Annually I accidentally set my paper lantern on fire. Still it is a beautiful and palpably holy liturgy, full of joy when the bells ring out through the Gloria and we all get to sing "Alleluia." If one is distracted by wordly concerns, one is probably thinking guiltily about how often one broke one's Lenten promises and how much one is going to enjoy one's Easter Season treats, which is much holier than working out a shopping list or how to make gluten free cake.  My personal preference is for Easter Sunday morning Mass, which I have always thought the liturgical high point of the year.

It is, incidentally, an immeasurably joy to be a Catholic married to another practicing Catholic. I have a lot of thoughts about this, as I am sure you already know or can imagine.

This is the busiest time of year at the Historical House, so B.A. has not partaken in as many Easter parties as I have. So far I have been to an Easter Sunday Lunch and an Easter Sunday supper, and hosted a Holy Tuesday supper, an Easter Tuesday supper and an Easter Thursday tea party.  This involved much baking on my part: the simnel cake went to the Easter Sunday Lunch with me. I carried it in a big wicker basket as if I were Little Red Riding Hood. The only Christians (as opposed to post-Christians) at Easter Sunday supper were B.A. and I, which made for an entirely different atmosphere. Christian festivals without Christian belief are a bit odd at best, and pretty disgusting (e.g. Mardi Gras) at worst.


I was thinking about interfaith dating yesterday and how tragic it can be, and how although men seem to knuckle under adopt their Catholic wives' religious convictions, women don't seem to knuckle under adopt their Catholic husbands'.

This morning I realized this was complete nonsense. One of my Irish-American Catholic great-grandmothers became Lutheran when she ran away and married my Lutheran German-American great-grandfather. (She reconciled with the Church on her deathbed; according to family legend this was thanks to a Polish priest.) Her Lutheran second daughter, my grandmother, became a Roman Catholic to marry my Irish-American Roman Catholic grandfather. Then my Scots-Protestant mother, who had long wanted to become a Catholic anyway, became a Catholic a few months before she married my Irish-German-American Catholic father. Finally, after bouncing about from English Novus Ordo Mass, to German Novus Ordo Mass, to Praise & Worship Mass, depending on how I felt that Sunday morning, I came over all traddy when I met delightful B.A and determined to go to the EF from then on.

I wonder how significant it is that all these women switched BEFORE we got married. (I also wonder how significant it was that before 1971 the Church bewailed mixed marriages and tried to discourage them.) Being a cheerful cynic, I have observed that people who undertake enormous efforts and go to great lengths to get married do not stir themselves to such dramatic changes after marriage. As the playground rhyme goes, first comes love and then comes marriage. Non-Catholics who think they can tolerate the Catholic program before they get married feel increasingly impatient with it afterwards.

Of course, this is a generalization and I know many cases of men converting to the Catholic faith of their wives and children. However, I can't think of many cases of women converting to  their husbands' Catholicism after years of marriage although perhaps you can. Perhaps it comes down to personality--and of course, faith is ultimately a gift from God. Therefore, the appropriate response to the challenges springing from mixed marriage is concerted prayer by the Catholic spouse and his or her Catholic relations and friends. Of course, being good examples of integrity would most likely help, too. The non-Catholic surrounded by Catholic hypocrites is not likely to be that impressed by Catholicism. Naturally, Catholicism should be presented as a gift and a blessing, not as a series of "Don'ts." Fasting, for example, should be undertaken not as a pain in the neck, but as a bracing form of spiritual exercise, the religious equivalent of skipping dessert and going to the gym to lose a few pounds.


  1. Hey D, Glad you had a wonderful, busy Easter!

    Interesting that you mentioned Catholic-Catholic marriages vs interfaith. I have had several priests recently suggest that is 'unrealistic' and we should 'broaden our horizons' to non-Catholics & non-Christians romantically.

    But I keep noting how many women attend Mass with their kids, and their non-Catholic spouses are so absent (maybe Christmas & Easter) you assume the women are widows ;) And how many times their kids are the ones who drop the faith, usually permanently.

    Then there is what you said about conversions, which I hadn't thought about, but does appear true anecdotally.

    So why do priests and church seem so down on promoting Catholic-Catholic relationships? Are they worried they will be seen as intolerant of other faiths? Either way, it feels very odd...

    Southern Bloke.

  2. It definitely seems true anecdotally that women are more likely to convert for the man, but before the marriage. I can think of a number of examples of this. However, our pediatrician, who has attended mass for 10+ years with her husband and children, was just received into the Church.

    This seems doesn't seem so unlikely given that she, it seems, agreed to attend mass every week before her marriage (I don't know this for sure, but it certainly seems that way). It also seems like women are more likely to agree to this than men are.

    SB, that is terrible. The priests around here (oklahoma) do NOT say that. I would think it is because they want to promote marriage, period, since it is happening less and less. Or their peers were more likely to convert than the generation marrying now (it seems to me; maybe I'm wrong).

  3. SB
    Our local parish priest says the opposite. Mainly because he sees the fall out which is generally the Catholic spouse drops away and then later on he is trying to bring them back to the church when they want to baptise their older children so they can go to the Catholic school. He is always lamenting how few Catholic-Catholic marriages there seem to be.
    I am soooooo glad that I stopped dating non Catholics and decided that I could only marry a Catholic. When you are faced with a doctor telling you your unborn child has a genetic disorder and will require a great deal of medical care for the rest of his life, a like minded Catholic spouse is a God send. You just don't know what situations will arrise in your life and if your husband is not on the same page morally speaking, it makes everything so much harder.

    Aussie Girl in NZ

  4. Anamaria - perhaps I should move to Oklahoma? ;) It's good to hear that the US priests are better, and it may be a reaction to lower marriage rates.

    The priests here seem indifferent to the sacrament of marriage, and never promote it or make any effort to understand why young catholics aren't getting married.

    Which is why I'm pleasantly surprised to hear your parish priest seems to be one of the sensible ones Aussie Girl! Can we borrow him? I'm only vaguely joking... Are you in Auckland diocese, where I am? cos things are pretty grim here - there are only a few priests here who seem to be aware of the massive hollowing out of the demographics due to lack of marriages and babies.

    And I'm really glad you made the choice to marry a catholic and clearly found one :) I was aiming for a practicing catholic girl but they are so rare that... And for the same reasons you had (and which the catechism teaches) - on all the major issues you should have a spouse who agrees with church teachings, so you only have to fight renegade doctors or teachers to uphold the faith, not battle your spouse's atheism, etc.

    Anyhow, off to church. :)

  5. In a context of no-fault divorce, it is egregiously irresponsible of priests to encourage practicing Catholics to marry non-Catholics without warning of the special challenges or offering advice about how to overcome them. I have been reading some very interesting and helpful theology about interreligious dialogue, but how would the average layperson have access to it?

    One terrible post-Vatican II mistake was to stop asking the non-Catholic spouse to take an oath swearing not to interfere with their children's Catholicism. The Catholic, of course, still has to take an oath that his/her children will be raised Catholic, but how he or she is supposed to do that without the co-operation of the non-Catholic spouse is a big fat unanswered question. It can be extremely hard for the non-Catholic spouse to overcome his or her prejudices regarding Catholicism (especially if they were inculcated at home) once the honeymoon is over. Another problem is that the vast majority of non-Catholics are also post-Christians. They may celebrate Christmas and Easter, but they "say in their hearts, there is no God." That said, people of integrity will stick by an oath, no matter what.

    The Jewish community seems to be more serious about preserving the Jewish identity of children born of mixed-marriages, but perhaps I am out of date. When I was a teenager growing up in a "Jewish neighbourhood" I met Jewish teens whose parents and grandparents were not afraid to go to great punitive lengths to make sure they married fellow Jews. I admired that, just as I admired the Armenian hottie at work who explained he had to marry a fellow Armenian. It makes total sense in a post-genocide context, and I posit that it also makes sense for Catholics in this massive secularist vs Islamist crisis.

  6. Yeh D, but to be fair to the priests, they don't so much promote Catholic-non Catholic marriages, as much as they just dismiss marriage in general with comments like 'oh, there are plenty more fish in the sea than just Catholic girls... don't limit yourself to just Catholics, etc'.

    I've always just assumed it was a reflex dismissal, cos the priest didn't have a solution for the near absence of normal dating and marriage between Catholics here.

    But for whatever reason they suggest relationships with non-Catholics, there is never any serious discussion of the dangers of mixed relationships. Just flippant off-hand one-liners.

    You would hope the oath for non-Catholic spouses would encourage upholding that pledge, but I'm inclined to suggest ongoing formation for marriage candidates and post-marriage support formation might give a chance to really sort such issues before they become issues. Of course, the trick there is how to get couples to attend more than a few pre-marriage meetings.

    Interesting about the Jewish and Armenian marriage social/cultural pressures. But was it just cultural or because they were trying to preserve their faith in their younger generations?

    Substantial topics these...


  7. Southern Bloke- I assumed southern US, not southern hemisphere! I don't think every diocese is like ours (but we are also not the only ones.)

    It's very important to find a like-minded spouse, who will support your faith. In most cases, this is someone who shares it. There are exceptions, like our pediatrician. (I found out from our bulletin that our pediatrician was actually baptized, not just confirmed, this Easter- we were at my in-laws and missed it, sadly). My sister-in-law's sister-in-law is another- she ended up converting, too, after about 10 years, because she didn't want to drive her children to Catholic school any more, so she said she'd read the catechism and teach them herself! And then was convinced by it!

  8. Ha! Anamaria, that's a great story. My mother was convinced by both a pro-interfaith dialogue novel called "The Keys to the Kingdom" and the footnotes of a volume of Voltaire. The footnotes explained the teachings Voltaire was being nasty about. Mum thought they were great. If only there was more congregational hymn-singing, Mum might even be convinced to go regularly to Latin Mass. (Heh, heh!)

  9. My mother converted to Catholicism four years after marrying my Catholic father. She was baptised at 30, when two of us were already born.

    Before she converted, she used to go to Mass with my father. She might be into Latin Mass if it were convenient for her to attend. I think she's been once.

    I love that Voltaire converted your mother!


  10. Yep Anamaria, we're about to fall off the world this far south! ;)

    Interesting that at least 3 of the 4 anecdotal examples of conversions are women converting to their spouses Catholicism (Anamaria's SIL's SIL, Mrs Mac's Mum, and Julia's Mum).

    I made my efforts last night to talk an agnostic mate into believing that God is not actually evil (yeh, his logic was a bit warped). Interesting that at one point he very honestly volunteered that he thought his lack of faith had contributed to his wife falling away from her Catholic faith.

    And I loved the Voltaire recruitment tool too...

    P.S. Aussie Girl - still waiting for you to post us your highly orthodox parish priest ;)

    1. I'm in Wellington. Out parish priest is not highly orthodox really - just practical on that point and genuinely cares about evangilisation. There is no EF in Wellington but a very well attended SSPX in my suburb. There isn't even much in the way of a beautiful OF Mass to attend. Our Easter Sunday Mass involved a children's play of the Gospel and a dance performed at the end. I took my 2 year old outside before the dance started as I don't wish him to think Mass is a Wiggles concert. I have enough trouble getting him to sit still and be quiet!

      Aussie Girl in NZ

    2. Ahaha - Aussie Girl, if you can't get orthodox, grab practical and genuinely caring with both hands! :)

      Have you been to the SSPX Mass then? I still feel a bit uncomfortable popping in to the one round the corner from some friends up here, given SSPX's theological differences with Rome. But it would be interesting... perhaps in the holidays.

      Mass as a Wiggles gig! Yeh, my Mum and I took my 4 yr old niece to Mass last Christmas and were pleasantly surprised at her good behaviour (I actually went as bouncer cos we expected antics from her). But you don't need the Wiggles up there at the altar encouraging them, eh?

      I went to other parishes this Easter for a beautiful, reflective Triduum. My parish tends to massive overcrowding at peak times (we use the hall and a marquee as overflows, but still don't fit em in on Good Friday.

      Will have to pop in and experience yr Wiggles Mass if I'm down your way. ;)


  11. Mrs. Mac, that is a great story! Voltaire must have rolled over in his grave.

    It is interesting that the examples are women to converting to their husband's Catholicism- I do think that may be more common. There is is something in good women that is willing to support and follow a good man, I think, even if it's not exactly where she imagined going. (I know of a few instances where the women were NOT good, and they did not agree to raise Catholic children or attend mass with their spouse, and many problems resulted. Including divorce.)