e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Pray For Us

I've returned to real life (Michigan) after a long weekend in Youngstown, Ohio, for St. Anthony's feast day. "Ethnic Catholics" love feast days and the rituals and foods they preserve. At St. Anthony's, Italians pin two-dollar bills to sashes hanging from the statue before Mass and then process around the Brier Hill neighborhood afterward carrying the statue, followed by an altar boy with incense, acolytes with candles, loads of Oblate nuns in white habits, and a marching band like the one from Vito Corleone's dad's funeral at the beginning of Godfather II. My grandpa never went to Mass but he used to walk down from his house off Belmont Avenue, down Brier Hill, to watch the procession. He knew it was time to leave when he heard the firecrackers that would go off during the exact moment of consecration.

Anyway, the procession to this day is still kind of a spectacle. It ends at a statue in front of the school where the priest leads the litany to St. Anthony. The priest says "St. Anthony" and everybody responds "pray for us" in a sing-song chant. Priest says "Finder of lost things" and everybody responds "pray for us" and he keeps going through a litany of, essentially nicknames for the Saint. I hadn't been to a Novena to St. Anthony or to his feast day Mass in decades and so I forgot about part of the litany that used to scare me when I was really little. The priest calls out "Terror of the Devil" (PRAY FOR US) and then "Horror of Hell" (PRAY FOR US). Used to creep me out. I think it was that chanted response. And I watched some inappropriate stuff when I was little that didn't phase me! That litany used to get to me though.

So, back to the church hall after the procession for cavatelli, brier hill pizza, sausage sandwiches, and pizza frit (essentially donuts). The church hall was also my elementary school cafeteria and a poster hangs on the wall that says "Jesus Loves Me When I Am Eating." That poster's new but the sentiment isn't. Come to think of it, that poster is one of the few things different. Ritual and food tie us to how things were when we were nerdy altar boys in the 1980s. And there were a whole lot of people at that feast being tied to the 1950s, or the 1940s, or an earlier decade. Some being tied to a village in a different country where they were born but haven't lived for a long long time. Some being tied to the taste of their grandma's fried dough (or the recollection of their grandpa skipping Mass every year but walking down for the procession and sausage). St. Anthony. Pray for us.

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