A Lapsed Catholic Celebrates at the Vatican
As a lapsed Catholic, being in the Vatican–the epicenter of the faith–was similar to unexpectedly running into an old lover. There was no animosity, just a deep longing for what once was, and flashes of wonderful memories long forgotten. I found, as I walked through the Basilica surrounded by the icons of my faith, a deep ache rising within me. I missed the rituals, I missed the prayers, and I dearly missed that feeling of lightness after an inspiring homily.
My experience, however, was completely different from my husband’s. My better half was raised in the Lutheran faith, actually a Missouri Sinead Lutheran, a very strict church. In the Lutheran faith there are no icons, no statues, no stations of the cross, no paintings, no medallions, and–amazingly enough–no Mary. They believe there was a Jewish girl who gave birth to Jesus, but she is not celebrated or venerated like she is in Catholicism.
It felt like divine providence that during the time we were in Rome, the Vatican was celebrating one of the most important days for the faithful that hold the Madonna so dear. October 13, 1917 marks the day of the final visitation of Our Lady of Fatima to three small children in Portugal, and the day when “the miracle of the sun” took place. It was Marian Day at the Vatican, and we would be there to hear Pope Francis speak.
As a lapsed Catholic, being in the Vatican–the epicenter of the faith–was similar to unexpectedly running into an old lover.
We arrived two hours early, knowing the crowds would be massive. There were several areas barricaded off closer to the front of the crowd with hundreds of empty chairs, and I just assumed they were being held for someone of great importance and I was happy to sit much further back in the crowd. Not the Lutheran: he grabbed me by the hand and led me through the crowded square right up to the empty seats. Surprise, surprise–they were open to the public!
We sat for some time in St Peter’s Square awaiting the start of the day, surrounded by the faithful from every corner of the globe. Looking up at the stage we could see microphones and chairs; one in particular was deep crimson velvet, with a tall regal back. Brian asked me if that was reserved for the Pope, and I told him it was likely.
All of a sudden there, a wave of restlessness swept through the crowd, a buzz from the back of the 80,000 strong confluence. She was here. It started slowly but grew quickly to the song I remember as a child, Ave Ave Ave Maria. There, deep at the back of the crowd on a platform covered in flowers and carried on the shoulders of the Swiss Guard, was Our Lady of Fatima. The procession had begun, and anyone and everyone who could climb up and stand on their chair did so. As the singing grew louder, the handkerchiefs appeared, and once again the curious Lutheran, who was by now blown away by the love Catholics have for Mary, asked me: “Why are they waving hankies?”
She was here.
The Madonna proceeded to the front of the massive crowd and was greeted by the Pope, who had waited patiently for her as she made her way around the entire square. The Pope escorted her and the Swiss Guard up to the top of the stairs. Once again the Lutheran watched as Mary–nd not Pope Francis–was placed in the most important, velvet chair on the dais. He leaned in and whispered in my ear: “Mary got the big chair!”
Yes. Yes she did.
Photo credits for A Lapsed Catholic Celebrates at the Vatican bottom by Miranda Bogen.