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Growing Up Catholic Rituals and Worship

Amelia has been writing online articles for over ten years and has self-published over a dozen books, including fiction and nonfiction.

 Church Altar Mass Religion Christian Holy

Church Altar Mass Religion Christian Holy

Growing Up Catholic

Are you Catholic or do you know someone who is Catholic? If you have ever attended mass at Catholic Church, you might be familiar with some of the important and holy rituals which take place during a Catholic mass. Some of these rituals include:

  • Dipping Your Hand Holy Water
  • Shaking Hands/The Sign of Peace
  • The Holy Eucharist (Communion)
  • Drinking/Sharing Wine
  • Holy Water Sprinkling on Parishioners

Attending Catholic school enforces many rules and regulations in young students, one being, to follow instructions and do what you are told, especially during mass in the Catholic Church.

Growing up Catholic, I never thought twice about how these rituals literally have no germ control!

There have been plenty of articles written on this subject. Some argue that the spread of germs is not increased by attending church and participating in these rituals. Others say to use caution, especially around flu season.

As a child, I don’t recall this ever crossing my mind. As children, I don’t think germs are something we necessarily think about. As an adult, I can’t help but wonder why it seems that these rituals continue, without regard to spreading, colds, germs and flu.

Some cases are worse than others. For example, the worse example of spreading germs that I have witnessed was towards the end of the mass when the priest prepares the Holy Eucharist, or Communion, to give out (using his hands) to each parishioner who goes up to the altar to receive Communion. While handling the Communion wafers with his bare hands, the priest paused for a moment, took out a tissue and blew his nose. He then returned to the dish of Communion wafers, which he separated into different plates for each Eucharistic minister to administer to church goers. Needless to say, I did not choose to receive Communion that day!

From that day forward, I watched closely during mass and noticed how many items are shared and not sanitized. I started going to church less, and when I did attend church in the winter months, I opted to keep my gloves on during the sign of the peace.

Administering The Holy Eucharist

Administering The Holy Eucharist

Holy Water

Holy Water

The Holy Eucharist (Communion)

The Holy Eucharist (Communion)

Church Rituals and Practices With Little or No Germ Control

Dipping Your Hand Holy Water – When entering a church, there is usually holy water available which you can dip your hand in and then make the sign of the cross, touching your forehead.

The Holy Eucharist (Communion) – To prepare for the Holy Eucharist, the Priest and sometimes a secondary priest or deacon, removes the Communion wafers from the sacristy. The Priest, Deacon and Eucharistic ministers then administer communion to Parishioners, on the tongue, or in their left hand. If a Parishioner chooses to accept the communion in their left hand, he or she would then normally use their right hand to play the communion on their tongue.

Drinking/Sharing Wine – A chalice with water and wine is shared between Eucharistic ministers and in some cases, parishioners. The priest who shares the chalice typically wipes the edge of the chalice with a white cloth before passing it to the next person.

Holy Water Sprinkled on Parishioners – A religious item called an aspergillum (pictured below), is used to sprinkle water over the heads of church goers.

Aspergillum Showing Sponge Inside

Aspergillum Showing Sponge Inside

Will Catholic Rituals Stay the Same?

For the most part, most of the rituals of the Catholic Church have remained unchanged. However, some Catholic Church verbiage recited at mass was changed in recent past.

In 2011, there were liturgical changes in the responses and language of the Mass. For example, when the priest says “The Lord be with you”, instead of saying “And also with you”, Catholics will now reply by saying “And with your Spirit”.

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These changes caused a bit of confusion during Mass. A small booklet was made available to help Parishioners be aware of the liturgical changes, which focused on the verbiage changes in mass booklets.

Ceremonies, and rituals, however, have remained the same. In my opinion, they will probably always remain the same.

To help reduce the spread of germs during these practices, do you think hand sanitizers should be installed in churches?

Hand Sanitizing?

Hand Sanitizer

Hand Sanitizer

Water and Wine Chalices

Water and Wine Chalices

Tim Hawkins on Hand Sanitizer

Strict Rules Enforced by The Catholic Church

I wonder if hand sanitizers and other precautions will ever be a part of Catholic Churches. Growing up, I thought about it all the time, especially after a line of people dunked their fingers in the same holy water when entering and leaving church. As I got older, I tried to avoid shaking hands with the 20 people around me during the sign of peace. I didn't mean to be disrespectful; it was just a bit unsettling to watch someone cough in their hand and blow their nose and then have to shake their hand. Instead, I sometimes smiled and nodded, and didn't look down at their hand.

Does the movie, Heaven Help Us, ring a bell? This 1985 drama/comedy included an all-star cast including Andrew McCarthy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kevin Dillon, Patrick Demsey and Donald Sutherland. Students attend St. Basil’s, a strict all-boys academy, and they experience more than a lecture when they don’t follow rules. Instead, the punishments are pretty severe. The headmaster is played by Donald Sutherland.

Below is a scene from the movie.

Advance to around 3:10 and see how a clicker is used to control when the students sit and stand.

At 4:25, Dunn, played by Anthony McCarthy, is intimidated and integrated by the headmaster, played by Donald Sutherland.

Heaven Help Us

Heaven Help Us

Scary and Traumatic Catholic School Memories

Although the movie, Heaven Help Us, is a comedy/drama, there are scenes in the movie that are a little hard to watch because it actually reminds me of humiliating things that I witnessed. Like me, if you attended Catholic school as a child, you may have witnessed or even experienced some of the embarrassing and sometimes cruel punishments imposed back then. I remember the following:

  • Someone was chewing gum, and then had to place the gum on his forehead and stand in the back of the room for the remainder of the class.
  • A boy misbehaved and then was placed/seated in a trash can.
  • Some students were talking and then the whole class was punished and we had to kneel on our knees for a designated time period.
  • While changing classes, we had to stay in a single line; someone got out of line and then had their hand slapped with a yardstick.
  • While a nun was talking and writing on the blackboard, I accidentally kicked a poster board and it make a squeal noise (like the sound of a sneaker scraping against the floor during a basketball game); I was punished for interrupting and sent to the back of the room, to stand there and be humiliated.
  • One time as a young child, I was asked to go to the blackboard to answer a math problem. I did not know the answer. I stood there, frozen. The nun place both of her hands close to my head, then pressed her fingers firmly into my scalp and said "Think! Think!" I have no recollection of what happened after that, but I'm sure I returned to my desk feeling humiliated. I laugh about it now, but I think it traumatized me as a child!

If you attended Catholic School as a child, do you have any funny or traumatic memories to share?

Not all my memories are bad ones. Catholic School taught me the importance of obedience and respect. It also instills discipline and helps to creates a strong foundation of faith. Was there fear instilled as well? I think there was to a certain extent, so I have mixed feelings about it, but I try to look at the funny side of it and take it with a grain a salt!

The weird thing about attending catholic mass is that everyone seems a bit hypnotized. Stand up, sit down, kneel, stand up, repeat. It's a bit bizarre when you think about it, how controlled one feels in a Catholic church setting.

As an adult, I don't feel as pressured to attend church as compared to how I felt as child. It's interesting to take a step back sometimes and watch others in a church setting.

It's movies like "Heaven, Help Us" that help us see what actually happened behind the scenes of Catholic school and mass...sometimes humorous, and sometimes shocking, as it may be.

What do you remember from Catholic school or church? Please share your experiences and comments below.

Note: This is Hub #6 of 30 of my 30 Hubs in 30 Days Challenge.

Angel Religion Christianity Bible Mystic

Angel Religion Christianity Bible Mystic

© 2014 Amelia Griggs


Amelia Griggs (author) from U.S. on July 16, 2018:

Hi mel-kav,

You have a good point and I am happy to hear that your church has hand sanitizers for the Eucharistic minister to use. Yes, you’re correct, the priest thing was really gross and ever since then, a big turn off.

We can only hope that over time they use best practices for cleaner more germ-free services.

Thanks for your input.


mel-kav on July 16, 2018:

I am Catholic and my church has hand sanitizer for the Eucharistic ministers to use. I think if we believe that the Lord is present in the Eucharist and the wine, as the body and blood of Jesus Christ, then we can presume that illness/germs would not be transferred to us. But it really is gross for a priest to blow his nose and simply return to handling the Eucharist.

Amelia Griggs (author) from U.S. on December 17, 2014:

Thanks for your insight and comments, Sheila, much appreciated. I'll definitely read further about the Church of Christ as I feel like I have been limiting myself in the Catholic religion.

I too have some strange and not so good memories as a child in Catholic school. One time I was at the blackboard trying to figure out a math problem as a young child and I didn't know the answer and the nun put her fingers on my head and pressed very hard, and said Think, Think! really loud. How embarrassing!

Sheila Craan from Florida on December 17, 2014:

I had my experiences with Catholic School as a child and was slapped by a nun when I asked my cousin a question regarding the eraser in her pencil. It was embarrassing and I was merely in first grade. I have departed from the Catholic faith after I realized it began in AD300 in Rome. I belong to the Church of Christ, the only church Jesus died for and began on that Sunday morning in Jerusalem when He rose from the dead. It has his name stamped on it.

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