Catholic beliefs and practices

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

THERE are thousands of Catholic beliefs and practices considering the universality of the Church and the number of centuries that it existed. Many of these even date back into Biblical times that connect the Catholic Church to the Jews. There are others that developed in some countries that are not Catholic or Christian, but they reinforce, invigorate and make sense of these practices in relation to the local history.

When the Spanish missionaries came to the Philippines, they found people with strong beliefs in the “unseen God”, the Bathala who ruled their lives and nature around them. With Bathala were the lesser gods, both malevolent and benevolent who dwell around them, in forest and rivers, trees and boulders. They had all to be appeased.

The native Aetas had no such beliefs as they had no concept of a Supreme Being, only what they see or hear to which they responded. Life passes by and that was it.

Catholic beliefs, on the other hand, can trace their origins, directly received from God or through his chosen ones or inferred from what they received from God and their spiritual leaders. Practices, on the other hand, evolved from these beliefs with interpretations that are expanded, mixed or diluted by native beliefs to create “folk Catholicism”.

The similarities in the Catholic religious practices with the rest of the Western world, particularly Spain and the other countries that once belonged to the Spanish domain can be explained thus. Moreover, the Catholic liturgy created numerous practices that many imitated for its richness and meaningfulness.

The Philippines has also been influenced by Protestant American religiosities but only if these were in line or do not contradict Catholic doctrines. For instance, clapping of hands inside the church during religious ceremonies are alien to the liturgy but is common in non-Catholic ceremonies.

Take the holding of hands during the praying of the “Our Father” during the Mass. It is not in the Catholic liturgy but Protestants and some other neo-religions where upbeat ceremonies are usual. Pope Benedict XVI said that there should be no holding of hands, instead, the faithful should put their hands together in the act of prayer.  Neither should the faithful follow the priest with his arms open in the act of prayer.

I have seen some people follow the priest concelebrating the Mass who have their right hands also extended towards the celebrant during the Consecration of the Bread and the Wine. Only the priests do that because they are “co-consecrating” with the main celebrant. The faithful, on their knees (the concelebrating priests remain standing), should instead have their hands together in a prayer mode.

We can enumerate many practices that are sometimes funny. I attended a funeral where a baby was passed over the coffin. The idea is that the deceased might take the baby along. This practice has no basis in fact or doctrine but probably somebody just thought about it as an act of “transference”. I don’t know who started it.

There is a practice of making the sign of the cross before doing something, like taking a bath, crossing the street, jumping into the pool, passing by a church or cemetery – several other actions that the faithful think that he needed some divine assistance or needs to say a prayer. Of course, prayer before and after meals speak for itself.

This is a good practice, firstly because the person has God in mind, although he or she probably does that as a habit or without a thought. For one thing, this person tells the world that he is a Catholic (only Catholics make this sign) and he believes on divine protection.

One of the most popular practices of Catholics is devotion to their favorite saints. The devotion to the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila does not need any evocation. It has grown through the years without any indication the devotion is declining. On the other, each year we see larger throng and longer hours of the procession. This deep devotion cannot be explained from the human perspective alone but the experience of those who had asked divine assistance and had been heard.

The devotion to Mary, the Blessed Mother, is unparalleled. She is honored under many titles. Again, the persistence of devotion to her is inexplicable but she did something good.

We’ll have more later.