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Understanding the Catholic faith in Europe

We have visited A LOT of churches in Europe (France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the cities of Prague and Budapest) I am Protestant, and tend to be a curious person by nature. I have two questions for those of the Catholic faith.
1. I would guess "relics" were/are a way for people to feel closer to God. Is this true? Are relics as important today as they were years ago? And I mean no disrespect, but are they in general, based on some factual evidence?
2. We've run into a bunch of "virgins", especially in Sevilla. I'm guessing these are all interpretations of the Virgin Mary? But they all have different names? We went to see the "Triana virgin", also the Basilica de Macarena and I think Sevilla's cathedral is the home of the Virgin de los Reyas? Especially in Triana, I observed that the locals were very devoted to her. It was lovely to be able to witness people as they visited at the end of the day.

Posted by
5022 posts

As far as I know the virgins are all incarnations of Mary - they have different names based on location, often referred to as "Our Lady of ___" (fill in the blank). Catholic saints of the same name are also referred to as "Saint __ of ____" fill in the blanks.

As to the relics, we were never taught to revere or worship any relics. So, I guess that was just in the distant past, at least here in the US. Relics were popular ways for the Catholic church to get parishioners to come to worship in their churches and, of course, donate to the church. Churches fought over relics often stealing them from another church or town and claiming them as their own. Kind of a one upmanship thing. As far as I know the only relics based on 'factual' evidence are those acquired directly from the saint or holy person at the time of their death and kept in the possession of the same church/town over the years. The authenticity of the others are often just based on faith - but I guess that's the whole point.

I was raised Catholic but am long ago lapsed so take my words for whatever they're worth. By the way, I love visiting churches in Europe and sometimes get a chuckle over the local legends and stories about their relics - they can be pretty wild.

Posted by
3353 posts

You have to consider it in the historical context of the middle ages. Veneration (honor or respect) is the better term, not worship. Relics were used by the Church as something visible and tangible to show a mostly illiterate and uneducated populace that there was something behind the stories they were hearing. Yes, a people without science and education are more inclined to overdo how they react to that. Realize that the church was a much more central part of life back then, before printing presses, literature, TV and the internet were around. As macabre as it sounds to us, it was common in the olden days (and in some contemporary cultures) to keep parts of the dearly departed around - like those skulls in the church in Halstatt. You'd be hard pressed to find a Catholic in the US under the age of 60 that would know what you were talking about, so no, they're not significant today, unless they are part of some local tradition.

I don't think "Virgin of . . . . " is common usage. Its always "Our Lady of . . . . " although its not wrong.

Posted by
4197 posts

You can’t make sweeping generalisations about Catholicism across an entire continent. Traditions,and to a lesser extent beliefs, will vary between countries and regions.
I was brought up Catholic in the U.K. and relics weren’t really a thing. Probably because they were mostly destroyed during the Reformation and because we are technically a Protestant country so Catholicism is much more “low key”.

That said, when I was a child in hospital in the early 80s I was visited by a random priest who offered me a relic of part of some saints thigh bone to kiss to help cure me. It was a leg operation so I suppose it was apt. It was a tiny square of bone in a glass topped brass box. I was a good catholic girl (at the time) so I did as I was told even though it was gross!

Many of my good friends went to Lourdes as helpers when they were teenagers, again in the 1980s. They did it because it was fun and they got to hang out with Italian naval cadets(!)but they all said the ill people they took benefited from the trip. They got ‘something’ from the masses and processes involved. They certainly weren’t cured but I suppose it was faith as a placebo,

Regarding the naval cadets, my friends used to break out over the tall fence of the convent they were staying in to meet up with these dreamy older men! One night my friend Jacqui caught her palm on one of spikes and had quite a time the next morning convincing the nuns it wasn’t stigmata whilst also not admitting to her evening escapades!

Posted by
645 posts

Relics must now be "authenticated" by the Church and CANNOT be sold. I translated some Latin for a local priest in relation to nine relics that he had.

Relics are usually some piece of a saint's body (hair, bone, etc.) or clothing. Off hand, I'd say they are venerated, but there may be another term.

They are important still because they are said to offer grace/favor to the one who venerates them/prays at their shrine.

You've probably been in a church that has a wall with all sort of crutches and special medallion-type/votive things given in thanksgiving for cures resulting from praying to the saints

Any church designated a "shrine" contains important relics.

Mass must be said on an altar or an altar stone that contains a relic. Priests carry around an altar stone--size of a silver dollar, maybe? So, in fact, every Catholic church contains at least one relic.

Major historical churches were usually (always?) founded and frequented in honor of a saint's relics. If it wasn't, and enterprising bishop would work hard to get an important relic in there.

Relics were what pilgrims have always traveled to visit and venerate. Compostela, comes to mind. And, of course, this was big business in the Middle Ages--a regular tourist boom, if you will. Those pilgrims are our ancestors here at RS.

Do I buy into the authenticity of all of them? No? But I don't have to as a Catholic.

Virgin is any virgin saint--Mary is just one, the most important one, however. But Mary has several monikers--Star of the Sea, the Morningstar, Our Lady of Guadeloupe, and so on. So many of these virgins are probably Mary under another nickname/named quality. Others are virgin saints.

That's my off-the-top-of-my-head version.

Does that help?

Posted by
1739 posts

I'm an American Catholic, practicing in that I attend Mass when I can, but not extremely devout. I'm of Italian-American heritage so am familiar with that tradition. This is my rusty knowledge from school and such...

  1. Relics are generally physical parts of a saint, like body parts or hair, or things the saint had touched, like clothes. They reminded people of the saint and provide a tangible link between the saint and the church that holds the relic. Since saints are a connection between the people and God, the relic is treated as a very sacred object. Some believe that miracles were done through a relic. I think it's more about connection with the saint, who has a special connection to God. I don't think they are as important today to the average person as they were in the past. But remember the importance of Saints in Catholic belief and the relics will make a bit more sense, especially when thinking about people hundreds of years ago.
    As far as evidence...it varies. If you mean do they really come from the saint in question, that can often be traced and it's reasonably sure (for more recent saints, especially), but not always. Could what a church says is St. So-and-Sos finger actually be that of a random person from the same era? Yes. Often the items are dated and general evidence shows it's from the right era/location, but anything more specific (or supernatural!) can be iffy.

  2. Yes, those are all for Mary. She has plenty of different titles for different aspects of her story in the bible or her personality or her representation in art, and also for different, later stories about her. For example, many believe she appeared to people in Lourdes, France in the 19th century. So in that region, or among people who believe that she could be called "Our Lady of Lourdes". In Spain especially people get very devoted to a particular title/image. It's very interesting. I love Andalucia, and as a Catholic I respect that part of their faith...but it's not nearly so common elsewhere that I know of so I can really only speak to it as a tourist.

Posted by
153 posts

The podcast Catholic Under the Hood, episode 468, was about how “As the Church grew, so did the number of the saints and so did the diversity of their stories. The beginnings of the fifth century also saw increased devotion to Mary and new ways of showing one’s appreciation for the saints.” The episode came out last month, and the podcast is history of the Catholic Church. The basic idea is that a saint is close to God, and so his/her pray will be better heard. Just as we ask a friend to pray for us, we are asking for our "friend" to pray for us.

Catholic faith is the same everywhere, but the traditions are not. As Emma noted a lot depends on the social context. I grew up going to Catholic school in the Bay Area in the 70's. We didn't do a lot of the saints and virgins. We never celebrated the saints' day of San Jose or Santa Clara. We had other festive, secular, days. Here every town and city has its patron. So the tradition builds up around the celebrations. In Logroño the patron is San Bernabe. He help liberate the city from the French siege in 1521. During the siege the locals lived off wine and small fish from the river. So as a homage to the saint on the 11th of June (St. Bernabe's Day) the fraternity of the Fish and Wine grill fish and serve wine to the people of the city. (Last year they served more than 900 kg of fish). Of course they do it in a plaza with the statue of the saint on one side surrounded by bouquets of flowers.

About the relics in the altar, I recently read an interesting article about the new cathedral in Los Angeles. The building seems to pretty much divide people into the love it / hate it camps. The article was about the relics of St. Vibiana, which are buried under the church. She is the patron of Los Angeles, but she is not buried directly under the altar.

Lastly, many saints' day and fiestas have special sweets associated with them. A few of them are “huesos de santos” or “saints' bones” for All Saints day, or Rosquillas de San Blas (a doughnutty thing), Torrijas (a French Toasty dessert) for St. Joseph's, Cocas de San Juan for St. John's day, etc.

Posted by
18397 posts

Interesting. I am going to nominate this for the most educational discussion for 2018.

Posted by
1680 posts

Fascinating! I'm so glad I asked. I have seen some relics other than bones/hair, etc. I believe there were what some think might be pieces of the cross in Vienna? Also I'm still sort of stuck on these versions of the Virgin Mary. So the Triana virgin is supposed to be a patron saint of sailors. But she still is Mary, mother of Jesus, correct? Where did the sailing piece come from? And I am understanding correctly, that there are saints other than Mary that are described as virgins, yes?
And just so I'm clear, I'm just wanting to learn, no criticism or judgement, here. I have pieces of my own "brand" of Christianity that puzzle me, as well!

Posted by
6949 posts

There are pieces of the "cross" all over Europe, just like there are pieces of foreskin, pieces of the crown of thorns, nails from the cross, pieces of the robe, etc. etc. in dozens of churches. Imagine you have some bones of an apostle at your church, or like Cologne with the bones of the 3 Wise Men. People will flock to you, pay for mass to be said, buy your candles and your rosaries, stay in your Order houses. The church has always been about business and making money. Look at the money raised to build the Vatican in the 1500's with the sale of indulgences? Pilgrimage routes to these relics can be used as a penance, and even today with popularity of the various Camino routes to Santiago, when they have a year with the "Holy Door" open, the number of pilgrims increases massively. No idea why one door should be holier than the next, but I am not Catholic.

I seriously doubt if any of these bones are "authentic", just like the birthplace for Jesus is probably not authentic. When the crusaders came, they asked where things were and then just believed their tour guides.

Archbishops prided themselves on their collections and if you go to places like Regensburg, Limburg, Mainz, you can see their "treasures". Often covered with cloth of gold, jewels, and lace. Arm bones, feet, skulls, hands, a finger, a toe, or a whole skeleton! Truly creepy.

Posted by
9431 posts

I agree with Frank, this discussion thread is an example of, IMHO (and I mean Humble) why this is not only one of the friendliest little corners of the big wide web, but is also a polite, respectful and sophisticated travel forum.
This thread discusses a potentially touchy subject, religion, in a respectful way that you wouldn't find on a lot of forums.
It makes you happy to be a part of such a forum.
(well, we gotta pat ourselves on the back now and then, right, we deserve it!)

Posted by
4197 posts

There are lots of saints called Mary. There are lots of saints who are virgins. (It kind of comes it’s the territory when you are talking about nuns.) But there is only one “Virgin Mary” ie Jesus’s mother who had the virgin birth.
Whilst there will be shrines to the other Marys generally it is the Virgin Mary that people will be praying to.
Most (all?) Catholic churches have a smaller chapel to the side of the main altar which is the Lady Chapel specifically for praying to “Our Lady”. The prayer the “ Hail Mary” ( Ave María in Latin ) is a very important prayer especially when doing the rosary, asking for forgiveness etc.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hail_Mary

A huge majority of the relics will be fakes. There are enough pieces of the holy cross and accompanying nails around the world to build a row of houses! :-)
Some will have been sold to unsuspecting pilgrims who visited the holy land . Many more will have been faked by priests and monks . One of the excuses used by Henry the Eighth to close the monasteries and strip the churches was about this kind of corrupt practice.

Posted by
6949 posts

Actually, according to gospels not used in the Kings James version of the bible, it is Anne, the mother of Mary who had a virgin birth. This is why Mary is "unstained" and was chosen to also have a virgin birth. Her parents even dedicated her to the temple.
The early church suppressed this to concentrate on the worship of Mary, but you will find altars to Anne all over Europe. You get extra points if you also know her fathers name.

Posted by
9431 posts

Re what Ms. Jo said, I remember visiting the Church of St. Anne (the Mother of Mary) in Jerusalem, near the Lion's Gate.

Posted by
1680 posts

@unclegus, I’m not sure of your point. I hope I haven’t offended you. I don’t see myself as protesting anything in terms of religion. Maybe it is an over generalization but I think of Christianity as Catholic, orthodox, and Protestant, and within those categories, there are smaller groups. Initially, Protestants were in disagreement with some of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. In this age, many of the areas of concern are no longer prevalent and I find more areas of similarity than difference.

Posted by
1799 posts

Uncle Gus. I am going to assume you were asking a serious question.

The Catholic Church at the time of the reformation had moved away from the teachings of Christianity. It taught forgiveness of sins through works or indulgences rather than grace. The Protestant movement sought to return focus to Biblical teachings and taught that priests were not necessary as intermediaries between God and Man. Protestants hoped to reform or redirect the church. Separatists wanted to abandon it altogether and start again.

One major current doctrinal difference between Catholics and Protestants is the belief that the communion elements actually transform into the blood and body of Christ). Protestants do not support this view, but think of the communion elements as representations.

Interestingly enough, if one examined the current practices of many Protestant churches, one could say it was time for another reformation for the same reasons the first one occurred.

Posted by
153 posts

First Happy Holy Innocents Day. They are the infant boys Herod had killed. In Spain it is like April fools day. Our Lady's parents are St. Ann and St. Joquin , feast day July 26.

Brittany has a strong devotion to St. Ann. And there is a difference between a virgin birth (when a virgin gets pregnant) and Our Lady who had an immaculate concepcion, that is she was conceived without the stain of original sin. The feast day of the IC is Dec. 8. It has been church dogma since around 1850.
(I know the dates because today there are many practical jokes, the 26th is my son's birthday and the IC is a national holiday in Spain.)

As Carol outlined briefly the changes the Protentants wanted in the Church. After listening the church history podcast many of the protestant divisions are just new versions of herasies of the old church. Nothing new under the sun.

Posted by
1739 posts

Also, some of the changes Protestants wanted eventually happened in the Catholic church...500 years later. For example, Mass is now said in the local language, not Latin (except in a few specific churches who choose to do a Latin Mass). The Catholic bible (same as the protestant one, with a couple additional books) is translated into local languages and people are encouraged to read it for themselves. I have plenty of disagreement with some parts of Catholic faith, but I still consider myself Catholic because I appreciate the connection with a very long history, and I like the room for mystery and the ritual in mass. But to each their own - It's great to have this discussion with everyone curious about different views and no one disrespecting someone else's viewpoint.

And yes, all those Spain virgins were Mary, mother of Jesus. Other saints were virgins, but I don't think they were called "The Virgin of ..." or "Our Lady of..." because that implies Mary. The titles just refer to specific aspects of her. I just looked it up and the sea/sailing thing refers to the title Our Lady Star of the Sea, there is debate about where this title came from, but people who are partial to it say it symbolizes her as a guide/protector. Basically, Mary wears many, many hats and all these titles are just different hats. In Spain, especially, people are often very devoted to a particular version.
I found a random blog that explains this well and simply. I don't know anything else about this source, but this explanation jives with what I'd learned in Catholic education.
https://www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/virgin-mary-names-titles-feasts/

Posted by
2062 posts

I certainly knew what Protestants are protesting against (BTW I am not offended) but most protestants in Scotland have no clue .We have a large sectarian divide in this country and though over the years it is not as bad as it used to be there is still a lot of it going on especially between certain football teams.
It is something I always ask if someone says they are Protestant .
Personally I follow no religion though I was brought up in a Christian Brethern household, after the death of my father (who was the rod that kept us all in line of that religious sect ) when I was a teenager ( I am in my 60's now) I decided there was no religion that meant anything to me and have followed none since.

Posted by
8319 posts

Yes, sweeping generalizations are usually problematic. But you have hit on a good addition to your travel plans and your world education ... go to a church for a service. Do the same in a Mosque and a Synagogue. Not one, but many. Talk to them, ask them about their beliefs and values. You will get better results that way than asking a lot of agnostic RS types. What you are most likely to discover is that everyone, through different Faith's, practices and rituals is trying to find the same truth. And if you do discover this, then your travel will have had a greater purpose.

Posted by
11544 posts

It seems to me that the main point of saints and relics is intercession in prayer. I have seen revered relics in churches in Georgia and Armenia as well as in Europe, and of course here in Israel (though, like the remnants of ancient civilizations throughout the Middle East, most reside in Europe these days). It's interesting for me to compare Jewish and Christian traditions since Christianity stems directly from Judaism and with communities living side by side for centuries in various places, some borrowing had occurred - and sometimes the opposite, with one community adopting a contrary observance or custom to differentiate from the other. . . . for instance, Jews cover their heads in worship because Christians don't, and Christians observe the sabbath on Sunday because Jews do so on Saturday. Jews don't have relics (AFAIK), certainly not body parts since a basic tenet of Jewish law is that the body (and any stray parts) must be buried as soon as possible. However, there are many rabbis who are revered to the point of sainthood and many believers make pilgrimages to their tombs in the hope of intercession, usually for healing or fertility. I saw a rabbi's tomb in Krakow that had bits of paper with prayers on them, exactly like the tradition of putting them in the Western Wall. As we often say here, happy is the believer . . .

Holy Innocents Day is new to me, and I thank you for that.

Posted by
8319 posts

Also, comparing devotion in Europe to our own culture can be very surprising. Most of Europe is very secular, twice more so than the US.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/22/the-worlds-most-committed-christians-live-in-africa-latin-america-and-the-u-s/ft_18-08-21_globalchristianity_religion-most-important-region/

Chain, would it be fair to say the Jewish head covering was part ancient tradition, part to identify the community and part defiance in the face of persecution?

Sad,

https://www.jta.org/?s=stop+wearing+kippah

Posted by
645 posts

"The article was about the relics of St. Vibiana, which are buried under the church. She is the patron of Los Angeles, but she is not buried directly under the altar."

Let me clarify, every altar must have a relic (tiny, of course, IN the altar itself). There should be a little square cut out on top for this. Which can perhaps be removed for masses outside the church?

From the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Immaculate Conception:
"In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."

The Assumption of Mary into heaven (from ibid.):
"By promulgating the Bull Munificentissimus Deus, 1 November, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared infallibly that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a dogma of the Catholic Faith."

But please note that these were when the Church officially recognized these as doctrines--the beliefs, practices, worship, and devotions had been around for centuries.

I believe John Henry Cardinal Newman explains this type of thing in his Development of Doctrine.

Protestant and Catholic Bible differ in that the later contains the "apocrypha" in the Old Testament. New Testaments are the same.

Incidentally, it was the Catholic Church itself that determined which books made of the Bible or not. I think the canon was finally completed officially at the Council of Carthage in 399.

"Apocrypha" means that we don't have the original Hebrew texts for these (I think that's right), only the Greek from the Septuagint. St. Jerome did not want to include these in his official Latin translation (the Vulgate). Latin versions had been around since the beginning, and Jerome used many of those, revised others, and did his own translations directly from the Hebrew in a few others. Jerome, in fact, scoffs at the legend that 70 scholars in Alexandria all came up with the exact Greek translations.

But Pope Damasus said, "I'm the boss and they're go in."

Doesn't mean these books are "false," just not agreed on as divinely inspired by the muckedy-mucks in the churches.

There are plenty of other "Apocrypha" that didn't make it into the Bible--gospel of St. Thomas comes to mind.

To wit: Tobias, Judith, chapter 10:4 to chapter 16 of Esther, book of Wisdom, Sirach/Ecclestiasticus, Baruch, chapters 13 and 14 of Daniel (story of Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon), and the two books of Maccabees.

Posted by
1421 posts

Agreeing with Kent (and Frank!) when he says :

"I agree with Frank, this discussion thread is an example of, IMHO (and I mean Humble) why this is not only one of the friendliest little corner of the big wide web, but is also a polite, respectful and sophisticated travel forum.
This thread discusses a potentially touchy subject, religion, in a respectful way that you wouldn't find on a lot of forums.
It makes you happy to be a part of such a forum."

I have learned a lot from what's already been posted here. Thank all you knowledgeable people who have added to the discussion and especially thank you to jules m for starting this most interesting and informative thread!

Posted by
20127 posts

I am so glad that this thread is here.

It takes my already fairly good knowledge of the topic to another level. Thanks

Posted by
1680 posts

Really learning a lot. I always feel that travel makes the world a smaller place. I feel the same about this topic and the polite, respectful answers that are being provided. One of the many great comments was to attend a service or ask questions. I have asked questions when the time felt right and the person seemed receptive. My husband tells people, "she'll stop at ANY church". Sometimes it isn't clear to me, the faith or sect of the church I'm visiting. I got into a really interesting conversation at the Bern cathedral. I asked the faith of the congregation and she replied, Zwingli, which I wasn't familiar with. We had an interesting conversation. Very occasionally I've attended a service, sometimes because I wanted to hear the organ.

Posted by
645 posts

What was supercool when I walked into the cathedral in Orleans was that they were getting ready for an ordination--one priest, one deacon. Church was bestrewn with all sort of banners, beaucoup de gens, and a very loud organ playing.

Organ proved to be too much, so I left, but I caught the entrance procession.

Posted by
1680 posts

Uncle Gus, thanks for the clarification though I have to think that many would feel offended if you asked them what they are protesting. It could feel like a slam. At this point, I don't think that there is a protest, per se. I think of the different "families" of Christianity as a good thing. It allows people to find a place that most aligns with their beliefs. And I don't mean to exclude other faiths or lack there of. I think many people are looking for a moral framework for their lives. When I feel its appropriate, I've talked to my Jewish, Hindi and Muslim friends about their beliefs. In a world that can at times feel very divisive, I like to gain an understanding and find a common ground. In any case, I've appreciated this helpful and respectful thread.

Posted by
15212 posts

I like Mira's statement that Mary, the mother of Jesus, "wears many hats." She's appreciated in many walks of life, so different communities find ways to connect and make Her "their own." There are many ways to name God and Jesus, too, within a single tradition, though they may be more codified, with fewer liberties taken. (In Islam, God has at least 99 "names" or attributes.)

  • Even though there's another patron saint of sailors, for instance, any fishing town would also want Mary to put in a good word for them, and then she gets nicknames like Star of the Sea, Queen of the Waves, Our Lady of the Navigators, etc. The name may be used just for a particular church or sculpture, or to add "color" and connection to a prayer for those fishermen, not to discuss Mary Herself in an everyday conversation or Biblical context.

  • A single artwork can gain a name through its own history of being found in a place, sponsored by a patron, associated with a miracle, surviving a fire, having a bird on it, etc., which is helpful when She's the such a popular subject in art.

  • The name can reflect a story or event that's more widely known and even Vatican-approved, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, etc., three of the locations where she's believed to have actually appeared to the faithful. Some element of the story becomes part of the iconic imagery, so that you might come to recognize a "standard" version of Our Lady of Guadalupe replicated all around Mexico and beyond. And yes, she could often be referred to as "the Virgin of Guadalupe," by people who are just used to saying it or emphasizing that part of her backstory.

Posted by
153 posts

Did you know that Our Lady of Lourdes inspired the Ferrero Rocher chocolate and nutella?
Michele Ferrero the maker of nutella and the Ferrero Rocher had a particularly strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes to whom he credits his success.

Posted by
1421 posts

jules m: I love this term....." I think of the different families of Christianity" and can't think of a better way to phrase the concept.

Posted by
11544 posts

James - the Jewish head-covering tradition was explained to me just a couple of years ago. I don't remember when it started but I suspect it was in the early centuries of Christianity. It became obligatory for Christian men to remove headwear in church, so the rabbis instructed (insisted :-) that Jewish men keep their heads covered in synagogue.

Posted by
1739 posts

The head covering thing is interesting because until fairly recently it was required for Catholic women to cover their heads in Mass. Not in my lifetime but my 70 year old mother remembers. And in my modern catholic church there are a couple of older ladies who wear headscarves and long skirts. The rest of the congregation of all ages is in jeans or other everyday clothes, it's a good reminder of the changes.
In general, the Abrahamic religions and their related but different policies on head coverings is interesting.

Posted by
18397 posts

But I can also remember a time when Nuns wore tight fitting head covering that only allowed a small portion of their face to be visible. Not too far removed from the current Muslim practice of total head covering for females. Practices evolved over time to adjust to current demands.

Posted by
556 posts

"But I can also remember a time when Nuns wore tight fitting head covering that only allowed a small portion of their face to be visible. Not too far removed from the current Muslim practice of total head covering for females."

I don't know how old you are Frank but as a young boy I saw a number of nuns in Canada and America in the early sixties, and as a youth in Europe in the seventies. None were dressed in a way which came remotely close to total head covering. A nun's scarf, for want of a better word, did not cover her face.

To add a minor point, we have Ukrainian friends and they consider themselves Ukrainian Greek Catholics. I don't know the full ins and out of it but they are part of the Catholic Church yet keep some traditions of the Eastern Orthodox church. Never mind a man having to take his hat off in their church, some of the old biddies will inflict a fate worse than death upon you if you step into their house with a hat on.

Posted by
5022 posts

Well, I was still going to Catholic schools in the early 60's and the nuns that taught us had the old style habits that covered the whole head and neck with just the face showing. The newer style of habit worn mostly by younger nuns were just then getting more popular. But, even then, it depended a lot on the order of nuns. Some orders were slower to accept the newer style of dress - which was not the old style 'habit' but rather a mid-calf length dark colored skirt, a white blouse, dark colored cardigan or jacket and a head scarf that did not cover the whole head.

Posted by
3353 posts

Nuns were shifting from the old style to the new style around the late sixties here. We called the new style with shorter habits "panty-hose nuns". The old full head covering was called a "whimple". The purpose of covering the hair (in church for all females) was to show respect for God through modesty - hair being one of a woman's attractive features, thus distracting. Just like showing legs and shoulders. Modesty used to be a virtue. Changing hairstyles and norms made coverings (beanies for schoolgirls) impractical.

Gundersen, there was a part of the Ukrainian Orthodox church (mostly in western Galicia) which broke away and declared themselves to be in alignment with the Roman Catholic Church (i.e., accepting the Pope's authority). This had to do with politics, anti-Russian sentiment, and other factors. They were sometimes called Uniates. It gets confusing.

There are many small towns here in the midwest US where wearing a hat inside a restaurant will get you a scowl or friendly reminder of good manners. The wrong football team cap will get you in physical danger.

Posted by
3868 posts

There are also a number of "Old Catholic" churches across Europe that broke with Rome mainly in the 19th century after the First Vatican Council over Papal infallibility. They also have a relationship with the Anglican Churches (eg Church of England) which consider themselves to be "Catholic and Reformed".

Posted by
8319 posts

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church only got recognized a month or two ago. The Russian Orthodox is too closely aligned and influenced by Putin and it became difficult when Putin invaded Ukraine. Fair to say that both churches are fairly nationalistic.

Religion is a great topic for exploration when traveling, especially if you go beyond looking at the architecture.

Posted by
556 posts

“Check your comprehension, Gunderson. I did not mention anything about total head covering.”

Frank, you are right, maybe my comprehension is not up to scratch, I’ll endeavor to improve on it in the new year. You wrote that the head covering of nuns was “not too far removed from the current Muslim practice of total head covering for females.” I apologise if I misread your statement, my comprehension is that a visible full face is far removed from a total head covering.

Stan/James, I admit to being a bit confused about all this. I know Ukrainians who follow the Greek Orthodox religion and some who call themselves Ukrainian Catholics. They are totally separate, I believe? I'll have to share a couple of bottles of vodka to find out for sure. Not Russian vodka, naturally.

A Happy New Year To All xxxxx.

Posted by
1680 posts

@Gunderson, this has been a very interesting topic. It's too bad that we all can't gather with some festive beverages to further discuss! ;)

Posted by
3353 posts

gundersen, yes AFAIK there are at least two varieties of Ukrainian Orthodox, one aligned with Rome, the other with the Greek Orthodox church. Surely there's a large population of Russians as well. All likely as secular today as most of Western Europe. And you're right: "can't be understood without vodka" was a phrase I heard a lot in Poland.

Posted by
174 posts

There are indeed some Catholics in Ukraine. The vast majority of the country's population, though, is Orthodox. Up until very recently, Ukrainian Orthodox Church was a subsidiary, so to speak, of Moscow Patriarchy (Russian Orthodox Church).

An interesting undercurrent to the recent schyzm is a historically rather complicated and at times strained relationship between Greek Orthodoxy and the Russian Orthodox Church. There have been a series of recent articles on Mt. Athos - one of spiritual centers of monastic orthodoxy, - well worth checking out.

Posted by
1641 posts

If you want one authors view of the Catholic Church in Europe, check out Ken Follett's Kingsbridge series starting with Pillars of the Earth. The three books make a great read and give life to the history that you need to learn to understand the Catholic Church's role in Europe.

Posted by
441 posts

Happy New Year to all!!
Regarding the habits (clothing the nuns wear} changing from full to a more modern dress for nuns, this all began to change in the60's when Pope John XXIII held the second Vatican Council (Vatican II). It was said to be like breathing a breath of fresh air into the Catholic church. In addition to the nun's habits being updated, many other changes occurred. The Mass being said in the local language, the priest saying Mass facing the congregation as opposed to his back facing the congregation, no longer needing Papal dispensation to remarry after a divorce, this can now be given by local religious leaders, face to face confession instead of behind a closed partition etc. I attended Catholic schools from 1st through 9th grade in the 60's and remember all these changes happening.
This has been a great and informative thread. Thanks to all.

Posted by
8319 posts

Here is a good theme for the Holidays.

Visit some German Christmas markets then
Monday 23, Tuesday 24, Wednesday 25, Thursday 26, Friday 27, Saturday 28, Sunday 29 in Budapest. Opera, Christmas Markets, Church and Synagogue (Haunakah runs from the 22nd to the 30th) services. Maybe an overnight to Eger or Pecs or Gyor (especially if there is an organ concert at the Archabbey)
Monday 30 fly to Kyiv
Tuesday 31 celebrate New Year at Maidan in Kyiv.
Wednesday 1 in Kyiv for the lead up to Orthodox Christmas.
Thursday 2, Friday 3, Saturday in Kyiv
Sunday 3, fly to Lviv for the very orthodox church Christmas festivities
Monday 4, Tuesday 5, Wednesday 6 Lviv and maybe a village in the Carpathians and mass on Christmas eve in an orthodox church
Thursday 7, Orthodox Christmas.

Friday 8, Head home.

Or some variation there of.

Posted by
950 posts

Just a few notes. Catholics do not think the Church strayed away from correct teachings at Reformation time. There was a need to straight up some things, but the motto at the time was "never reformed because never deformed".

Also: there are some (mainly oriental) churches that, in spite of sticking to Byzantine rites, have allegiance for the authority of the Roman pope so they are technically Catholic even if they look like Orthodox - their priests are Catholic but may marry, for example. They are not only in eastern states; there are a few parishes in Calabria, south of Italy, were the people living are descendants of Catholic Albanians fleeing from Albania when their country was taken by Islamics. They are Catholic but their rites are oriental and they have their own bishop.

Technically, also the very large Milan diocese does not stick to Roman rites but they have a different Mass rite (Ambrosian) and also a different church calendar. Differences are very subtle and you may be condoned if they are not very apparent, considered that the rite has been translated in Italian and during the translation lost some of its differences. For, example, Credo is said after the Offertory and not before, there are added antiphons every now and then, such things.

Posted by
819 posts

Don't forget Our Lady of Knock Ireland.
I'm ruminating about the comment speculating that the relic could be removed from the altar for mass off site... I remember reading that centuries ago it was believed that mass was to be celebrated indoors, it was those only those druids that worshipped outdoors.

Posted by
8319 posts

Can you imagine what the first mass in St George's Cathedral must have been like?:

On 11 October 2018, the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it would "proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine", making it independent from the Russian Orthodox Church. This decision led the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to break communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 15 October 2018, which marked the beginning of the 2018 Moscow–Constantinople schism. On 15 December 2018, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was formed after a unification council. On 5 January 2019, Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, signed the tomos that officially recognized and established the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine and granted it autocephaly (self-governorship).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocephaly_of_the_Orthodox_Church_of_Ukraine

Posted by
8319 posts

On 5 January 2019, Patriarch Bartholomew and Metropolitan Epiphanius held a mass in St. George's Cathedral in Istanbul; the tomos was signed thereafter, also in St. George's Cathedral.

Posted by
153 posts

Jules in you original post you say:

"It was lovely to be able to witness people as they visited at the end of the day"

You don't say were you were when you were watching this people, but I wonder if you were maybe seated at a cafe in a plaza near by. I just read an editorial about architecture which begins "when you go to a great European city, you find beautiful spacious piazze, outdoor cafes, charming shops, fountains to sit near, and people to watch. For many today, that symbolizes the good city" and it goes on to talk about the way a church with active members, or an important civil building, give life to a square.

In a sense it is "Understanding Europe through the Catholic Faith".

Posted by
186 posts

There is a very good book "Church HIstory in Plain Language" by Bruce L. Shelley that would be of interest to many of you. I had a chance to visit Poland three times in the last six years and that is one of the few countries where you will find the majority of people actively participating in church attendance.

I went to my grandfather's old church twice in a little village and it was standing room only. Interesting that my cousins told me they don't pray before meals. My prayers were always translated from English to Polish so that all could hear. I was at a family meal with a visiting priest and asked to do the prayer, but attempted to have the priest do the honors. I was told that he would like to have me do it. Seems that I was viewed as more "spiritual" because of this practice. Go figure...

In Poland, as in some other European countries, you will see many roadside shrines. While visiting my husband's great grandfather's church, we were shown a "nail from Jesus' cross." It was wrapped in cloth and kept in a special box on the side of the church. How does one react to that when the priest shows you the church's treasure?

After visiting a country like Poland where masses are well attended I tend to view many of the other churches in Europe as more like museums. Not all, but many. Church attendance is way down.

I'm so glad I got to witness the Catholic faith in action in Poland. I saw the faith of my grandparents who were very devout.