Testimony of Former Catholic:
Growing up in a strict pre-Vatican II Catholic household, I knew the meaning of
prayer and authority but it was prayer by rote and the unquestioned authority of
the church hierarchy. Let me explain.
Praying By Rote
As a Catholic, at a very early age, I was encouraged to pray the Rosary (a series
of beads). Such praying is quite tedious. At the beginning of the Rosary, a
Catholic will pray a prayer titled “Glory Be to the Father”.
After that, they pray a series of “decades” on the Rosary (the Rosary is divided up
into 10 decades of beads).
Each decade consists of one “Our Father” (the large beads)" ten "Hail Marys"
(the small beads), and one "Apostle's Creed" (to be said when your fingers come
to the Crucifix).
I understand that many of you may be confused. Let me simplify it for you. Each
time after I prayed the Rosary I had recited the “Apostle's Creed” once, the “Our
Father” ten times, the “Hail Mary” one hundred and fifty times, (yes, that’s right,
150 times) and the “Glory Be” ten times.
I was taught from my Saint Joseph Daily Missal that,
* If I pray five decades of the Rosary--on my behalf or on the behalf of a dead
family member or friend, I or the deceased one, would get 5 years off the
time we spend in Purgatory (praying the Rosary is viewed in the church as a
type of Indulgence).
* If I was to recite five decades of the Rosary in unison with others, publically
or privately, I earn ten years off of Purgatory.
* I was able to gain an additional 10 years off if I recited in unison the Rosary
with my family.
* If I was praying the Rosary while driving a car or doing housework, I was
guaranteed to get time off Purgatory, but there was a condition–I had to at
least have the Rosary hang around my neck or be attached to my person
(such as a sweater I might be wearing), while I was praying.
This was the type of repetitious praying I was involved in–especially during Lent
when a Catholic must give up something or do some sacrificial act. I really thought
of such praying as sacrificial because it took a lot of time to pray a total of 171
prayers each day of Lent (40 days of Lent x 171 = 6,840 prayers!). And, along with that
praying, came pride as I saw the benefit I could have on the dead person I was
helping get out of Purgatory (a temporary place of fire) and into Heaven (will
explain a bit more about Purgatory in a minute).
I was not only involved in repetitious praying on my own, but such praying was
done when attending Mass. I knew the Mass backwards and forwards. I could
recite it from beginning to end. The same exact words and prayers said during the
Mass are repeated week after week, year after year. Actually, century after
century. For well over 1500 years the same exact script has been said during the
Mass. The only change made, since the 1960's, is that the Mass is now performed
in English instead of Latin--the universal language for the church over the centuries.
One thing is certain, during Mass every Catholic, world-wide, knows when to stand,
when to sit, when to say “Amen,” when to make the sign of the cross, and when
to say the “Our Father” and the “Glory Be.” There doesn’t have to be any heart in
this at all. As long as you are at Mass going through the motions, then you are
seen as acceptable to God.
When praying the rosary, or when praying at Mass, Jesus is never included. Ask
most Catholics and they will tell you they do not pray to Jesus (unless they’ve
become born again, and haven’t left the church yet). The closest I ever came to
praying to Jesus was when making the sign of the Cross I would recite: “In the
name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
As a Catholic, I had a deeper reverence for Mary and the Saints than I ever did for
Jesus. This is true for many Catholics. They will tell you, for instance, that they
pray to Mary because she was Christ's mother; herself born without sin (called the
"Immaculate Conception"); and most importantly, that she intercedes for the
sinner. Since 1589 Catholics have prayed these words to their mediator--the
“Blessed Mother Mary,”
Hail Mary, full of grace! the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death.
This prayer (again, prayed 150 times when praying the Rosary) has become so
much a part of popular piety that it never occurs to the average Catholic that
exaltation of Mary is not found in the Bible.
If there are any Catholics reading this testimony, please do not be offended, when I
say in love, that Jesus has warned us against repetitious praying. When I came to
realize this, I wanted to change my prayer life completely! Listen to the words of
Jesus. He says, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as
the Gentiles, do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words”
(see Matthew 6:7,8).
The Lord also tells us that He is against heartless and mindless praying:
...this people draw near with their words
and honor Me with their lip service,
but they remove their hearts far from Me,
and their reverence for Me consists of tradition
learned by rote. (Isaiah 29:13).
The Priests, and the Nuns
Along with having a deep reverence for Mary, I also revered the priests and the
nuns in the church. I had always believed that they were the only ones who could
really know God and be close to Him. After all, the priests were God’s
representative, and the nuns were the “Bride of Christ.”
In my father’s family line we have had (and continue to have) priests and nuns, a
monsignor and even a monk (a relative on my grandmother’s side of the family).
This monk went off to a monastery in New York and no one ever heard from him
again. What devotion! I thought.
I believed that anyone in the Order was “above” others. They live celibate lives
(considered to be more spiritual). They not only pray the Rosary more than most
Catholics but the nuns have their rosary with them at all times. The beads are on
their person, dangling down their habit (habit refers to the nun’s clothing).
These “holy people” are addressed by all Catholics by their given titles, such as
“Father”, “Sister,” “Monsignor”, “Bishop”, “Cardinal.” Even family members are
expected to address them in the same way. Without diminishing the respect and
honor I have for my family, let me share with you what I mean by this. At a family
reunion, for instance, one of our family priests had attended the gathering
(surprisingly). Cousin “Jim” (names are changed) was addressed by all his relatives
as “Father.” Never once did anyone just call him “Jim.” This is the same for the
nuns in the family. My own dear grandfather (who accepted Christ at age 90 and
is now in glory!) would have never called his nieces by their first name. He always
addressed them as “Sister.” My father’s uncle was a monsignor in the church and
was always addressed by the family as “Monsignor” (with last name), r