Growing up in Branch in the 1950s was truly a Catholic experience because the whole Cape Shore was made up of 100 per cent Irish Roman Catholics.
Hence, my religious upbringing was heavily influenced by the Baltimore Catechism, attendance at Sunday Mass and the recitation of the Rosary. Rosary beads were as familiar to me as a video game is to the children of today. From the time I was six years old, I knew the mechanics of “saying the rosary." I could rattle off the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries on the proper days of the week, recite the required number of Hail Marys, Holy Marys, chant the Litany of the Saints, as well as all the accompanying prayers.
May I emphasize, at this point, that I still believe that the Rosary is one of the most beautiful prayers of my religious denomination. The Blessed Virgin has come to my aid many times during my lifetime. I have found solace through this medium at times when I did not know where else to turn.
Having said this, I cannot help but remember how we outport Catholics were always so accustomed to altering the Queen’s English. When it came to riddling off the prayers of the Rosary, we not only altered the language, we crucified it. I can still hear a devout, elderly gentleman reciting in his lovely Irish fashion: The Lord is witty. Blessed art dowmongwomen. Blessed is defruitofdyewomeJesus. I was a young adult before I realized that the Lord was probably not at all “witty” and Jesus was the unborn baby in Mary’s uterus.
Sometimes, because of weather conditions or the unavailability of a priest, the Rosary was narrated in the church on a Sunday morning. We children waited anxiously to see who would verbalize the mysteries. We were familiar with the “fast” speakers and the ones who prolonged the prayers. Our unspoken motto was “the quicker, the better” although we wouldn’t dare say it aloud. You see, we were “Catlicks” and had to behave as such.
Praying the Rosary was a daily, evening ritual for Catholic families in Branch. Often, we would be joyfully engrossed in a game of catstick, hopscotch or hide and seek. Our frolic would be interrupted by somebody shouting from a doorway “Come home to the Roooasssarrrieee!” By the sound of the voice, we always knew to whom the message was directed. Although we were certainly not goody-goody children, that resonating command was never ignored. It was readily accepted that when you were summoned to the Rosary, you went.
Fall on your knees
Another tradition regarding the family Rosary was that if you chanced to enter someone else’s home at this particular time of adoration, you were expected to fall on your knees and partake of the prayer.
Now, if you were lucky enough to hear what was going on before you got into the porch, you could make your escape without being noticed. This flight from the Rosary was the rule more than the exception because the sing-song chorus that echoed through the house was quite discernible.
No one could mistake the tone of the Hail Mary as it mingled with the jingle-jangle of the Rosary beads. Many times I fled from the Rosary to participate in something that my youthful reasoning considered much more entertaining.
The ritual of the Rosary took about 20 minutes, but getting through this fraction of an hour was not very easy. The slightest thing was enough to put someone into a fit of giggling. Either that or the monotony of it all would make you fall asleep.
There was always the danger of receiving a dirty look or a sharp blow to the ear. To get through five decades safely, you had to keep your wits about you, concentrate on something serious and not kneel too close to the resident jokester. Acting a bit pious would also put you in the good graces of your elders.
Joke as I may about this Catholic custom, I treasure it with all my heart. My navy son has a Rosary decade attached to his car keys. More than one set of beads can be found in our home. As soon as I find myself in need of heavenly favours, I take refuge in Our Lady and find consolation in those familiar prayers that were thrust on me many years ago.
— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She now lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org