TREASURES FROM OUR TRADITION
As election campaigns move into high gear, sometimes the phrase “the Catholic vote” is heard. It’s an interesting concept, since Catholics started out in this country as a very fragile group: fewer than forty thousand of us at the time of the first census in 1790, and only about 2 percent of the population by 1830. It was a priestless church for all intents and purposes, lay-led clusters of Catholics waiting patiently for the occasional visit of a priest, sustained by gathering when they could on Sunday for devotional prayer like litanies and the rosary. They tried to hold on to their ancestral faith as best they could. Archbishop Jean-Louis Cheverus told one family in Maine to “every day say your prayers on your knees with affection, and every Sunday gather to hear the Gospel, to pray in common, and to quiz the children on the catechism.”
Inevitably, some became Protestant, but many more stayed Catholic from generation to generation, with very little encouragement or sacramental ministry from the clergy. Archbishop John Carroll, the first American bishop, tried to make Church law flexible: shortening the length of the fast before Communion, easing the Lenten fast, and even relaxing the rule of Sabbath rest at harvest time. Catholicism in England had been quietly sustained in this way for two centuries, and the first American Catholics carried on as had their ancestors, providing a fertile soil for the unprecedented success and phenomenal growth of the Church in our country.
—Rev. James Field, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co.
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