Apr 3, 2005

The importance of being

Ernest? No. How about the importance of being ritualised?

If you've known me for more than an hour or so, you know my stand on ritual and ritual behaviours. "Ritual" is one of those words that gets so overused and overexposed by the media and by the commoner that it has sort of lost it's base meaning and taken on sort of a "Oh, it's Them" kind of meaning.

Rituals spring from our earliest hindbrain experiences, back when we were hunter-gatherer monkeys. Ugh kills a bison, and makes the connection that just before he killed that bison he had pulled up a blade of grass to chew on, to kill the time. In his primate mind the two become inextricably linked--the behaviour equals the reward. In this case the reward being that Ugh and his family don't starve to death, chewing that blade of grass becomes a pretty powerful factor in survival. Fast forward a hundred thousand years, and you have things like a batter in a game tapping his bat against the side of his cleats every single time he goes to bat because just once he did that, and hit a grand slam. Watch the old man down the street who always cuts his yard in a counterclockwise motion at the same time every weekend. There's the ritual of lighting a pipe, where each step is carried out in the same way it's been done since you've started smoking. Or at least since I've started smoking. Then there's the Catholic Church, with it's thousands of years of ritual and majesty, most of the meaning lost in the mists of time, or only known to a very few.

Yes, that's what I was getting at. Back when I was a young rogue bull Irrelephant I was raised to be a devout Catholic boy. I was an altar boy, attended a private Catholic school, and in general was steeped in the myths and rituals. And now, looking back at it from my lofty perch of 38 years (that'd be sarcasm) I can see it all with a somewhat more objective eye.

Damn, how little did I realise what the meaning behind it all was! What a doof!

What brought this to my mind was yesterday afternoon--I brought an old daybed over to my syter's house, and while assembling it and such I got dragged into the news. I knew the Pope had been dying, but my syster was actively following it, whereas I was more of a passive observer. And before you get any ideas, no, she's not Catholic either. Has never been. Poor dear was raised Baptist. *shudder* Anyhoo. We had finished building the frame and getting the bed together, and I was standing in the kitchen with her helping her with the food dehydrator (she makes a mean ham jerky) when the live feed from the Vatican drifted into the wake mass that was being said for the Pontiff, and the Archbishop of Whatever was saying the lines "I am the Way, the Truth, and The Light." What struck me as astoundingly odd was that my syster and I both and at the same time spoke exactly in time with each other and the priest, right down to the intonation and pauses.

I cannot count how many times I heard that line during Mass, and obviously Sys had in the services she'd attended as a young girl, and it had sunk so deeply into us that both of us felt compelled to intone along with the ArchWhoopie. Pretty heady stuff, being trained like that.

Back to being on about ritual lost in the murk of time. I might have heard it twenty two odd years ago when the last Pope passed on, but I had since forgotten it, and if you've followed the news for more than three minutes you probably know about it too, but there is a ritual wherein the Pope's right-hand man, when realising that the Pope is perhaps dead, taps the Pontiff on the forehead three times with a silver hammer and calls his name, to verify that he has indeed shuffled off this mortal coil. After the ex-Pope has failed to respond he then uses the hammer to break the Papal seal and ring.

Where the hell did that come from? Was it simply some Vatican janitor, just a working stiff of a Monsignor who was told by a Junior Exchequer to go bust up the Papal things into powder? There he was, dirty work cassock, tool belt around a bulging waist, ready to go and repair some of the shingles on the Papal Apartment's roof when a voice says "Hey there Father Villa, He's gone and croaked, go and bust the Holy Father's jewel's, roigh? Off you go, there's a good lad." So, being the loyal fellow he is, off he trundles, sidetracked into some serious smiting on the Papal Goodies. Perhaps while he was there his thoughts went something like this:

"Oh, so NOW I've got break the ring and the seal so it can't be stolen and used, it's not like I've still got a ton of work to do, gotta fix that roof, and the plumbing in Cardinal Colon's bathrooom is still backed up, gotta go and tape up that stained glass window that Father Ruth broke last week playing baseball in the Sistine, I've still got to go and polish ALL the dad-gum marble, Judas Priest there ain't enough hours in the day.

"Mmmm...I wonder if old boy is really dead? What if he's playing 'possum, lying there with one eye open to make sure I'm doing my job?

"Wow, nice place he's got here. Hey, what if they're just testing to see if I'm working hard enough? I can't blow this one...

"Should I shake him by the shoulder? Whisper in his ear? Bite him on the nose?"

And being the jocular sort of handyfriar he is, our erstwhile jewelry wrecker taps the slowly congealing body on the forehead a couple of times with his roofing hammer and sings out "Coo-eee? Anyone at home? Hallo, hallo? Vienna calling!"

Little known to our Comic Reverend, someone is passing by the Papal Apartments right at this pivotal comedy moment. This fellow, hearing more voices than usual turns a rheumy eye and deaf ear and happens to see and hear it all. But, being of a wildly advanced age his deaf ear reports back to his tinder-dry brain not a grimy Dickies-wearing day-labourer but a Cardinal clad all in white and gold. His hair-filled crinkled ear hears not a clever joke but a calling by name, and his one mostly good eye sees not a Black & Decker 24oz shingle hammer with a yellow fiberglass handle and black rubber anti-shock grip but a gleaming silver Instrument Of Holy Power, and in the depths of his dusty and ill-used brain the Strangely Pivotal Cardinal thinks "Well Hell, this guy oughtta know what he's doing, he's a Papal Right-Hand-Man, perhaps he's smart in making sure the Old Boy is dead, because we DID bury the last one alive, and by Satan's Boxer Shorts the paperwork was MURDER on that one..." And thus the ancient and stately ritual of tapping the forehead and calling the name is born. Born of expediency and silliness, but born nonetheless.

And what's up with that hat?

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