The only part I miss about being Catholic is the exquisite fashion show called Communion. No other church does Communion as well as the Catholics. Well, there is Project Runway, but that doesn’t count as a church as much as a cult following.
Few realize the connection between the Catholic Church and fashion but the Catholic Church invented the catwalk when it decided Communion will happen in a line formation, whereby the congregation gets a full view of each parishioner’s outfit, first from the back, briefly from the side and lastly from the front.
I always chose the end of the pew closest to the outside aisle for best fashion smashin’, as I referred to it. As soon as the parishioner rounded the corner of the first pew, I could check out their entire outfit and walk, hair and make-up.
I also preferred a pew near the front, so I had an unobstructed view. If I had a pew in the back, I was merely the tail end of the fashion show. I didn’t really want to be in it as much as I wanted to judge.
While everyone was kneeling and saying Hail Mary’s or Our Father’s, I was peeking over my hands in prayer position to people watch. Instead of bowing my head and saying “…who art in Heaven…” I was saying, “who would wear that dress without a slip? You can see right through it when she walks by the stained glass windows!”
My seat was within excellent range of hearing the priest say, “Body of Christ” and the parishioner reply, “Amen.” The soundtrack to my critiquing and analyzing, dressing and undressing people in my mind, was a mesmerizing “Body of Christ…..Amen…..Body of Christ…..Amen…..” chant.
Sometimes kept my eyes closed, pretending to pray, but really I was trying to imagine what the person whose voice just said “Amen” was wearing. Flat shoes, pantyhose, beige, too much foundation. I’d look up after I heard the sound of her footsteps rounding the front pew and heading my way. Sure enough! Mrs. Hillson. Lover of beige. Beige pants. Beige blouse. Beige foundation. I called it!
Some time during the 1970′s, the Church or OSHA or the CDC stepped in and it was decided to give people the option of taking Communion in their hands. Most people switched over to the hand right away. Only a few resisted the change.
I liked to peg the ones who would take the Communion in their hands vs. the ones who still took it with their tongue. If the parishioner was a tonguer, I held my breath and watched the hesitancy of both parties. If they wobbled slightly left or right, or, God forbid, toward the priest at the same time he was putting the host in their mouth, he’d get their saliva on his hand. After enough licks, a seasoned priest knew not to put the host anywhere near their mouth until they finally held still after making that last step, and completing a slight bow in his direction. The awkwardness never got boring.
I’d watch each parishioner to see if they were a wafer holder or devourer. I was a holder. I’d elevate the wafer with my tongue so that it didn’t get soggy when I salivated. By the time I got back to my seat it glued itself to the roof of my mouth. It took three Our Father’s to scrape it off. But I was NOT going to be one of those ravenous breakfast skippers that devoured the body of Christ in front of the entire congregation.
After Skye and I got married by a judge and had a couple kids, I started feeling guilty that our kids weren’t growing up with religion. We tried out all three Catholic Churches in town, even the Catholic Chapel on campus. But none of them were compelling enough to get us out of bed on a Sunday morning, get dressed, get the kids dressed, and then spend an hour telling them to be quiet and stop kicking the pew in front of them because the person sitting in that pew, the one who keeps turning around and giving us the evil eye, can feel each and every kick.
So we church shopped beyond the bubble we call Upper Wonderful, and found ourselves at the Unitarian Church across the river, surrounded by gays, bi’s, lesbians and transgenders. GBLT. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
They’re staring at us because we obviously are late for the 9:00 Straight People service. And we’re staring at them because our brains can’t wrap around the rubics cube of their gender identity. Everyone was seated in a circle, so I couldn’t tell who was with whom. Is that guy dressed like a woman with the masculine woman on his left or the effeminate man on his right?
I was the only member of my party who had to figure all of this out. James was seven at the time and he was quite intrigued. He’s our out-of-the-box thinker and he was loving how out-of-the-box this was compared to Upper Wonderful. Vincent was three. He sat peacefully next to me with his big, blue saucer eyes and cherubic blond curls that framed his face. On the other side of him was my husband, listening intently. Not me. I was in an ADD whirlwind. I couldn’t tune out all the distractions that I was babbling about inside my head.
“I cannot believe that guy’s outfit! Those earrings! That purse! Just ew!” I said to my husband in the car on the way home.
“You are a homophobe!” he said.
“I am not!”
“You are so! Listen to you!”
“I don’t care that he was a cross-dresser. What’s so upsetting is why is he wearing that totally 80′s outfit?! He came out of the closet in the middle of the Madonna years and he hasn’t gone back to the Salvation Army since!”
“No,” I argued. “A homophobe would have grabbed her kids by the hands instead of taking a seat and said ‘You know what, boys? We forgot your sippy cups on the swing set!” and dragged them out as fast as she could, before any gayness permeating the air seeped into her childrens’ DNA. I am strictly singling out the one across from me who needs to watch What Not to Wear. I am fine with gays, lesbians and transgenders. It was the wardrobe malfunction of the transgender across from me.”
“As a woman, I am insulted that that’s what he chose to wear to look like a woman.”
“This isn’t Vegas. It’s church. Maybe he was running late. Maybe he didn’t have a thing to wear,” my husband says, mockingly.
My husband was not raised Catholic so he doesn’t think of church and fashion as being related. This is one of times when marrying outside your religion is bound to backfire, because so much of who you are and what you believe about what’s acceptable to wear comes down to religious indoctrination.