I just returned home from attending my cousin Susie’s rosary vigil. In Catholic tradition the vigil is the first of three parts of the funeral ceremony and usually held the night before the funeral mass and the burial service. I don’t normally like to attend Catholic vigil services preferring instead to attend only the mass and burial services, but Susie is my cousin so in respect to her memory, and the family, I chose to attend and I’m pleased to say, I’m glad I went. It was a very moving and memorable service, truly a celebration of her life! She was an incredible woman! I’m sure she would have gotten a kick out of the blown up picture of her that was on an easel beside her casket. A beautiful picture of a young Susie with the word Heineken prominently displayed in the background. Yeah, she would have liked that.
You may be wondering why I dislike vigil services so much, well the reason is twofold. The first is the rosary. The rosary is a devotion in honor of the Virgin Mary. I have absolutely no problem with the notion of praying to Mary the Mother of God, I’ve done so many times, but I do object to the repetition of prayer in the rosary. The rosary begins with the Sign of the Cross, followed by the Apostles Creed which is fine, but then it involves the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer six times, the Hail Mary fifty-three times and the Glory Be To The Father six times. That I have a problem with.
You see I went to Catholic school for ten and a half years and I think that was drummed into my head again and again by those old school nuns and priests is that repetition of prayer is wrong, even paganistic! “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”Matthew 6:7 Okay, I’m sure that the key word here is “vain” and the repetition is used as more of a means for meditation, sort of like a mantra, but to the impressionable mind of a child their words of warning on the repetition of prayer stuck with me even if they might have been wrong.
The second reason I don’t care for rosary vigils is the result of a deep-seated trauma from my youth. When I was 12 years old my uncle and my two year old cousin were killed in a automobile accident near Ventura. My aunt and three other cousins were seriously injured and hospitalized for several weeks so funeral arrangements were made by my mom and her sisters and remaining brother. It was decided that pictures of the funeral should be taken in case my aunt might care to see what the funeral had been like sometime in the future. Somehow my dad was elected to do the deed. I’m quite certain that he didn’t volunteer his services, but like it or not he was the cameraman.
I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. A few hours before the rosary my dad invited me to go with him on an errand. Had I known that the errand had anything at all to do with my dead uncle, cousin and White’s funeral Home, I would have never gone. I realized later that my dad just didn’t want to go alone. Lucky me. I will never forget that funeral home experience, it is etched in my memory as if chiseled in stone. Even now fifty years later, if I close my eyes I can still see each and every detail. My dad reluctantly approaching the caskets camera in hand, standing on the pews to get distance shots of my uncle and cousin as they lie in their caskets. The funeral home director bringing my dad a stool so he could take pictures from directly above the caskets. Me standing off to the side scared shitless, trying not to look and failing miserably. It was God awful! I know my dad probably felt as uncomfortable as I did about the whole thing. I don’t think I’d ever seen him looking so stressed out. When he was finished we quickly left the parlor. Weird, but we never talked about it and I never did see those pictures. Of course I didn’t need too, they were all right here, in unliving color, all in my head. Returning to that particular funeral home, which by the way I have done more often than I would have liked, always reawakens the memories of that awful afternoon, memories I’d much rather forget.
So there you have it. Between my feelings about the rosary and my youthful traumatic event I’ve come to dislike vigils, rosaries, wakes and viewings. Still as I mentioned before Susie’s was different. It was special. Perhaps the memory of her vigil will one day replace the frightening memories of vigils past that still haunt me. God I hope so.