Faith of our Family: England vs. America

Faith of Our Family

Faith of Our Family

One of the greatest adventures of marrying an English Catholic and raising our hybrid Yank/Brit children in the Faith has been exposing them to the richness found in both the English and American Catholic Churches.  When I studied there, as a Hispanic Californian, I felt happily “at home” with the English Catholics and my husband has fit in pretty well out here in California where the demographics of the Church are very demonstratively not English.

Having lived in each other’s respective Churches, a nice organic overlap between English Catholicism and American Catholicism has arisen in our home.  It surfaces in different, novel ways.

For instance, the “Amen.”  Americans say “Amen” with a long “a” sound. The English say “AH-men.”  While at Oxford, it rubbed off on me in a big way.  I still feel a bit snobby for saying it that way, but I still do it, aware that most of Christendom and Latin America also say it that way.  The kids say both at different times and it’s kind of fun to watch.

Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Thomas More live in our home.  She, in a framed gold picture, he as a fridge magnet.  But hey, to each according to their station, right?

Every time we attend mass in England we get to practice singing the whole song!  It’s England.  So if a song has four verses, we sing those four verses.  None of this slicing up the closing hymn, stuff.  At least not in any English mass I’ve ever attended.

Over there, abstinence from meat on Fridays is back…in the country where the fish and chips are awesome and we look forward to indulging when we visit.  What a sacrifice.  Go England.

My kids get to witness firsthand that the Church’s liturgy is the same everywhere.  So they have no excuse not to participate no matter where we are.

Their Churches are older… and prettier. Many are currently protestant because of this big To-Do that happened in the 16th century called the Reformation.  But I never miss the chance to go see a big, ancient one whenever we visit and I make sure to remind the kids that once-upon-a-time, they all used to be ours (and more theirs than mine, because they have their father’s genes.)

Our churches are fuller.   Our parish in Santa Clara may be a-typical as parishes go as every Sunday we face hundreds, if not thousands of people, crowding in for mass so that it’s standing room only.  But that, for me, means the church is full.  For my brother in law, who described for me what the “packed” mass at his parish looks like, congregants more or less filling up most of the pews qualifies as “full.”  (Although I hear this is not the case in English parishes with more ethnic minorities.)  And so it is not with any small pride that I beam over the aforementioned hybrid English/American  children filling up a said sparsely “full” pew to capacity when we attend mass there.

They have same freedom of religion and speech problems with their secular state as we do.  So pray for our English brethren, won’t you? It’s far more “post-Christian” over there with only 4% of the population identifying as Christian (and I’m pretty sure my husband’s extended family make up most of the Catholics of southern England anyway).

Their St. Michael prayer is different.   It also sounds way more Englishy. Look it up. I still get confused, and substitution occurs but it really doesn’t matter, right?   If I say ‘restrain’ vs. ‘rebuke’ or “Divine power” vs. “Power of God” it’s all the same meaning, correct (someone help me out with this!)?

They say, “Lord, graciously hear us,” while we command, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  In other words, our prayers of petition stink.  I very much prefer the former, for sure.

Obligation means obligation.  None of this “moving the Holy Day of Obligation to Sunday,” rubbish.  If that day requires mass, then go to mass on that day.  An extra liturgy is offered for working people and it’s up to you to get there, as far as I am aware.

They have J.R.R Tolkien and G.K Chesterton.  I know of no other Catholic American author of the previous century to have written on par with these two English Catholic authors (but then again, I never studied American literature).  You bet my kids will read both men.

We have EWTN.    I know of no English Catholic media outlet that comes close to being like EWTN.  My mother in law loves EWTN and spent her last visit to California watching World Youth Day Rio.    I’ll bet that was something she never imagined herself doing: watching our first Latin American pope celebrate World Youth day in South America while herself vacationing in America.

But, lo, the adventures in our blended English/American Catholic household continue!  It turns out the combination of St. Thomas More and Our Lady of Guadalupe make powerful intercessors.  By the same token, I’m sure in its inevitable that one day both St. Julian of Norwich and Bl. Miguel Pro will also feature prominently among other interesting British/Californian amalgamations of the Faith that will continue cropping up in our home.

Copyright 2013 Marissa Nichols


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  1. I loved this, Marissa! I loved picturing Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Thomas Moore happily sharing your home. And the prayers of petition made me laugh–after studying in Ireland in college our petitions did sound a wee bit demanding to me when I came home! Thanks for this–blessings on your day, Meg

  2. Really fun article! We are Americans living in Liverpool so I relate to every word. Just wanted to add that if you were raised with the New American Bible, another English translation of the readings at Mass can really surprise you! Sometimes, you are deeply moved to hear a familiar passage in new words, and sometimes your response is ‘What did I just hear??’ and complete puzzlement. It keeps the readings really fresh!

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