ornate church filled with people

Religious Add-Ons

 June 21, 2021

What is it about us humans that we can’t leave well enough alone? If something is good, then we have to add on in the illusion it will make it better rather than enjoying what we have. If ice cream is good, then adding candy bars makes it better. Sometimes it does. I do enjoy a portion of Moose Tracks (ice cream with peanut butter cups) now and then. But other times there’s nothing like a bowl of plain old vanilla, or dark chocolate ice cream. The same can be said for religious add-ons.

Meat and Potatoes

“Grandma, you’ll spoil your dessert,” my nephew said to my mom many years ago as she reached for the last potato.

“There’s nothing like a good potato,” my mom replied, and well she knew. Mom loves potatoes. Growing up during the depression, she had more than her share of potatoes which helped stretch a meal to feed her, her eleven siblings, and parents. You’d think after that she would have had her fill of potatoes. But not Mom.

After a stay at my sister’s, where Mom was treated to a full range of starches, including rice and pasta, she complained that she missed her potatoes. Not that my sister didn’t serve her potatoes, just not every day.

Meat and Potatoes – that’s what my mom likes and what I had growing up. Everything else is window dressing—add-ons—even the most delicious dessert. Not that I don’t enjoy my desserts, which we had in abundance in my mom’s household. I admit that there have been times when I skipped the entrée and went right to dessert.

However, a diet of sweets would leave me feeling sick and unsatisfied. It doesn’t provide the nutrients necessary to sustain us humans. As Mom said, “There’s nothing like a good potato,” especially when alongside a thick steak and asparagus. Desserts are good, but no substitute for the main course.

What Are Religious Add-Ons?

We do the same thing with our religious services and traditions. Like kids, we do something that we like and it becomes a tradition. “But we always get ice cream on Friday,” we whine. (Did you notice I seem to be obsessed with food?)

We try something, like it and then we do it again and again and again, sometimes incorporating it into our regular services. And then we add on something else.

If one prayer is good, then two, or three or more, can only make our services better. We add something to the church environment, a plant or banner or statue, and soon they become enshrined in ritual. How dare anyone get rid of the banner made with so much love by the second-grade class? It has become a permanent part of the church environment—a religious add-on.

Catholic Add-Ons

My own church is filled with such religious add-ons. Someone pens a prayer that others like and before you know it, they are handing out prayer cards and using the prayer at different services. If one statue is good, then two or more are even better.

The Catholic Church has a rich history of devotionals. I’m not apposed to them. They have a place. But they aren’t to be held at the same level as the sacraments. They are add-ons. Dessert, not the meat and potatoes of the faith.

Even within these devotionals you get religious add-ons. The rosary is a beautiful, Scripture based prayer that I love. The Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, both come out of Scripture. Different aspects of Jesus’ life are reflected on in the mysteries assigned to each decade of Hail Marys. Who needs more than that?

Somewhere along the way, different prayers have been added on, such as the Fatima prayer, to the extent that the rosary isn’t considered complete by some unless they are included. I guess I’m a purist. I prefer the Biblical prayers of the rosary without any additional add-ons.

St. Michael’s Prayer

A few years ago the Catholic churches where I live started including St. Michael’s Prayer at the end of Mass. While there is some tradition for doing this, I consider it an unnecessary add-on.

I have no problem with the prayer. It is a beautiful prayer of protection against evil and has its place amid the many powerful prayers in the church. I just have a problem with it included at the end of every Mass.

There is a prayer of protection in the Lord’s Prayer which is included in the Eucharist – deliver us from evil. Why do we need another one? Don’t we believe that God hears us when we pray to him during the Mass? Why do we need an additional appeal to St. Michael?

The Problem with Religious Add-Ons

The problem I have with religious add-ons is that sometimes they become more important than the main meal. They can take away from and/or dilute the essential message. Included in the Mass, they can get in the way of us appreciating the beauty present in the Eucharist, where God comes in the form of bread and wine. Jesus, our Savior, comes to us. What more do we need? This is truly the spiritual nourishment we need to sustain us when beset by the trials of this life—the meat and potatoes. Everything else is an add-on.

I enjoy desserts. They add a sweetness and variety to life. But not in place of the main course on a regular basis.

Are there religious add-ons at your church? Do they enrich your experience of worship or detract from it? How do we get back to what is most essential?

 


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