Repetition is the mother of learning; or so I recall being told on more than one occasion during my childhood. Repetition was certainly the mother of learning your catechism in a Catholic family when I was a kid. Weekday afternoons, usually a Monday or Tuesday, I remember my mom taking us to our catechism classes after school. We’d rush in the side door of the church and down the rubber-covered stairs to the basement. Plowing through the doors to the enormous, echoing room that was divided by rolling walls, we would find our way to our “class” and have a seat in the cold metal folding chairs for an hour.
Part of the process of learning what you needed to in order to make your First Holy Communion was memorizing prayers and facts. We’d practice at home in front of our mom, naturally, saying our prayers and reciting facts from the St. Joseph’s Baltimore Catechism like, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the holy days of obligations, and the seven sacraments. If you’re of this era you will remember that the different colors of the books, the pink one if you were younger and the gray one if you were older.
When I was very young and preparing for my first communion my catechism teacher was Mrs. Tougas. Each week, in order to determine if we’d learned our assignment, we would take turns as she called on us to come up one by one to be questioned. Mrs. Tougas would sit in a chair in front of the group. As we approached our turn we would have our back to the rest of the kids; standing at her shoulder we would dutifully and quietly, so only she heard, deliver the answers we’d repeated over and over again in preparation for that moment. She would only tolerate a rote response to a certain degree…we had to say it like we meant it; or have to say it again until she believed we knew the meaning of what we were declaring. (Just like we had to do at home.)
There were quite a few grownups in the church who would spend their time teaching catechism lessons to the children of the parish, my parents included. I’m sure it was their intent to ready us to receive the sacraments of the Church. But now all these years later, I’d like them to know that the practice of repetition, served as a way not only to ground me in my faith but also keep me connected to a way of doing things that shaped my life.