This year Sun and I headed out just the two of us to view a few St. Joseph altars. We started at St. Joseph’s Church. They had volunteers giving mini tours to explain various aspects of the altars. I opted to send up a petition for my grandmother. I don’t know what comes over my non-religious heart in these settings; but if anyone would appreciate a petition given at the foot of a table lushly set, it’d be Sunshine. It made me smile and frown at the same time. Upon leaving with a goodie bag in hand, Sun asked what was in them. “Cookies,” I answered. “You KNEW that?” She responded, apparently boogled by the thought that I didn’t take more goodie bags. That’s my girl!
Then we visited one I haven’t before: St. Stephen’s. We caught the very tale end of the mass as the school children passed before the altar and received their goodie bags. Those well-behaved children; the sad history of the closing of St. Henry’s to merge with St. Stephen’s; the state of decline of the church; the amazingly detailed items on this altar. I have to admit it got to me. Here’s what has come to be what I see of the Catholic Church at its worst: Poorly executed decisions from up high that impact parishioners in the name of numbers — dollars and parishioners. Then the Church leaders getting their way and STILL not sending money to allow for even as much as fixing the peeling paint in this church. But go down the street to the affluent church and marvel at the loveliness. And here I thought the Church was supposed to be about helping its most needy parishioners.
But I digress.
Onward to St. Francis Xavier. This one was the largest we saw today. They also offer lunch. And they sell a St. Joseph altar cookbook (my weakness!). The sheer number of hours that go into their altar, all the altars, really, is stunning. And it all shows in these altars. You can see, feel, that these cakes and artichokes and breads and fishes, they aren’t just to look good. They are prepared for none other than St. Joseph popping in for a bite. And the altars ARE dismantled and used to feed parishioners; homeless shelters; and what’s not able to be given away or is no longer fit for human consumption, they must dispose of in an appropriate way since the food is blessed. And in New Orleans, that means a trip to dump the unfit food in the Mississippi River. So even our fish benefit.
Finally, we rounded off the tour with a visit to Angelo Brocato’s. Their Sicilian roots show in their own small altar. It had my favorite lamb cake I’ve ever seen. Then a woman came in that a clerk knew. “Oh, Julie, you married yet?” she asked. “No,” Julie answered, “working on it!” “Girl, you need to go get altar lemons! You KNOW dem altar lemons mean that the girl that gets one will be the next one married, right?” “No; let me go get one!” Julie exclaimed. The clerk was sure to point out that the girl “has to be ready” to be married or the lemons won’t work. “Oh, I’m ready!” Julie quickly added.
And then I was just happy Sun had to bring LIMES for her school’s altar and didn’t DARE ask what the clerk knew of THEIR meaning.
This post was originally published on http://www.nolanotes.com on March 19, 2012.