Sunday, January 1


Summa Paraphernaliae Catholicae

A world religion just isn't a world religion until it inspires large quantities of bad, mass-produced devotional art. Note that this is but one reason the Jehova's Witnesses will never make it big-time.

Yet, I was surprised, in the course of recent discussion, to discover some individuals (granted, Episcopalian) who were wholly unaware of this basic cultural phenomenon. For the sake of similarly impoverished individuals, I present these pictures and this reflection.

Certainly, Christ triumphed in a cosmic sense with the consummation of the Paschal Mystery. What is more, Christianity triumphed civicly with the reign of St. Constantine. But I contend that Christianity cannot truly be said to have captured the hearts and minds of the early Romans until, quite apart from the great Constantinian basilicas or the pictures in the catacombs, they also produced really bad art pro populum. And we all know they included plaster images of the BVM. Made in Ephesis.

Simili modo, the coming of age for American Catholicism--after the Jesuit missionaries, after the convent burnings and "Irish Need Not Applies"--was marked by the dawning of The Mary Planter.

We all know they are awful. But how can't we love them? It's Mary, it's a planter, and all in one. Pondering the planter, one might wax familial, recalling Grandma's living room. One can wax historical, calling to mind that great Pax Catholica which these vintage pieces recall. One might even go theological, noting the true Vine, Jesus Christ, which bloomed from the receptive heart of Mary, the first Evangelized--the first to hear the Word of God and keep it.

Oh sure, we make fun of them. But I admit it: there's one on my shelf, and should be on yours. Indeed, our tolerance of the planters is no small testimony of our love of the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.

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