Followers of Italian Enclaves on Facebook, Instagram, and on this blog are familiar with seeing photos featuring various Italian National parishes. To clarify for all of our readers, a National Parish is a parish that is created to specifically cater to a certain ethnic group. Masses are usually held in that ethnicity’s language and the customs specific to that group are found engrained in the practices within their parishes. For example, Italian National parishes were first created at the end of the 19th century to accommodate the tremendous immigration of Italians into the United States. Across America, Italian parishes began popping-up in the West Coast, the Midwest, the South and in the largest density of all, the East Coast. One of my goals in creating Italian Enclaves was to visit the still-existing Italian National parishes of America to not only photo-document them but to also have a chance to worship in these churches by either attending a mass there or venerating whichever saint statues or relics might be present. This is such a tall task because there are and have been so many that it’s possible to live an entire lifetime near a church and never walk into it.
Last Sunday, November 4th, I whimsically visited a small Italian national parish in Bath Beach, Brooklyn called Most Precious Blood. I was familiar with this church for years but never had a chance to visit. As I arrived two minutes before noon, I was graciously welcomed by the charming sound of the church’s bells calling all her faithful to mass.
The church building is relatively modern. There are many who prefer traditional churches from the 19th century over the mid-20th century modernistic architecture, but in its own right, Most Precious Blood is a formidable Roman Catholic church despite its size. The church is small and is quaintly decorated with beautiful stained-glass mosaics and several niches with gorgeous statues mostly reflecting the Italian devotions. There are Mother Cabrini, Saint Calogero, Saint Rocco, Saint Padre Pio, and so on.
A choir and the school’s 2nd grade catechism class were in the front pews which made the church feel even more family-oriented and inviting this particular day. As we all know, the aesthetics of a church and its parishioners can make going to mass special, but what really affects how we engage mass is the way in which it is presided.
Father Dominick decided he didn’t need the microphone and he didn’t deliver his homily from the altar. Instead, he came down amongst the parishioners and spoke to everyone with only his voice, which powerfully projected throughout the church. Father Dominick eloquently related the importance of November being the month of Holy Souls with a great story about his childhood. He importantly reminded us that the millions of souls in Purgatory require prayer in order to get into Heaven. He made the astute analogy that being in Purgatory was like being in a dark waiting area just outside Heaven. Souls in Purgatory can hear Heaven, they can see others going, but there is still a curtain between Heaven and Purgatory. The way into Heaven, or the party in his analogy, is through prayer. Without prayer, we can not go to Heaven nor can the souls in Purgatory.
Father Dominick related this concept to the parish in a way that funnily prescribes to the Italian culture. He told us a story about when he was a little boy. When he was little, after church, his responsibility was to bring the Italian bread home from the bakery for Sunday dinner. When he’d arrive home with the bread, he could smell the sauce on the stove cooking with the glorious infusion of meatballs and other fixings that go along with a traditional Italian Sunday dinner. Father Dominick reminisced about one time when no one was looking, he went into his mother’s pot of sauce and took out a meatball to quickly eat before anyone noticed. Sure enough, the meatball fell on his white dress-shirt and rolled down the shirt onto the floor, leaving behind a huge sauce stain. Father Dominick related this stain to sin. If he tried to clean the sauce stain himself without his mother knowing, it would be futile because as a kid he didn’t know how to clean a sauce stain from a pure white shirt properly. He could try as hard as he wanted but no matter what, without the proper means of removal a small stain remained, however faint. The stain he compared to sin and the fact that we may be good people with pure intentions in life but the shirt just like our souls, unless properly cleaned, would still be stained with sin. Naturally, Father Dominick explained how his Italian mother and grandmother would clean the shirt with bleach and some elbow grease to effectively remove the stain. This method of properly cleaning the shirt he related to prayer. Through prayer our souls are healed and cleansed of sin.
Father Dominick’s cute analogy really resonated. It hit home because it painted such a vivid picture of Sundays in most Italian American homes for at least the last 100 years in America. Sundays are not Sundays to Italian Catholics without Church and sauce and Church is not an effective part of our lives without prayer.
In order for us to be good Catholics we must do certain things. Charity and prayer are two of the most important cornerstones. With that in mind, I would like to ask you to please recite The Prayer to St. Gertrude the Great for The Release of 1,000 Souls From Purgatory:
Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen.
The prayer of St. Gertrude is one of the most famous for souls in purgatory. St. Gertrude the Great was a Benedictine nun and mystic who lived in the 13th century. According to tradition, our Lord promised her that 1000 souls would be released from Purgatory each time it is said devoutly.
Before mass was ended, Father Dominick reminded us that if we do not pray for the souls in Purgatory, then they can not get to Heaven. He also reminded us that if we pray for these souls, then they will be there in Heaven helping us and praying for us in times of our own need here on God’s Earth.
I would like to strongly recommend my readers to visit Most Precious Blood church. Hear Father Dominick. It is becoming rarer that we see Italian National Parishes still being led by Italian Priests. There are also some great vestiges of the old Italian neighborhood that once thrived surrounding the church that you can enjoy exploring as well. This church was the heart and soul of that neighborhood in Bath Beach. From Most precious blood there were many feasts and processions. Today, although many of these traditions have faded, you can still visit the church and enjoy a beautiful mass and please try to be generous for their offertory so the church may persist.
In closing, I ask you to please offer your prayer to Saint Gertrude partially for the souls of all of our veterans who have left us and may still be waiting for the opening of the gates to Heaven. In honor of the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War 1 and the month of November being the month of Holy Souls, please offer these brave heroes your prayers so that they can continue onto Heaven and watch over us.
By: Raymond Guarini
Thanks to Anthony Scillia for enlightening me to St. Gertrude’s Prayer for the 1,000 Souls. Anthony has a wonderful blog that you ought to check out “where faith, food and friends meet” at : https://atthetablewithtony.wordpress.com/