You Can’t See That Movie. It’s Condemned


My grandmother (Grandma’s mom) had a subscription to a weekly newspaper called The Beacon. It was a Catholic newspaper published by the Diocese of Paterson. As a kid, I found little of interest to read in The Beacon. There was no advice column, no comics, and no television listings. There was, however, one extremely interesting column—the ratings by the Legion of Decency, which morphed into the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures.

Each week when the new movies would premier at The State Theater, I would grab my grandma’s latest edition of The Beacon and head immediately to the page with the movie reviews.

This was prior to the ratings you all knew and loved as kids when movies were rated G, PG, P-13, R, and X. The Catholic Church had a much more imaginative system. You will love it!

  • A: Morally unobjectionable
  • B: Morally objectionable in part
  • C: Condemned by the Legion of Decency

The A rating was subsequently divided:

  • A-I: Suitable for all audiences
  • A-II: Suitable for adults; later — after the introduction of A-III— suitable for adults and adolescents
  • A-III: Suitable for adults only
  • A-IV: For adults with reservations

What, I always asked myself, is “for adults with reservations?” Well wonder no more because I went to the current site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which explained that “this indicates films that, while not morally offensive in themselves, are not for casual viewing because they require some analysis and explanation in order to avoid false impressions and interpretations.”

I am positive that Grandma read this column in The Beacon, and that is probably why I was not allowed to watch Romeo and Juliet, which was showing in theaters when I was in eighth grade. Grandma must have learned about the topless scene. To this day, I have never seen this movie.

There is a list of movies which were condemned by the Legion of Decency and I must admit, many of the movies which were slapped by the “C” rating are quite surprising. Supposedly, any film with divorce, homosexuality, premarital sex, and abortion would all result in a film being rated as Condemned.

Among the lucky “C” films are:

1959: Some Like It Hot

1960: Psycho

1964: From Russia with Love

1967: Valley of the Dolls (That was the name of the book assigned to me in college which Grandma told me I had to read with my eyes closed.)

1968: The Odd Couple (One of Dad’s all-time favorites! Shocking!!)

1973: The Exorcist

1975: Rocky Horror Picture Show

1976: Carrie

1978: Grease (Can you believe that! I am a bad mother I guess.)

The American Catholic Bishops are still rating movies today. Here is there newly revised classifications:

  • A-I— general patronage
  • A-II— adults and adolescents
  • A-III— adults
  • A-IV— adults, with reservations (this indicates films that, while not morally offensive in themselves, are not for casual viewing because they require some analysis and explanation in order to avoid false impressions and interpretations)
  • L— limited adult audiences, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling (replaced A-IV classification Nov. 1, 2003)
  • O— morally offensive

You are all adults now. I just can’t do everything for you, so before you see another film, I am trusting you to check out the ratings and let your conscience be your guide.



Moving to Dublin

I had an eye-opening conversation with a priest recently during which I was lectured about the official policy of the Catholic Church regarding funerals. It appears that any of the funerals since 2000 (I have also seen 1989 thrown about too so I am not certain which is correct), where eulogies given in the church, were allowed because of rogue parish priests. I learned that “at funeral Masses there should usually be a short Homily, but to the exclusion of a funeral eulogy of any kind.” Furthermore, secular songs or readings are also prohibited.  So I don’t know how Queen or Celine Dion music was allowed, but I am in love with the compassionate priests who allowed these songs to be played.

The purpose of the funeral mass, “contrary to common assumption, is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Relatives or friends who wish to speak of the deceased’s character and accomplishments can do so at a prayer service to be held in a home or funeral home or at the graveside following the rite of committal.” That is what I read and what I was told by the priest.

I truly never knew this, particularly since I have been to numerous Catholic funerals where words of comfort and perhaps a favorite song were part of the service, which helped me get through a loss of a loved one. Having gone to just two where this was not done, I saw a difference. The impersonal nature of what is the official Catholic way did not help relieve my sorrow. I left feeling empty and did not understand why it must be this way. Why did a father have to leave his daughter’s funeral upset rather than comforted because he was told a eulogy would not be permitted? I do not understand.

I was told that no one but a priest can stand at the “ambo” (pulpit), which confused me because I am positive I have witnessed non-priests standing there to give readings or make announcements such as telling me to remember to get my ashes or that the church was collecting for the bishop’s annual appeal next week.  But according to the conversation I had with the priest that is incorrect.

This particular man of God was quite adamant that the homily be only about the reading and how the life of the deceased’s followed the scripture readings, and that is it. I asked if a brief eulogy could be given after “the mass is ended, go in peace,” and I was told in no uncertain terms that it could not. Yet I also read that “the priest may allow a relative or a friend to say a few words about the deceased during the concluding rite.” (He never mentioned this.)

Under no circumstances “can the deceased person be referred to as being in heaven.” (I read this on, and that is what the priest told me because the deceased is “not in heaven but in purgatory.”)

He suggested that the eulogy be done either at the funeral home, at the “meal of mercy” as we call it in our family, or at the gravesite.

I think we should move to the parish of Father Joe Mullan of Dublin, who said, “to forbid someone speaking seems unnecessary to me, harsh even; why not allow one of the community to speak about the deceased and the way in which their life was God’s gift to the world.? We need to move to Ireland then. But I guess if we have a President Trump, then that may be a good idea. Or I can find a rogue priest or a new religion! I have a lot of thinking to do.

The Runaway Gene

As our family continues to expand, we wonder, “Who will he/she look like, and will the new baby be a blonde, brunette, or, finally, a red-head like Grandma?”  But no one ever knew to ask the question, “Will they have the family runaway gene?”

It started with Aunt Marian when she was a kindergartener at School Street School. Before the first autumn leaf began to flutter to the ground, she came home and told my grandmother and her grandmother that the teacher hollered at the class.  (Holler, at children?) My grandma turned to her mother and said, “She’s too old to teach little children. She taught me at School Street.”

The next day, cute little Aunt Marian blurted out to her teacher, “Miss Coombs, my mother said you are too old to teach us.” Aunt Marian was sent home, and the following day, my grandmother withdrew her from School Street and enrolled her at Mt. Carmel. Aunt Marian loved to say she was expelled from kindergarten!

Those runaway genes were passed on to me. I was a precious little first grader at Mt. Carmel,  which was Grandma’s alma mater as well. It had not been a week since I became a student in Sister Rose De Lima’s class when I bolted from her classroom and ran crying all the way home. I was six. You all know how far I traveled from that school all the way to Cornelia Street. Seeing the terror and tears in my eyes were grounds for Grandma and Grandpa to move me to School Street. I was a much happier little girl until I met my CCD teacher—Sister Rose De Lima. While this deflated my now sunny disposition, I was comforted in knowing my contact with her was limited to only one hour each week.

My cousin Billy also inherited the runaway gene from his mother. Here is his story as told by his long-time friend, Peter:

Sister Pauline was our 3rd grade teacher.  She was a Saint and the most normal nun I think I’ve ever had.  This, of course, was born out by the fact that I heard years later she left the order.  One day she was out sick and I made the rest of the class laugh at the substitute while her back was turned (also another great story for later).  Suffice to say that THIS ended up with me being slapped up a flight of stairs by Sister Helen Ann, the principle (who seemed at the time to be about 200 lbs).  This happened before mine and Billy’s story but is an important back drop.

Billy and I were best friends as we grew up together in the neighborhood where he and my grandmother lived.  When I moved to Birch Street in Boonton (only a couple blocks away from OLMC) and our parents felt we were old enough. Billy used to stay after school up on the hill with me for what we now so horribly call “a play date”.  Uncle Tony would pick him up before dinner to take him home.

At this particular time, the church was being renovated and mass was being celebrated in the auditorium.  Billy and I, as good Catholic boys, decided to make a visit to church before heading home to my house.  We went up and knelt at the temporary alter rail in front of the stage and said our prayers.  On the way out we decided, as 3rd graders are sometimes known to do, to take a more fun and circuitous route to the back door.  We thought it would be fun to walk in and out of EVERY row on our way to the back.  Only a mere 3 rows from the back near a large radiator, Billy’s pants pocket gave way and a few of his marbles hit the floor aiming straight for the radiator.  So we picked up our pace a little (to this day I still say we weren’t running) to re-appropriate Billy’s stash.  In the midst of our frenzy a new Nun entered at the front of the church–Sister Margaret Dolores–who had just arrived from Jersey City, and dealing with “city kids”, she yelled “YOU TWO ARE RUNNING IN CHURCH. I’M GOING TO TELL SISTER HELEN ANN!”  Until then we WEREN’T running, but then we ran like hell out of there.

The next day the trusting Sister Pauline allowed me to go to the bathroom at the same time as Billy asked to go upstairs and get some money from Tommy.  We met at the water fountain, where the nuns had re-combed our hair several times, and took off.  We ran through all the backyards and alleys so as not to be seen by the Big Black Dodge used by the Evil Empire (the Dominican Nuns).

Upon arriving at my house, we pounded on the back door, which was wood up to about 5 feet and had a glass window above it.   My mother came to the door and look straight out as if not to see us.  Then looking slightly down, she saw AND heard Billy and me screaming “LET US IN. THE NUNS ARE GONNA KILL US!!!” 

About an hour later Uncle Tony met us at school and we were confronted by Sisters Helen Ann and Pauline at the very same water fountain where they dunked our heads from time to time to break down the Odell Hair Trainer in our hair.  The following dialogue ensued:

Helen Ann:  Why did you run away?

Billy/Peter: ‘Cause you were gonna hit us for running in church

Helen Ann:  I never hit you

Peter:  Yes you did sister. You slapped me up those stairs right over there

Billy:    and Sister Margaret Dolores said she was gonna tell you we were running and we WEREN’T.

Helen Ann: You boys are in big trouble and you won’t be running away from this school again


SIDE CONVERSATION: My mom to Sister Pauline

 Mom:  are they really that bad, sister?

Pauline:  They’re just boys.

So we went back to class and two years later when Sister Margaret Dolores was our teacher in 5th grade… I got kicked out of OLMC.

And so it goes!



Church Back in the Day

Going to church today is vastly different from my childhood, and from what I have read, 1964 was when a very large line was drawn in the sand between the old and new mass. That was the year priests turned and faced the congregation, and parts of the service were now recited in English. As a young child,I recall going to church and not understanding a word the priest said because it was all spoken in Latin. Mass began with the words: “In nómine Patris, et Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti”, which is translated as the familiar “In the name of the Father, and Son and Holy Spirit”.

This was all so mysterious and confusing to me, yet the entire congregation all knew how to respond with the familiar “Amen.” I remember hearing random phrases uttered and translating them into my own words. When the priest would say, “Dominus vobiscum” (The Lord be with you), the congregation would answer, “et cum spiritu tuo” (and also with you). In my head, I was absolutely convinced that we were being told God’s telephone number, “EC-220.”

I need to digress a bit. Growing up, all phone numbers began with an “exchange.” Ours was “Deerfield 4”, which was shortened to DE4. So our early telephone number began with “DE4”, followed by four digits. (No area codes then) So if you follow my logic as a little girl, you may understand why I thought the priest was informing us of God’s phone number. (Did I think it was in case of an emergency when prayer wasn’t fast enough to reach Him?)

I remember the aroma of incense permeating every corner of our church. On one occasion, I announced to the congregation in my playground voice, “I smell carrots.” Hearing that, and imagining those words coming from a small child’s mouth, I laugh now and hope Grandma felt the same way.

Back then, everyone dressed for church. No one ever crossed the threshold of our church wearing jeans, sneakers, sandals, or shorts. Such irreverent behavior would have you escorted to the nearest door. Men wore ties, and women were clothed in dresses, white gloves, and always, always, always, a hat. The hats were not simply a matter of style, but rather a requirement. If, by chance, you somehow did not have a hat, you would take a tissue and bobby-pin it onto your head. (I am not joking!)

No one was permitted to receive communion without fasting. I believe that the early rule forbade all food for three hours, and no liquids, except water, for one hour prior to receiving communion. That was difficult and was probably the reason Grandma was able to get us all out the door so early. Get up, go to church, and hurry home to have breakfast. And those were the days before Saturday evening masses were allowed to fulfill your “Sunday obligation.” No one considered complaining. You just did it because those were the rules.

First communion and first confession happened in first grade, and like your first communions, we all wore our little bridal outfits. I remember being so afraid of confession, and back then, they made you go often. How many sins does a six year old actually commit, and did you really keep track of the number of times you committed each sin? (Kelly, I am so sorry about literally pushing you into the confessional. I still harbor some guilt about that moment.)

As I recall, I would recite the commandments in my head, skipping over “thou shalt not commit adultery” and “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” because, well, I didn’t comprehend the meaning of adultery and I had no wife.  However, I did have parents to honor, but did I really know how many times I committed each crime? So I would decide on my list of sins to confess, and then add at least one more sin, “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (translation: don’t lie) to compensate for not really knowing how many categories of sins I committed.

One final thought about religion did not occur in church, but is definitely church-related. Every day at school, either before or after the Pledge of Allegiance, we would all recite “The Lord’s Prayer.” My interpretation was that God’s name was Harold (“Harold be thy name”), and someone was taking us all to Penn Station (“lead us not into Penn Station”). I am confident that I was not alone with those beliefs. I was just taught to memorize the prayer but never given an explanation. Certain things you just accepted and never questioned.

You could always tell who in the class was Catholic and who was not, because the Catholic children would always stop short of reciting the prayer at “deliver us from evil”, while the rest would continue with “and thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” I was always confused, but that was how it was taught to us. Several years ago the Catholic Church finally decided to join the parade and now recites the little thing at the end like everyone else.

In 1962, just after the end of second grade, prayer in public school ended. I am not pointing this out to begin a political discussion or a discourse on the Constitution, because I only want to give you all a window into what life was back when I was young. No debates, please. Church was just different.

Karen and Maureen with grandmothers after first communion- 1962.
Karen and Maureen with grandmothers after first communion- 1962.