For the Record
Published on March 19-20, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Long before civil authorities bothered to keep records for the common folk, the Church has noted the significant events in the lives of Her children, regardless of their class or their color. I recall the efforts of Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB, a scholar who tried to trace to beginnings of black Catholic history in the United States. He faced many a dead end in his research until he opened the brittle pages of the old baptismal records in Florida. There he found the names of some of the first African slaves baptized in North America, names that had gone unrecorded everywhere else, be it on history books or in civil documents. When no one else bothered to remember them, the Church took the trouble of making sure their names and their profession of Faith were never forgotten.
This example reveals the difference between civil records and Church records. Civil authority takes note of vital statistics: numbers to consider in planning the affairs of state and names to help them distinguish who owns what (property), who poses as a danger (crimes and violations), who belongs to whom (marriage), and who is responsible for whom (family). But the Church is more interested in the state of grace: the sacramental moments when one hands over to the Lord his life (baptism), his maturity (confirmation), his sustenance (eucharist), his future (marriage or holy orders), his weaknesses (reconciliation and anointing of the sick), and ultimately his death (funeral). These are the things that the Church records and remembers: events so significant to the life of our souls that they point to the direction that we are headed in the life to come. Civil records take note of our earthly affairs; Church records take note of our preparations for eternal life.
Our Church register though is not merely a record of the sacramental life of our parish; it is a tangible proof that the Lord continues to work in the lives of individuals in every time and at this very place. Every entry is a testimony that this specific person listed here is known to God by name and has received from Him the manifold gifts of His grace—faith, hope, and love—especially at the (sacramental) times when this person has asked for those gifts. And, if the many volumes of our register are any indication, the Lord’s salvation, begun at an age beyond our remembering, is still at work in the many lives in our parish today.