All the religious claptrap drummed into us as we sat in school

Hilary Fannin: Today’s the day we celebrate how the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin

‘I think about all the innocent children who suffered because of dangerous notions of purity and it makes me sad.’

‘I think about all the innocent children who suffered because of dangerous notions of purity and it makes me sad.’

 

“December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception,” I told the cat as I stumbled into the darkened morning kitchen, put on the kettle and looked under the sink for her cat food, while she arched and curled around my legs in an impatient feed-me-feed-me dance.

“It is the day we celebrate how the Blessed Virgin Mary was ‘at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin’,” I said, retrieving the last sachet of pussy muck from the box. 

“Is that the lamb with petit pois or the duck with pomegranate and molasses?” asked the anxious cat.

“Lamb.”

“Phew.” 

“Many people believe that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates Jesus’s conception,” I continued, squeezing the slop into her less than pristine bowl. “But in fact it celebrates Mary’s immaculate conception. Mary was, from the moment of her conception by her mother, St Anne, without sin.”

“Princess Anne?” asked the cat, picking out little green things, which may indeed have been petit pois, from the pulverised sludge swimming around in her dish.

“No, not Princess Anne, you silly little furball,” I retorted, attempting one of my rare and clumsy gestures of affection, to which she retaliated with a claw-sharp swipe. 

“Princess Anne,” I explained, “has nothing to do with the mother of the mother of God. Princess Anne is the queen of England’s daughter, a recalcitrant woman in jodhpurs with a blurry jawline and a permanent back-comb, who is known throughout the land for reportedly saying: ‘One does not hug, one does one’s duty.’”

 “Quite right too,” said the cat.

"St Anne, to whom I refer, conceived a sinless daughter, Mary, a quiet child who was chosen by a talking angel to be the mother of God. You might recognise Mary from centuries of iconography and that roadside grotto we sometimes drive past on the way to the vet.”

“Kinda sweet, wears a lot of blue, very little make-up? Looks like you could trust her with your lunch money?”

“That’s the one! Well, Mary, unlike the rest of us, was born with an immaculate soul.”

“You got this on good authority, yeah?” asked the moggie, who, having finished her gruel, was now licking her stretched paw pads.

“I’ve got this on the best authority. Pope Pius IX rubber-stamped Mary’s sinlessness in 1854. ‘Mary,’ he said, officially confirming the dogma, through a mouthful of beluga, ‘was conceived free from sin!’”

“Beluga?”

“All right, I’m making that bit up. He may have said it while he was horsing into a bowl of partridge or contemplating a nicely bloodied cut of venison. The point is that Mary was the only kid on the block free from original sin. Mary was born pure as the driven snow, while the rest of humanity entered the world kind of, well, shop-soiled.”

 “Shop-soiled?”

“That’s one way of describing it.”

Original sin is a smudge on the soul, which might in some cases be reduced with elbow grease and piety

“I think you’re holding on to a lot of unresolved anger here,” said the cat, momentarily desisting from polishing her own backside with her rough little tongue to look me square in the eye through her rheumy  peepers. “I have to say I’m finding your tone more than a little tetchy, if not downright disrespectful.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that when I was a little girl, in my pristine convent school, where the nuns glided Dalek-like down polished corridors, while quiet young women in housecoats, who came and went in silence, polished the altar brasses, there was a lot of talk about the stain of original sin.”

“Did they mention if sin came in a sachet? Can you eat it?”

“No, original sin isn’t edible. It’s best described as a smudge on the soul, which might in some cases be reduced with elbow grease and piety, but in others was a great big inkblot that no amount of toiling and weeping would ever wash clean. And sometimes, on mornings like these, even after all these years, I remember the religious claptrap that was drummed into us while we sat behind our little wooden desks, and I think about all the innocent little children who suffered because of dangerous notions of  purity and untaintedness, and it makes me sad and angry.”

“You should probably consider therapy,” said the cat, arching her skinny back and wandering over to the kitchen door. I opened it, watched her meander outside as a shaft of god light broke over the December morning, the blood-red sky heartbreakingly, chillingly, beautiful. 

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