Advertising piety

Dot writes: here’s a thing that I had never come across before moving to Ireland: in the local free paper (the one you pick up at the supermarket that tells you about the local incinerator and whatnot) the small ads pages contain a section for prayers. In the current edition of Southside People, for example, there are seven prayers, of which six are almost identical. This is one:

Dear heart of Jesus, in the past I have asked for many favours. This time I ask you for a very special one (mention favour). Take it, dear heart of Jesus, and place it within your broken heart, where your father sees it. Then in his merciful eyes, it will become your favour and not mine. Amen. Say this prayer for 3 days, promise publication and favour will be granted, never known to fail.

This reminds me of the quasi-magical prayers Eamonn Duffy remarks on that are written into some fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Books of Hours, creatively updated for the age of mass publication. But also, it seems odd even on its own terms. If publication is part of the act of prayer, part of what makes it work, why is the rubric written in, as it were, in the instruction to publish and the hopeful claim that it’s never know to fail? Is this advert itself the prayer or just an advert for a prayer? It seems to be both at once. The duplicate prayers are signed with different initials, so apparently several different people are paying for almost identical texts (which they themselves have presumably copied from earlier adverts): it reminds me slightly of a chain-letter, with its hope that if you send the words on enough times you’ll get some cash/blessings for your pains.

I wish no offence to either Catholics or the Irish, but as an Englishwoman and an Anglican I must say I don’t get it. (As a kiwi and an atheist I suspect Ken might say something more trenchant.)

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3 thoughts on “Advertising piety

  1. Dot,

    The Daily Telegraph would have carried such notices occasionally (Thanks to Saint Jude for favours received, etc).

    It is a long-established tradition here and sits easily with a post-modern, pic’n’mix spirituality (the Hierarchy officially frown on much of the popular expression of Catholicism)

  2. Katimum

    A similar practice is putting adverts in the In Memoriam columns – ‘Mum because you were so special, no words could ever say, how much we love and miss you each day.’ This presupposes that the Great Yarmouth Mercury is delivered to heaven (or whereever)! But then, think of the messages put on floral tributes at funerals – do we find a need to put in writing – and having it in print makes it more concrete still – our hearts’ thoughts? Interesting in relation to the writing of poetry.

    (In getting a genuine example from the Mercury I came across this in the death column – ‘Oh Mum, my beautiful kind Mum who was always so polite and caring and had a magical smile. I cannot describe how I feel about my loss, probably not room on the page, so I’ll just say I could not have loved you more and was so proud you were my mother. Enough of the slushy stuff, you never liked that. I hope all your Great Danes greet you at the gate, tell Dad, Arsenal are nearly all French and Norwich are having another bad season. Tell Auntie Ivy to cut down on the Scotch, tell Arthur, Pam has found the biscuit tin. Till we meet again.’

    Now that is what a local newspaper is for!!!)

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