Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry

By Michael P. Carroll | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
The Forty Hours

It is no accident that Freud's first insight into the nature of unconscious processes came with his investigation of hysteria. What we observe in hysteria is the outcome of processes that are operative in us all but which in the hysteric have been intensified and exaggerated. The extreme nature of the phenomenon is the very thing that makes it easier to identify the underlying processes at work, and the same is true of stigmatization, itself a form of hysteria. This is one of the reasons that stigmatization has been included in this book. The study of stigmatization also provided a convenient context in which to introduce Kleinian theory. Nevertheless, acquiring the stigmata can hardly be called a "popular Catholic devotion."

True, as I have argued, in venerating those individuals with the stigmata, ordinary Catholics can gratify vicariously the unconscious desires that the stigmatic gratifies directly. This would explain the importance that has always been accorded to stigmatization in Catholic devotional literature. Nevertheless, if the desires that give rise to stigmatization are indeed found in us all, it seems reasonable to expect that there might be some widespread Catholic devotion that gratifies these same desires directly, though perhaps less flamboyantly. The analysis presented in the last chapter even gives us a clue as to what such devotions might look like.

Recall that one of the unconscious desires being gratified by stigmatization is the desire to incorporate the father, a desire that emerges when the child is forced to give up the breast. Stigmatics gratify this desire by convincing themselves that they have assimilated the body of the suffering Christ into their own, and the appearance of the stigmatic wounds validates this view. But since the desire to incorporate the father is conceptualized in oral terms it can also be gratified by eating a Eucharistic host, given the associations evoked by such a host in the Catholic tradition. It was this conclusion that allowed us to explain the intense attachment to the Eucharist that characterizes so many stigmatics.

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