For 320 middle-schoolers at St. Catherine's School in Richmond, back-to-school rituals yesterday included an aspersion with holy water to ensure a successful year.
The second Blessing of the Backpacks celebrated the "loyal presence and silent service" of one of education's most essential accessories.
"This is a great way to start the year and end the first day," said sixth-grader Haley Tucker of Manakin-Sabot, sporting a new blue backpack.
The Blessing of the Backpacks was brought to St. Catherine's last year by the Rev. Peter Carey, school chaplain, who adapted his ceremony from several others around the country.
The blessing offered "special praise for those humble gifts whose daily service and less comely appearance did render them easily neglected," Carey said. "As we commence a new school year, we bring before God those implements of utility that serve us quietly and faithfully."
The brief ceremony on the school green began with Carey blessing a bowl of water.
"Lift up your backpacks," he requested. Students hoisted the colorful assortment of backpacks -- which, fortunately, weren't yet heavy with books and projects.
Then, along with the Rev. Dorothy White, middle school chaplain, Carey dipped boxwood cuttings from a shrub outside the chapel into the water and flung it over the backpacks -- and the students.
"It's not too bad to get a little sprinkle on you," he said.
But any formality was overridden by squeals and giggles.
"I had heard a few girls were worried about getting new backpacks wet," Carey said. But the few droplets evaporated quickly in the afternoon heat.
Mary Grace Bowers, a seventh-grader from Richmond, was happy to have the blessing.
"I've had this since the second grade," she said of her purple flowered backpack. "It's still in good shape. I want it to last."
Although the ceremony was as much about fun as religion, Carey thought about a deeper meaning.
The backpacks "do become holy -- in some sense -- vessels, carrying notes and textbooks," he said.
Eighth-grader Clemie Norman of Midlothian said the ceremony was a good way to bring the school together.
"Of course, it's a superstitious thing," she said, wearing her pink polka-dotted backpack. "But you get so much laid on you the first day of school, and this helps."
Mary Grace admitted, "I'm a little nervous about the year, but a good backpack makes you more confident."
Contact Lisa Crutchfield at (804) 649-6362 or firstname.lastname@example.org.