Thursday, 23 June 2011

Drop the "All Mothers Stand" Ritual

It's June, not May, so it's a little late in the year to be writing about this. However, it came up in the combox yesterday, and it occurred to me that I haven't done my massive denunciation recently.

When the Christian community gathers in churches on Sunday, she is there to worship God. She is not there to be entertained. She is not there to be applauded. She is not there to affirm the choir, or the children, or the priest in their musical, ontological or homiletic talents, such as they are. She is there to worship.

The world is a noisy place. The Eastern traditions, the Roman Catholic tradition, and the Anglo-Catholic tradition draw a line around the space where the world is left behind. The visual art, the gestures, the music, the silence all aid in creating the meditative atmosphere in which we worship. We bring our prayers locked within us, and we release them in the holy temple.

Some of those prayers are sad. If you read the Psalms attentively, you see that the Psalmist expresses a myriad of human emotions, not just joy. There is so much suffering in the world, not just in "the Global South" but in our own lives, however privileged they may seem.

The world is uncomfortable with suffering, and either exploits it for its own ends or covers it up. In Catholic churches, the crucifix and stations of the cross present suffering as something truly terrible yet something that can be healed and that is even potentially redemptive. Above all, we are not alone in our suffering; God through the Son suffered, too. So did Our Lady, and there is comfort in that because, as they say, misery loves company.

I will never forget one homily in which the priest, an enthusiastic speaker, declared that he wanted to take the parish statue of Our Lady of Sorrows and paint a smile on her face. For him there was no place for a doleful Mary; she didn't reflect the joy of the Resurrection.

I was horrified. Not too far from that church was a contemporary sculpture honouring men who had been badly hurt or killed in the steel trade; it was the figure of a man whose head had been caved in. It was a powerful, sorrowful and apt reminder of the hardships the townspeople had lived through and still lived through. Paint a smile on Our Lady of Sorrows, and of whom would widows, orphans and bereaved parents of fallen steelworkers ask intercession?

Unfortunately, our prayerful environments are often interrupted by worldly customs. I will mention only the habit of applauding people, as if Mass were a performance or a meeting in the town hall. I have no problem with "affirming the community", but I think this is better done afterwards in the parish hall. Mass is a time when the grieving seek solace, and worldly applause falls harshly on grieving ears.

Motherhood is not given as much respect as it was in the Victorian era. It is argued that motherhood was not given as much respect as it was in the Victorian era BEFORE the Victorian era. The Victorians were obsessed with motherhood, and one might argue that the first half of the 20th century was in rebellion against this. The 1950s interest in domesticity is often put down to servicemen returning to their professions, consumerism and, perhaps, replacing the millions who were lost in the war. And there was, again, a reaction against this, which turned into a frank devaluation of motherhood, thanks to widespread contraception and abortion. How many people do not give up their seats on the bus to expectant mothers now, inwardly sneering, "Well, that was her choice"?

Mothers, therefore, do need a renewal of respect and care. But I posit they need real respect and care throughout the year, not a round of applause during Mass on Mother's Day. Mother's Day is the one day mothers can expect a show of respect and care, normally from their own families. Meanwhile, it is a day fraught with pain and suffering for those who had or have terrible relationships with their own mothers and, of course, for women who have either never had, or who have lost, their children. We bring our pain with us to Mass, hoping to leave it at the foot of the Cross.

Most celibate priests said good-bye to any hope of biological fatherhood when they became priests. But there is a big, BIG difference between intentionally choosing to be childless and NOT choosing to be childless, but remaining childless anyway, just as there is a big, BIG difference between choosing to remain Single and finding yourself Single at 35. (I am always astonished by stories of elderly priests who muse over whether, if it were suddenly allowed, they'd choose to marry. They always assume someone would have them.) And, therefore, it never seems to occur to the priests who direct "the Mothers" to stand and be "affirmed" by "the community", that the women who must stay seated are crying inside.

It is a horrific pastoral blunder, and it is nowhere in the rubrics.

I was not happy with the parish priest for wanting to slap a fake painted smile on Our Lady of Sorrows. But I will give him this: every Mother's Day he directed the ushers to give flowers to every adult woman entering the church, he preached on "spiritual motherhood", and he had every woman stand to be applauded.

Well, you know what I think about applause in church. But at least this priest didn't separate the women into the fertile sheep and the barren goats. For that, whether they know it or not, is what the liturgically-innovative priests' "All Mothers Stand" ritual does.

Say the black, do the red, and nobody will get hurt.


Janet in Toronto said...

I have been the "yearning-to-be-a-mother" and recall the burning eyes during a Mother's day service (I was not yet a Catholic at the time).

More recently, I attended the baptism of a niece in a suburban mainline Protestant church. At the baptismal vows, only members of the congregation were asked to stand to support the parents in raising their daughter. I looked at all the family members from other churches, family members who love this baby and are involved in it's life, who are devout and holy and loving, who could not stand. I felt ill.

As it turns out, this was not within the rubrics (or whatever) of this denomination. And it was such a mistake.

Elinor said...

If a priest tried that near me, I think I'd burst into tears and walk out as conspicuously as possible.

sciencegirl said...

Funny how these faux rituals are used to celebrate only one segment of the population, whereas actual Catholic rules on, for instance, who should take Communion, are not followed or explained at all in many parishes.

I bet many Catholic parishes and probably the above-mentioned Protestant parish would say "Oh, it is so un-Christ-like to exclude people from Communion if they believe different things about it!" but then they go and do this nonsense. I am all for Hallmark greeting cards because I'm a stationery nut, but I want to leave it in my desk and just go to Mass in peace. Actually, no, I want to bring the cards along. If I were Pope-for-a-day and could change one thing in the rubrics, I would like the handshake of peace to be changed into something where you offer your neighbor a thoughtful, pretty card that says something like "At this moment in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I pray that God bless you and your family" or "Behold! The Eucharist has been consecrated and Christ in his power, humility and love has taken physical form on His altar for the benefit of our souls. May we approach it in true reverence and be filled with His Grace!" The slogans just write themselves, don't they? Maybe I should make my vocations prayers more specific -- for God to call priests directly from Hallmark and the American Greeting Card Co.

I believe our liturgical natures abhor vacuums. We jettison one "oppressive" ritual only to craft dozens more in their place, each more annoying than the last. For instance, at weddings now we have unity candles, unity sand mixing, unity salt sprinkling, unity ring passing, and on and on. Why not show the unity of bride and groom as a new household? Don't be silly; they were "responsible" and just had to live together two years to know they wouldn't break up over whether the TP should be dispensed over or under the roll. (Yah, I'm sure some chaste Catholic couples have done these lame-o ceremonies and are taken aback by my rude opinion. Guess what? Some guests probably thought these rituals were deeply moving and a few were curmudgeons like me).

We applaud all the time in Mass now because that's the only way we're trained, from the time we're tiny toddlers, to show our appreciation and approval for something, and everything in Mass looks like either a lecture or a performance. And everyone needs immediate feedback for some reason -- the performer can't just offer it to God, and the congregation member can't just stay a couple minutes late to give a nice compliment. That would require ACTUAL RELATIONSHIP with God and neighbor instead of its impoverished facsimile.

I like what my priest did a few weeks ago and last week for Father's Day. Everyone stood for the final blessing. Everyone got a final blessing. Mothers and Fathers, respectively, got a special blessing. God knows who the fathers in the room were. I think He managed to bless them without the visual aid or my psychic guidance. Blessings are better than applause.

Julie said...

At my folks' parish, on Father's Day, they asked all the "men who have been a father to someone" to stand. I'm sure they thought this was terribly inclusive, but it's almost worse. I happened to go to the EF too that weekend, where not a word was breathed about the secular observance of the day, and I didn't think there was anything missing. Perhaps next year, a month before mother's day, I will make a point of writing a letter to the diocesan newspaper and/or my parish rectory. I can't help but think it's mostly well-meaning ignorance, thoughtlessness, and/or passively doing what's always been done that is keeping this little "ritual" alive.

Emma said...

Thank you. I agree with this idea.

Our Mass did have a blessing for fathers recently, but we were all standing at that point, waiting for the final blessing, so no one was singled out.