Saturday, 12 May 2012

Mother's Day Rebellion

As John Paul II said that all women are called to be mothers, it would be cool if every single Catholic adult woman stood up at Mass during the made-up ritual in which whoever has the microphone at the moment orders all the mothers to stand.

One might object that this would be an abuse of the liturgy, but one would be wrong. The liturgy has already been abused by the person at the microphone. The liturgy has been turned into a vehicle for the priest's self-expression. Instead of trusting to the work on the page before him, he jazzes it up to make it more "interesting" for the people or to create a series of emotional, feel-good highs. And I would guess that most of the time the priest does this sincerely, thinking he is doing a good thing.

But the priest is wrong, and it would be nice if he trusted to the words and actions proscribed in the book before him. Not to make this an advert for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but after going to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass for a while, you get drawn into the beauty of it all as is. No additives needed. It makes one ask, "If the Ordinary Form is so great, why do so few priests say it as it is written down?"

Mother's Day is a tricky time to be a man, let alone a priest. I remember one Sunday the poor priest got into the pulpit and preached a paeon to how wonderful mothers are. He was probably thinking about his own mother. Filled with the glow of happy memories and certain that he had flattered all the women in the church, he stood at the back afterwards. And to his shock and horror, he had to cope with an angry, crying woman who told him that not all mothers are like that. Her OWN mother, for example, etc., etc., etc.

The seminarian beside the cornered priest listened to the woman in shock, fear and discomfort and later told me about it, shaking his head and saying "Who would object to a homily about MOTHERS?" He praised the priest for his quick thinking in getting rid of the hysteric by saying "Come see me in my office later."

Now I agree that it is clever to say to someone "Come see me in my office later." However, it would be priestly to acknowledge that THIS crying woman, so badly hurt by her mother, needs help NOW, and that the post-liturgy glad-handing can be left to someone else.

As Kat's reader says, Mother's Day is about the relationship of a mother and her children. It is not a feast of the Church. It is the one day secular society has put aside to celebrate mothers, so it is in fact the one day the Church does not have to defend motherhood. On Mother's Day, the forgotten, the weak, the despised is not the mother but the woman who feel wretched on Mother's Day.

I remember one priest who approached the whole Mother's Day thing by stressing that all women were mothers in some way, and by instructing the ushers to give a carnation to every woman who walked into the church. His alternative name for "Mother's Day" was "Women's Day." (Some countries really do have a "Women's Day.") Now, this was all very made-up, too, but at least it was a honest, sincere attempt to minister to all of the women in the congregation.

Mother's Day in the UK is months before Mother's Day in the USA and Canada, so no woman here is in danger tomorrow of sitting in her pew with a burning face and aching heart while the women God has blessed with children stand for applause. And, anyway, I go to the EF almost every Sunday, so I am rarely called upon to witness the creative lengths to which priests go to enhance the worship experience. But I have come across stuff on Catholic blogs and in Catholic papers about disgruntled nulliparous women who are going to skip tomorrow's Mass altogether.

This is wrong. It is the duty of the Catholic to go to Sunday Mass, and it is a serious sin not to be there unless you have a very good reason not to, like illness, or childminding, or difficult travel. Feeling hurt because a well-meaning priest wants to honour women with kids in some way is not a good reason to miss Mass.

At Notre Dame and in Krakow, I recommended that the best way to avoid the annual heartache is to go to an early Mass or the Mass of a grumpy old priest who isn't given to making stuff up. But it occurs to me that this is not practical for everybody.

I suppose we could start a letter-writing campaign begging our bishops to tell our priests to stop separating the fertile sheep from the kidless goats on Mother's Day, and either to stop larking around during Mass or to invite all the women to stand for a special blessing.

Of course, we would have to stress that this is not sour grapes. Whenever Single women or women without children try to explain things like this, we often meet with accusations of sour grapes.

And I agree that it would be best and a true sign of spiritual development if we didn't care a whit that we were childless on Mother's Day and could honestly clap with free hearts for the ladies with kids while thinking, in particular, of our own mother or women who have been motherly to us. It is usually better to think of people other than ourselves and not to sweat the small stuff. Of course, childlessness is not exactly "the small stuff", but you know what I mean.

But the thing is that some women being ordered to stand and the congregation being ordered to clap for them is not an authentic part of our religious worship. I am uneasy about any larking about with the Mass, but when it is a lark that leads some women to declare that they will not be going to Mass on Sunday and others, like me, to encourage women to hijack the lark, then really, it should go.

Meanwhile I think it would be nice if people, of their own free will, told the mothers in the congregation every once in awhile what beautiful children they have. We could do this before Mass and after Mass. We could do this in the carpark, the church porch or even in the pews after Mass, if the mother isn't praying. My mum has five kids, and not only did it give her a lift when other ladies told her what beautiful kids she had and how well we behaved at Mass (true), it made us kids feel good too. God bless those ladies!

I think maybe two priests read this blog, but you never know, so my advice to priests who want to acknowledge mothers at Mass tomorrow is to make sure they do it in a way that acknowledges the spiritual maternity of all the other women there.

Comments moderation on again, I'm afraid, so don't worry if your comment doesn't appear immediately, girls.

14 comments:

Domestic Diva said...

Can this post be sent to every priest in America? I'm eager to support mothers and motherhood, but it's heartwrenching and humiliating to have to pass the flowers across the pew and not take one. And if I did take one to acknowledge my spiritual motherhood, people might think I'd had an abortion or a child I'd placed for adoption. It's a no-win situation for me all the way around.

Seraphic said...

What if we all started crying? I think it was Germaine Greer who said that the way women protested the war in Vietnam (e.g. at Kent State). She said that what would have disarmed various male authority figures was women crying.

Half a church of crying women would make a priest think twice about next year.

But I say "we" knowing full well that there will be absolutely no mention of Mother's Day where I'm at Mass tomorrow, and was at Mass during the UK Mother's Day, and where I will likely be for all the Mother's Days as long as I live in Edinburgh.

Seraphic said...

Whoops. Forgot to add "was stupid." Greer and others have said that women protesting with physical force or screaming is counterproductive, but there's nothing like weeping and wailing to make well-meaning men feel really lousy.

Kim Vandapool said...

Thank you for writing this, Seraphic. I've already been dreading mass tomorrow in a very big way, knowing what a horrible mood the "stand up if you're fertile" part will put me in for the whole rest of the day. And I'm hosting dinner for my mother and family, so I would rather be happy and not puffy-faced.

Seraphic said...

Don't waste the tears! Either stand or have a "wail-in." Seriously. If all the childless Catholic women aged 18-100 started crying right after the "applause for mothers" thing, this pernicious made-up ritual would stop. And, heck, surely we haven't wailed in church since we were 3, so we're due.

Kate said...

I attend the EF, so there's none of that silly business. Our regular priest always uses Mother's Day as a way to discuss the maternity of the Blessed Mother. He tends to wax poetic on most subjects, but he goes all out on this - and in this way, none of us feel slighted and we brush up on our dogma. I will admit that I do get presents from my godson, so all is well.

Charming Disarray said...

I've never seen the standing-up thing done, but most years the priests will say something in the sermon about honoring and appreciating mothers. Is that really so bad? I don't think it's intended as a "this isn't for you if you don't have kids," type of thing. I don't think we should stop honoring mothers because some people might have painful memories or feelings associated with motherhood.

I have to admit, I hate any kind of audience participation, though. I was at an ordinary form mass last week for one of the very few times in my life and the priest asked if anyone was from out of town. I just sat there silently, completely terrified.

Seraphic said...

A mention in a homily would be great. Almost nobody minds that. It's the whole quasi-religious ritual that gets tacked on in which women are separated and the ones with kids are singled out while the ones without just sit there.

Julie M. said...

I am not a fan of anything quasi-liturgical myself. I have been in my parish for less than a year, but given the ridculousness that I have already witnessed, I fully expect a spectacle.

As a side note, my previous parish used to give out pink carnations to women whose mothers were living, and white ones to those whose mothers had passed away. So when you came out the door, an usher would ask you, "Living or dead?" It was so weird.

But anyway, Seraphic, you are obviously a spiritual mother to all of the singles who look for advice on your blog. So if you find yourself at a Mass with the quasi-liturgical ritual, just stand up!

MaryJane said...

I was so happy to see a post on this! All day when I was out shopping, seeing the "Mother's Day Sale" signs, I was thinking, "I hope Seraphic writes something about this!" I plan to call up a fellow single gal tomorrow to tell her happy mother's day, because I am determined to celebrate spiritual motherhood, not just biological motherhood (which of course is also spiritual.)

I am tempted to get up early for the EF mass tommorow, to avoid the spectacle... but the last time I went the homily was almost 30 minutes and the mic stopped working so none of us could understand a word of it.

MaryJane said...

I just wanted to share that my pastor was incredibly thoughtful. We didn't have any show, but when he remembered mothers "in a special way", he also reminded us to remember women who suffer because they have lost children or can't have children of their own. I wish every priest would take a cue from him!

sciencegirl said...

Mother's Day at college campuses is a little calmer because most of the women present are single. Today we got a homily that mentioned 1) our mothers 2) Mother Church and 3) Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church. It also was mostly about the readings and Gospel. There was no ritual of standing, flowers, or clapping -- the mothers present with their children had already been given cards and gifts at home and did not appear to be put out by the lack of additional praise.

rachel said...

I am beginning to hate the ritual myself. Yesterday, I was out of town. Normally I go to an Extraordinary form Mass so there isn't any of this extra-liturgical stuff but since we were out of town yesterday, I went to the closest parish. There are many things that could be said for the church that I didn't like but on of them was the silly extra-liturgical ritual. Then as I was walking out of the church, the greeter wished me a happy Mother's day, assuming I was a mother even though I am not (my husband and I are dealing with infertility right now). Then, when we stopped off to get some lunch at a restaurant, they offered me a free sundae in honor of Mother's day, again assuming I was a mother and I said I wasn't. :( It hurts to be singled out like that because it highlights one of the many crosses I have had to bear these past couple of years. I guess I might be very sensitive about it :(.

Emma said...

Many parishes where I live (including my own) use Mother's Day as the day to hold the May Crowning, the crowning of a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a crown of flowers. This takes place before or after Mass, and is quite lovely.