While Catholic practice rightly emphasises the Mass as the centrepoint, without a broader context of frequent family prayer, Mass alone is insufficient. Vic O’Callaghan, grandfather, author and educator offers these reflections on his experiences.
At Mass this morning, my wife Liz and I sat behind a young family; Mum and Dad, a five year old, a two year old and an infant of about three months.
I was not surprised to see that the restraints of the pews were hitting hardest on the two year old. I remember this being a difficulty when we were bringing up our children, but this morning I could see the whole deal in a different light. We are now grandparents.
The two year old in front of us was in a holding pen; a holding pen that was not to her liking. The wooden rails and planks were hindering a lively colt, a sparking deer. The sounds were foreign and conflicting; sometimes loud and varied; sometimes cached in a silence that made its own echoes.
The clash of differences was starkly drawn for me this morning. I saw the tactile and malleable world of the two year old collide with the adult world of deep reverence and significance within the liturgy of the Mass. Having been in this situation over many years, I began to marvel at how we had survived the impossible stretch. I say impossible because I believe it is a call too far, to think we can reflect, pray, breathe deeply and respond to a homily with commitment and hope while managing the two forces I have just described.
When I think back on how we managed these differences, I can see how we did much of our praying at home. In fact, our praying was much more like playing. There was a sense of fun and delight in our prayers around the table.
Even today, we sing a song of grace before meals with our grandchildren, a boisterous, rollicking ditty that is most often initiated by the youngest child in the family. There is clapping and holding of hands and great variation in the song. We always end the praising with laughter and more clapping.
I am not suggesting here that we break out into raucous song and movement during the mealtime of the Mass, what I am suggesting is that if there is a memory of mealtime being an expression of gratitude and celebration (which is a great psychological response to nourishment anyway), we can have a sliver of confidence that a connection may be made as we hug and sway and hum and smile with our little ones in Mass.
In fact, there needs to be expressions of affection during such times as the consecration.
And don’t be too put off when things sometimes go horribly wrong and the outcome is searing embarrassment. I recall some ‘wise elder’ telling us that a discrete pinch may be necessary at a very serious moment at Mass in order to ‘quiet’ a rowdy child.
So, the essence of complete love (yes, the mother of our children) found that moment when our two year old would not settle. It turned out to be the moment of consecration. The pinch was executed. Next instant came the cry that shattered the silence, ‘You are pinching me Mum. Why are you pinching me?’
I remember thinking that maybe we should not have taught number two to talk so clearly. Mother of love and mercy and compassion (i.e. my wife), experienced a moment of deep shame and humiliation. Imagined condemnation filled our minds. ‘Did you hear that? That teacher was pinching her child during Mass.’ In truth, no one took any notice.
It took a while to see the funny side of it. Another time we sat up the front of the church to see if the children would be fascinated to see the action up close. We were near one of the senior ladies of the parish who sat in ‘her seat’ every Sunday. As Liz offered her hand at the sign of peace she said, ‘Peace be with you’. The lady in her pew replied with thinly disguised distain, ‘Not much peace here today’.
I guess one of the hurdles we need to jump is our own sense of failure that accompanies the sharp jabs of perceived public shame that lance our pride. These distractions are challenging and they can and do turn us from our purpose. We gather at Mass to give praise and thanks to God and to get to know each other better. Could it be when we love our children by showering them with joy and delight, we are giving thanks and praise to God? And if you were to think of a way to guide the mind to live this praise, might it be the simple mantra: ‘Worry less and celebrate more.’
Fast forward thirty five years to a local coffee shop where we sat with two of our grandchildren who jumped from their chairs to hug Moira, an elderly lady who greeted us. We talked and joked for a few moments and Moira took her leave, but not before one of the little ones called out, ‘See you at Mass on Sunday’.
Within this seemingly insignificant exchange is hidden an essence of Eucharist. Our purpose is union and celebrating together is our fuel for the way.
About the Author
Vic O’Callaghan is married to Liz and has been a classroom teacher, facilitator and author of seasonal reflection books, The Jesse Tree and Days of Passion. Check out the Marriage Resource Centre to order a copy today.