Mass two days after Christmas feels like too much church for some of my crew. As usual, my husband and I opted for the divide and conquere approach, with him and one of my older daughters sitting in the back with the youngest two. That left me with the other six. Just after the homily, my darling 4 year old grew weary of sitting and stood up. This was fine, as she still barely tops the pew. But when her older brother moved in on her place in the row, she said quite loudly, “That’s my spot. HE TOOK MY SPOT..”
Thank goodness for my other son, who very deftly explained, “He didn’t take your spot. He took mine and I took his.” Pew Tetris isn’t for the faint of heart. The dynamics of place settings rival a state dinner or an analytic question on the GRE. She then asked in a loud voice, “Am I being good enough to get donuts?”
Again, I felt as if I was taking a standardized test. If I said yes, she would view every subsequent action she took as mitigated by that admission against interest. If I said no, I would hear heart wrenching caterwauls from the same person for the rest of mass. “We’ll see.” was the weak response I mumbled to put her off for a while. D: None of the above.
Midway through the liturgy, I got an urgent memo: “I’m tired.” from one who should know better. Another daughter whispered “When is this over?” during the song for the offeratory. Fortunately, the primary clock watcher couldn’t actually tell time so I said, we’re more than half way through the mass and that satisfied.
I don’t know if other parents use the responses of the laity in the mass as editorial comments but it seems God understood we would need to occasionally talk in code to our children, to mentally cuff their noses while everything appears perfectly orderly.
“LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.” “PEACE be with you.” and “Lord have MERCY.” often get special emphasis in our family, such that some of our kids think you are supposed to raise your volume at that point in the prayer. I do not know the lady behind me, but she was overcome with a fit of giggles because of all the double meanings being conveyed through everyday responses.
Still, it’s hard to get too frustrated with these people who don’t quite know how to be present at mass because I too sit there distracted as I try to direct one to wait until after to go to the bathroom, another not to play with the kneelers and a third that he has no excuse for me not hearing his voice when 1) he can read 2) he has the loudest voice at home and anywhere else and 3)I can see his lips moving but no sound is issuing forth. I too was not fully present, trying to remember our envelope number and scribble a check during the song, making sure we have all 22 gloves and 11 coats and my purse. We came back from communion and I kept searching the aisles, looking at all the faces, wanting to see in them what I knew they could not find when they saw me. The distraction from the moment was not limited to my family.
Here we were, two days from Christmas. We had just received communion. We ought to be lighter, brighter for the gift of the Eucharist. We ought to not be bothered by the coughing in the front or the music coming in late or the occasional opening of the Church doors in the back. We ought to be mirrors of the star that lit that night so long ago. We ought to be awash in light for others. Yet everyone looked worn and tired.
So when my four year old clapped her hands loudly for the priest who finished the announcements, I felt grateful for the reminder via my daughter of how we are to regard this gift of the liturgy, of celebrating the mass and having it mean what it means. For a moment, she revealed how all of this was to be understood and was in rapt attention in a way most of us would have to work to find within ourselves. We want to be in awe of God. We need the star and the Angels and the bells and the color and the light and the word and the food and the weekly reminders to cut through our distractedness. We cannot as creatures, bear in our hearts and minds the reality of God well or long because of our weakness. Our original sin and all our foibles have the near endless capacity to divert us from what is truely important. We lapse easily into sleep like the apostles when God is closest. We have to deliberately chose to hold onto that intimate moment with Christ, like Mary holding her baby. For a moment, I could feel that singular closeness and the world fell away.
Then we went back to, “That’s my spot.” and I was reminded of why we say, “Lord, we are not worthy to receive you.” Thankfully, He says the word and all is healed.
Copyright 2009 Sherry Antonetti