reflections, updates and homilies from Deacon Mike Talbot inspired by the following words from my ordination: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach...
Friday, May 12, 2023
What can happen, and often does, when Mother's Day is included at Mass
Long-time readers will probably remember this post. But given the nature of the Internet and how quickly readers come and go, I thought it was worth reprinting here.
Mother’s Day is this coming Sunday, so I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests, deacons or other preachers who might wander by.
My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.
The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.
There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.
But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.
I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….
This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.
Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.
So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?
Women whose children have died
People who have been abused by their mothers
People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
Women who have placed children for adoption
People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.
And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame.
( I was talking to my oldest (40) the other day and he said, “When’s Mother’s Day?” “This Sunday,” I responded. “Okay, don’t worry, I won’t call you.” “Good. Thanks.”)
So inviting Mothers to stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass might be, yes, fraught.
It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.
The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.
No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.
So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day there now.
Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it. So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.
So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…
And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition – offers the whole mess up, in trust.