A Mother’s Day Mass (or Mess?)

(Reader’s Note: This is the blog that I tried to post on Mother’s Day, although the cyber attacker had other plans.)

I dreaded Mother’s Day this year. But not for reasons that you’d think. (1)

It’s because of the face of one woman that is burned into my memory. It happened last year at Mass.

I was attending Mass at my favorite Catholic Church, one that is generally pious and reverent. However, at some point during the Mass, the priest went off script. Instead of celebrating our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Sacrifice, the priest turned to the topic of Mother’s Day.

Smiling happily, he asked the mothers to stand up. Excitedly, the ladies stood.

Then the priest went on and on with a loving tribute to the women who were standing. He thanked them profusely for bringing a new life into the world.

To the surprise of many, the ushers then went around and gave the mothers roses. I could see the joyful pride in the women’s faces.

But I saw something else as well. I saw the faces of the women who remained seated. Most of them looked uncomfortable, even embarrassed. Some had fake smiles plastered on their faces.

I’m not surprised that they appeared ashamed, slighted. By having the mothers singled out through standing, the seated non-mothers were also singled out.

That’s when I saw the face of one, 50-something woman. Attractive in a Berkeley-natural-type of way, she had the most uncomfortable expression on her face. Sitting alone, she looked like she wanted to hide under the pew.

This was the first time I ever saw this woman in this church. And after this Mass, I never saw her again. I don’t know if this special tribute, and her own embarrassment, had anything to do with her not coming again.

By having some women stand up and others remain seated, the priest inadvertently created a difference. And this was noticed. I could see everyone looking around and thinking, “Oh, she’s a mother.” “Oh, I guess she is not.” Just like the society at large, women who have children are celebrated in a way that other women are not.

Now this priest is a very pious man. I am certain that what he did was not out of insensitivity. However, I would guess that some women were hurt by it. . . and that is why this ritual should not happen at church.

There are many reasons why women do not have children. For me, I chose not to. But for most childless women, it is not a choice. And in those cases, childlessness is a source of lifelong pain.

Many women cannot have children; they or their husband are infertile. Some women have miscarriages, the deaths of their long-awaited babies.

There are women who have had abortions. For them, Mother’s Day can be a day of great sorrow and regret, especially if they didn’t go on to birth a child.

Some women choose to forego parenthood, only to be catapulted into serious regret as they got older. There are stepmothers, some of whom do the heavy lifting that the biological mom may not do.

Don’t get me wrong: motherhood is wonderful. It is an incredibly high calling. I have nothing but admiration for mothers, even awe.

But in the priest’s singling out only mothers for praise, he was disregarding others. This is why I think that Mother’s Day should remain a secular holiday and not be part of a Catholic Mass.

Ironically, by elevating mothers and not others, the priest was inadvertently contradicting centuries-old teachings of the Catholic Church, as well as Scripture. The Catholic Church has always held that while family is marvelous, a life of chastity is a much higher calling.

For instance, St. Paul tells the church men to stay with their wives if they are married. But he makes the point that a celibate life of devotion to Christ is of much more value. And the Catholic Church itself has reinforced this teaching when it comes to priests and nuns and the consecrated life.

Prior to the debacle of Vatican II, there were thousands upon thousands of chaste nuns garbed in religious habits attending Mass. Their presence reinforced the teachings. It’s almost as though the sparse numbers of nuns today has created amnesia for some priests. And of course, a chaste life of devotion to Christ is the highest of callings: the Blessed Virgin Mary is regarded as the holiest and most revered woman of all.

I recall how much better a Protestant church handled Mother’s Day a few years ago, prior to my going in the Catholic direction. At that Protestant church, the minister acknowledged that it was Mother’s Day. Then he had the members of the congregation close our eyes.

The minister led us in a prayer for mothers. But immediately he had us pray for women who never had children. We then prayed for women who had abortions; women who suffered from infertility; and for those who miscarried.

We prayed for our own mothers, whether they were alive or deceased. We prayed for those women who have played pivotal roles in our lives, such as stepmothers, aunts, teachers. While we were praying, I heard a lot of sniffing in the audience, including my own.

Knowing the discomfort that I was about to experience, I dreaded going to my favorite Catholic church this year for Mother’s Day. Frankly, I was pretty annoyed about it — and confused. I wasn’t sure what to do.

I even thought (briefly) of not going to Mass at all. But then I quickly returned to my senses. We Catholics have a Holy Day of Obligation on Sundays and other special days. It is not up to me (or any Catholic) to decide when we should or should not go. Aside from being ill or an emergency, to church I must go.

So I went to Mass. But I didn’t go to my favorite church. I just couldn’t handle the sight of the sad and embarrassed childless women, so many of them victims of the 60s and 70s.

I went to another church in the suburbs — a mostly Asian one. While I was certain that there would be Mother’s Day hoopla (and there was), I was less likely to encounter the bereft countenances of the Berkeley casualties.

Mass was almost over. We were heading into the final prayer when the priest announced, “Let’s have all of the mothers stand up.” This is when I grabbed my purse and hightailed it out of there.

I survived another Mother’s Day Catholic Mass. But barely. My prayer is that the Catholic Church would return to focusing on Christ and not secular holidays that inadvertently stigmatize and hurt some people.

And I’d like to offer some of my own prayers on this Mother’s Day. I pray for all mothers. And I also pray for the women who have been in a motherly role, perhaps through nursing and teaching. I honor all the stepmothers.

In essence, I pray for all women today, particularly those without children, who may be feeling sad and blue and left out. Know that your life has great value and purpose, even if you never were a mother.

___________________
Note:

(1) I feel the same way about Father’s Day — that it should remain in the culture, not Mass. At the Mass last year on Father’s Day, the fathers were highlighted in the same way — no flowers but applause. Again, there are a myriad of reasons for a man not becoming a dad. For some of them, not being a father is very painful, just like for some childless women.

The more that the Catholic Church allows the culture in, the more damage occurs. We have seen this quite horrifyingly in what happened after Vatican II.

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