Saturday, 29 October 2011

Appropriate behaviour

Prompted by some comments on my previous post, I will now dare to write about the appropriate behaviour of children at Mass.

My last school was a boys' school and we were never allowed to say anything they did was wrong, only that it was inappropriate. So overtly sexualised posturing, sexist language and racist language were never "wrong", just "inappropriate". I don't like this approach, but I will adopt it for the forthcoming argument.

Matthew 18: 1-6 is often cited as a good reason for us to suffer children at Mass irrespective of their behaviour. I quote it at the end of this piece, in case your memory needs refreshing.

The child that Jesus calls and puts in the midst of the disciples is not described. However verse 2 does not end with the words, and after the child had thrown its toy camel at a disciple, hollered loudly for its mother and tugged at Jesus's beard and hair... . An inappropriately behaved child would not make any sense in this Gospel passage. The child was meek, the child was called by Jesus and the child responded appropriately. Being placed in the midst of the disciples makes the child a teacher and a most profound one at that. As the Son is infront of the Father, so the child is infront of Our Lord, and so ought we be too. Never, never get in the way of a child and its faith, the consequences are terrifying.

It is the child who simply doesn't appreciate that church is a sacred space, different from the living room, that can lead to inappropriate behaviour, both from the child and its parents. It can never be appropriate to feed a child (save breastfeeding) at Mass,. How will a child ever appreciate the Eucharist if it is leaving great lumps of Jaffa cake smeared over the pews? It is never appropriate to bribe a child to be quiet during Mass. It is never appropriate to hold a conversation with a child that has no relevance to the Mass whilst the Mass is taking place. Is it appropriate that there is a child whose parents let it run all over the sanctuary before Mass pulling the flower arrangements to bits? Are not all these types of behaviour likely to get in between the child and its growing faith.

If we look at Luke 2:41-43, it seems clear that children were only expected to journey to the Temple in Jerusalem on reaching the age of 12. An age where appreciation of and appropriate behaviour during religious ceremonies would be expected. I'm not saying 12 is the best age, indeed I'm not suggesting any age requirements only an understanding that perhaps the child needs some appreciation of what is happening.

The things that would be considered inappropriate in the public gallery of a law court, or at a funeral, or at a gallery of priceless artifacts aren't somehow appropriate at Mass.

The very smelly old lady at Mass, the man with the bowel problem that leaves him smelling of faecal material, the man in the wheelchair who makes involuntary groans, the gurgling infant, the devout alcoholic who needs a swig of vodka half way through Mass to stop him shaking...are all behaving appropriately.

I have been in a very delicate state this last few months, I have needed to be at Mass and receive the sacraments. Can you imagine how upsetting it can be when you don't feel like you've been to Mass because children and their parents seem to have no understanding of the need for reverence, and that foucussed prayer needs a level of concentration that can not be obtained if some child you don't know is poking a Thomas the Tank Engine in your ear.

Matthew 18:1-6
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 And calling to him a small child, he put him in the midst of them, 3 and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;.."


Autumn said...

O bravo for this post Rita!
I often feel that it has been made near impossible to criticise anyone's *little darlings*, as if it's a Child Protection issue, but this post is so...well...appropriate dare I say!
Thanks you, A x

Anonymous said...

Leaving aside your personal sorrow and pain, of which I have no comprehension but offer only my sympathy, a few things need to be borne in mind with regards parents with children.
1. Parenting is really, very hard work, a type of difficulty against which all others pale to nothing, which cannot be known properly by those who do not have children. This is not the kind of 'hard' one ever stops to consider because, when one is presented with the one's first baby, you just get on with it. By the time you have three in (nearly) four years, the work is near constant, as are the anxieties (too numerous to count, but try 'How do I form my children in a robust Faith?'), the contingent work (wage-earning), organisation, housing (especially if you do not own a place), and of course education, to important to be entrusted to normal schools. And so on, and so on. In short, when some parents seem to let their children run riot it is because they are so tired they do not know what to do, are too overburdened to think a behavioural situation through.
2. The children who are misbehaved may well be unwell, have ADHD or somesuch (be it nature or nurture induced). Again, although I have no direct experience of this, and one tends to think 'Bloody give them a clip round the ear', this doesn't actually work with mentally disabled children.
3. The Mass may be the only time in a week a parent can get to be with the Lord in the Eucharist. Should they give this up so you can have some quiet?
4. Your concentration is not relevant to the reality of the Mass; God happens, so you have to be there. This is a reality of great importance to parents. In the nearly five years since I had parenthood sprung on me, I have actually felt like I prayed at most a dozen times at Sunday Mass. My children are immaculately behaved, (for children - see below) but this takes continuous low-level concentration on my part. I can never loose myself in praise.
5. Don't expect children to behave like adults. They are not adults and do not behave like it. Even mine, who are, as implied above, quiet and engaged, will find themselves amazingly excited by some seemingly pointless thing and fall over themselves to explain it/ fall about laughing/ squeal with excitement/ whisper at the consecration/ etc.
6. The Latin Mass in its current incarnation creates amongst the congregants an attitude of sighing intolerance, a real 'people set apart'. 'Did you not know, Latin Mass is for the truly devoted?' I have experienced this in about five different churches. Nobody likes the de-sacralised, jumble-sale shtick of the average NO Mass, but nobody wants us at the Latin one (except the Franciscans of the Immaculate in Stoke). So what do we parents do? Trudge along broken-hearted to an event we are confused (at best) about, passing on only frustration and disappointment as the fruits of a Catholic life to our children?

I could go on, but my point is simply this: If the Catholic Church is going to survive in this country, and outside of the major university cities this is actually not likely, we need children to get the Faith. They will not get the Faith in school, even less of it in Catholic school (statistically true), and are normally raised in functionally Protestant households (85-odd percent of Catholics are contraceptive, contra God and his Church). If they don't go to church and receive the full grace of God by baring witness to and eventually participating in the Mass, from where is it supposed to come?

Finally, children are always a blessing, even bad ones, because they are normally an embodiment of unsullied grace. That's what Matthew 18 is saying.

Again, I am truly sorry for your loss and wish you peaceful prayer, but Catholic Mass is catholic.

Anonymous (for it is I)

Anonymous said...

When anonymous says " The Latin Mass in its current incarnation creates amongst the congregants an attitude of sighing intolerance, a real 'people set apart'. 'Did you not know, Latin Mass is for the truly devoted?' I have experienced this in about five different churches... nobody wants us at the Latin one (except the Franciscans of the Immaculate in Stoke)."
I am wondering whether they have tried the LMS venues in and around Stoke. My family used to attend these before we moved south, and if ever a family turned up with lots of children (or any!) I know that all the members of the congregation (and there were only ever a handful) would have been delighted that there were young ones there. This stereotype of 'sighing acceptance' from Trad Mass attenders has never been my experience - and I am now blessed to be able to attend at a Parish where there is a weekly EF Mass which is filled with large families (some with 8 or 9 children.) The children are taught to be reverent, and even if it is an effort, and the mums/dads don't feel like they've prayed much because they have had to spend the hour controlling little Johnny or Jemima, they know that that is their calling whilst the children are so young. The children know that the time for running around and letting off steam comes after Mass, and I applaud all the parents who don't mind using the time that the children spend in Church to help them realise that there is something greater than them going on there. I agree that not all children are easy to deal with but as Rita says, there are ways and means.
God Bless,