I just left mass early. It was a children’s mass and I hadn’t expected that.
Now I like children, and I like mass, and I approve of children’s masses. But I can’t bring myself to like them. The way I feel it’s supposed to be, mass is somewhat meditative and meditative is one thing the average adorable kid sure isn’t.
So I tend to avoid the children’s masses. Last week was, of course, first communion, so I went to evening mass instead. But this week they have a thanksgiving mass and that caught me by surprise.
The funny thing is, obsessing about the form of the liturgy is one of the things I really dislike about Catholicism in practice. We have people who think the ordinary form is a Freemason plot to destroy the Church and people who think the extraordinary form is a fascist plot to bring back the dark ages. And people on both sides of the for all/for many question thinking this is ever so important. And I stand aside with the smug feeling of an agnostic looking down on both sides. Because really, ritualistic details are not what the mass is about. For the first few centuries there were no missals and the priests just improvised. Then we went for some standardization because we are creatures of habit and that’s fine. But moving those details to the center really misses the point of mass. Which, for Christ’s sake, is Christ. Literally. Right there on the altar.
So you might see the irony of me in mass dismayed that it was done different from what I had expected. I saw it too. Also, I felt a bit guilty, like I was one of the insufferable grumps complaining about kids crying in church. So at first I wanted to stay. Then a few minutes later I decided that evening mass looked a lot more appealing than abstract principles.
On the way home I was thinking about what this says about me. God willing, I might one day be a dad. In which case children’s masses would be kind of an obligation. Would I resent that? Well maybe, because I am sometimes resentful without good reason. But in the end I don’t think it would be a mayor problem. Children’s mass would be a very different experience if I classified it as cute kid stuff rather than solemn meditative stuff. It is actually the context switch that is uncomfortable.
And that actually does accord with my particular weirdness. I’m a natural born reactionary: I don’t like change. When I needed new bedsheets a while ago I spent hours (unsuccessfully) searching the Internet for ones identical to the old ones. And I don’t like people changing their look either, even if it’s an improvement. Surprising change is particularly bad.
While I’m an extreme example, I think other people share this instinct to some extent. There is a reason we got missals eventually. And maybe this explains a lot of liturgical fretting. People are creatures of habit and that isn’t bad anymore than liking some foods over others is bad.
It has a downside though, in corroding community. Traditional and modern mass communities do dislike each other and that shouldn’t be so. And while it is more than that, mass is also a community thing which makes it somewhat strange for me to just leave it. So we should try to look out for that.
Perhaps I should start by attending a children’s mass on purpose. The context switch will be much more bearable if I know it a week in advance.