Monday, 8 June 2009

Little green shoots

The homily at yesterday's First Communion Mass was one of the best I've heard. The priest spoke directly to the children, in language that they could understand, but he didn't dumb down his message at all. I can't remember exactly the words he used, but this is the gist of what he said.

You're wearing special clothes today and everyone is celebrating because this is one of the most special days of your lives - you are about to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord for the first time. This means that the Church thinks you are not babies any more, but are ready to join all the adults in beginning to take responsibility for your own faith and to participate fully in the life of the Church.

Now that you are receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus is calling you to be more like Him. (He then asked the children for examples of ways in which they could be more like Jesus, and he expanded on each of the examples they gave - generosity, kindness, standing up for what's right and gratitude.)

You need to nourish your faith and let it grow, because if you don't feed it, it will die and you might start to think that you don't need Jesus in your lives. The world often tells us that we don't need Jesus, and sometimes it's difficult to be a Christian.

People might sometimes think you're weak or not cool because you're Christian. Some people think that to be popular at school, you need to bully other people. Some people think that to be first, you need to push other people out of the way. Some people think that to be successful at work, you need to step on other people and make them fail.

We don't live that way, and some people might say you're not successful because you're not doing those things. But if you have faith and you believe in Jesus, you don't need to do all of those things, because your life is successful if you live the way Jesus wants you to live.

There are some pretty difficult messages in that, but the children really listened and seemed to take in what he was saying. At the end of Mass, he reiterated that they need to nourish their faith in order to let it grow. He then gave each child a little tomato plant as a symbol of their faith, and told them to remember to water and nourish that plant.

I had gone into the church with, if anything, slightly negative expectations. The music was absolutely not to my taste, and the church is being refurbished, so the Mass was in the parish hall. But the parish hall has been beautifully set up as a temporary church, and the congregation showed real reverence, as well as joy at the celebration. In particular, when the priest opened the tabernacle before Communion, not just the priest and the altar servers but everybody in the church genuflected until he had closed the tabernacle and carried the chalice to the altar.

My friend told me afterwards that the priest had insisted that not only the children, but also the parents, should be given lessons to prepare for the First Communion. She said she had never thought that someone without children could understand so well the challenges of bringing up a child, and that she had found the preparation very helpful.

The whole event really taught me something about judging by appearances. Yes, we may have 'processed' out to "We are marching in the name of God", with a number of people dancing behind the children, but technically the final blessing had taken place and Mass was over, so why not celebrate at that point? And those children - and their parents - had been beautifully and lovingly prepared for the celebration, and the priest made sure they understood the importance of this event in their lives.

I made my First Communion in 1976 and it still stands out in my memory as one of the most special days of my life. I think in 33 years' time, my godson will remember his First Communion in the same way - and who can ask for more than that?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

New translation

I've had a look at several parts of the new translation of the Mass, and agree that it's more beautiful and closer to the original than the current Novus Ordo effort. In many ways, that has to be a good thing. My brother who lives in South Africa responded very positively when the new translation was introduced in his church last year.

I can see there being objections, though. In fact, I have an objection myself - and petty though it is, it's something that really matters to me.

On the day I made my First Communion in 1976, my grandmother gave me a Missal. I have used that Missal ever since, and it reminds me of my First Communion and of my grandmother.

One of my godsons is making his First Communion this coming Sunday, and I really want to give him a present that he will be able to use on a regular basis and treasure all his life. Knowing that the new translation is due to come into use soon, I know there's no point in giving him a Missal for the current English translation of the Mass. I also know his family are unlikely ever to get into going to the Traditional Rite Mass, so there's no point in getting him a Missal for that.

I almost feel cheated out of being able to give him a meaningful present that will last him a lifetime. I may be influenced in this feeling by my father regularly expressing sadness throughout my childhood that he was unable to use the old Missal that he had received as a present for his First Communion in the late 1940s - he used to get it off the shelf to show it to us, but he couldn't use it in Mass.

On the other hand, at the moment there is no real universality in our Church. Even if I only intended it to last for a short while, I couldn't buy Missals here in the UK for my American or South African nephews and nieces, because there are enough small differences between the US and UK Mass that they would be noticed every week (little things like in the Creed, where we say "became incarnate from the Virgin Mary" and the US says "was born of the Virgin Mary" - I feel like an outsider whenever I stumble over that bit when I'm visiting them), and South Africa is already using the new translation, which is very different.

I'm sad that I can't get a special and lasting present for my godchildren, nephews and nieces, one that will be used regularly and remind them forever of one of the most important days of their lives. I know such nostalgic feelings aren't a reason to block positive progress, and I hope when the new translation is fully brought in the small differences between us and the US will disappear, making the Church feel properly universal again.

But I do think that if the new translation is to be received warmly by the majority of Catholics, it needs to be introduced with great sensitivity and these little feelings need to be acknowledged and not completely swept aside as unimportant.