I would really love to get to the stage where I sail into church on a Sunday morning with four children all clean and combed and beautifully turned out in their Sunday bests. All with shoes on and with a good amount of cash for everyone to put on the plate. I will get there one day, but in the meantime, the best I can claim is that we turn up and that most of the time they behave themselves. On this particular occasion, the best I can claim is that we turned up.
While we were in the process of turning up, as we were driving to the church, it dawned on me that the school term had started and I had not checked the roster for Children’s Liturgy (I help out once a term). I pulled out my phone and jabbed away at my email until I found what I was looking for. Here’s what I figured out:
- I was on duty
- I would have to present the gospel to a group of impressionable youngsters
- I had prepared nothing
- Mass would begin in one minute.
Thankfully, the gospel was one I had presented before and could talk on without too much trouble. I dashed inside, grabbed the book, threw the cloth and candle on the little table, forgot the matches, and told Father I was there, thirty seconds before he processed into the church.
I managed to muddle through the Children’s Liturgy program without imparting too much heresy, I hope. We had a good discussion where I told them all about shepherds in the time of Jesus and they told me all about lizards, chocolate, Roary the Racing Car and why Thomas is the best of all the engines. After this, the children brought the gifts up beautifully in the Offertory Procession, even if half of them bowed backwards and sideways and one of them fell over, before dispersing back to their families at top speed.
Now that the panic was over, it was gradually dawning on me that:
- Harry’s face was covered in Vegemite.
- I didn’t have any wipes or facewashers on me.
- Well-turned-out children do not attend Mass with Vegemite on their faces.
- I did so want to have children that people would describe as well-turned-out. Especially Mass people.
I considered giving my thumb a swift lick and using it to mop up the offending stain, but then I remembered that the Sign of Peace was fast approaching and I decided that the people around me might prefer to behold a dirty-faced little boy than to be forced to shake a hand covered in a mix of spittle and salty yeast extract. Besides, I had bigger problems just now.
Annie must have disapproved of the new translation of the Eucharistic Prayer, because she started voicing her protest at the top of her lungs. I tried all my usual tricks, waved little toys from my handbag at her, but they only made her angrier. Then Father said “let us offer one another the sign of peace”. Annie abruptly stopped shrieking and solemnly offered her small hand to the people standing behind us.
Now that handshake time was over and Annie had stopped crying, I set to work cleaning Harry’s face. Accordingly, the quiet solemnity of the Liturgy of the Eucharist was punctuated by a loud shout: “No! That’s MY VEGEMITE, Mummy!”
After Mass, Mr Knightley and I staggered with Annie into the gathering area for morning tea (the children had already raced there and were smearing biscuits across their faces). Here we faced a gauntlet of opinionated old men which our late priest called the Parish Antiques.
First up, one of the Bills, Who’s as Old as the Hills, hobbled over for a grumble about the noisy baby. As Bill is getting a little frail and senile, and is usually rather kindly, I let him have his rant in peace.
Next I stumbled into the path of Neville McKinnion, Who has Strong Opinions. “You’re very courageous to be coming to Mass with the children” he smiled condescendingly, then added, with the air of one dropping a gentle hint, “when our four were small, Mavis and I would come to Mass separately and only bring the older ones.” As Neville raised his eyebrows impressively, I bit back the urge to enquire how many of these grown up children still went to church, as I knew it was a sore point for him.
I returned my tea cup to Barry O’Shane, Who Likes to Complain. He was having a rant about how so few of the parish school families come to church on Sunday.
“They wouldn’t dare!” I snapped, and stalked out the door.
Except that that only happened in this blog post. In real life, I smiled weakly and saved my angry rant for my wearily sympathetic husband in the car on the way home. And in the two hours that followed.
I guess I’m not being entirely fair to my parish in this post. I could have mentioned that Patricia Baelyn, Who Looks Like Sarah Palin, took Annie for cuddles and politely contradicted Bill for the parts of his rant that were readily coherent. Or I could point out that most of the time people are warm and welcoming and that the Grumpy Old Men do have kind hearts and don’t shrink from hard work when it needs to be done.
All the same, we went to the neighbouring parish on the Sunday that followed. Sometimes it’s good to go to an anony-Mass…