Mass With the Bare Essentials

Hi everyone! I’ve decided to republish some of my old Home Truths columns here. I’ve set up a Facebook page for “Kate Moriarty – Writer” and I’m trying to gather all my writing to the one place.

This column was first published in Australian Catholics Easter 2016

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I long to see the day where I sail into 9am Mass with six children all clean and combed in their Sunday bests. I’ve always yearned for people to describe my children as ‘well turned out’. Especially church people.

Today was not that day. My husband had taken Matilda early so that she couldn’t be an altar server, and it was up to me to get the remaining children clothed and in the car and to Mass on time. Harry was dressed and ready like a champion. Unfortunately, his outfit was the same one he’d been wearing obstinately for the past three days. Christopher was performing a slow tai-chi dance with his breakfast, but was dressed at least. Annie was barefoot in her pyjamas staring blankly at her toast like it was the last clue in the cryptic crossword. The twins were fast asleep. And it was five-to-nine.

So I started gathering bags and babies, shepherding everyone into the car. The pyjamas Annie had been wearing looked enough like regular clothes to get away with. It was only later I noticed the vegemite stains all down the front.

Annie and Harry were putting their seatbelts on in the back of our van as Christopher and I organised the twins. “Annie, are you wearing shoes?” I call back whilst grappling with a four-month-old in a five-point-harness. “Yes, Mummy”, Annie responds in her sweetest voice.

And we were on our way, but we were oh-so-late.

We arrived. Annie grinned broadly, “Actually, I forgot my shoes!”, she announced triumphantly, like the punchline to some wonderful joke.

In all of the shouting and searching that followed, Annie alone was calm and unruffled. We found one shoe. There was only one. I think this was a million times worse than if there’d been no shoes at all.
The homily had just started as I sidled into Mass with my rag-tag posse of children. Annie remained unshod. If we kept a low profile, we might get away with it. In a quick exchange of sign language (I believe I employed the international sign for ‘I wish to strangle my child’), I brought my husband up to speed with the situation. His response was devastating, his expression deadpan:
“We’re on Offertory.”

In theory, being invited to bring the gifts to the altar is a wonderful privilege, I should have felt honoured that my husband was asked to participate with his family in this special way. Unfortunately, the idea of parading my dirty, barefoot, misbehaving children down the aisle for all to see was not altogether a tempting one.

When it came time for the Offertory Procession, I assumed a confident expression. Perhaps, if I smiled bravely and walked tall, nobody would notice my three-year-old was sans footwear. That aisle seemed much longer than usual. Father Jacob, flanked by Matilda and another server were miles away. After traipsing barefoot through the gauntlet of parishioners, Annie imperiously insisted on delivering her bowl to Matilda and not the priest. Father Jacob swallowed a snort of laughter.

I spent the remainder of Mass alternatively blushing and shushing. As we prepared for a swift exit, a lady grasped my elbow.
“It gave my heart so much joy to see your family bringing up the gifts,” she said with genuine warmth. My heart melted a bit. Mrs Thomas is almost old enough to be my grandmother. She has raised six children herself and was recently widowed. Mrs Thomas chose not to see the unwashed clothes or exposed feet or complete lack of liturgical style. She saw a family trying their best despite their imperfections, and loved us. In that moment, Mrs Thomas was God to me.

I opened my mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a loud yowling. Annie, it would seem, had stubbed her little toe on the kneeler.

And that, my dear, is why you should always wear shoes to church.

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