September 30, 2023
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: You’ve missed your chance, as the parent said to the bishop

A mother went on radio to tell how her daughter had suffered from stress because of the uncertainty about when First Holy Communion ceremonies would be allowed.

They hadn’t been able to book a hotel,she explained. They had thought of calling in caterers for a celebration at home but could not do even that because no decision had been made about how many people they could legally invite.

Now, thanks to her bishop’s decision to breach public health guidelines, the celebration can go ahead.

But, horror of horrors, everywhere is fully booked.

When she spoke of ‘celebration’,  this nice Kerry woman wasn’t thinking about the celebration of Mass, but of a party for friends and family. She never mentioned anything that might happen inside a church.

I have no idea about the extent of the woman’s religious devotion, but a priest who spoke to RTÉ later that morning said that nowadays few parents of first communicants are regular Mass goers. Some he would never see again after their child’s big day.

I wonder if many of the Catholic bishops, now defying the Government and Nphet, heard that interview. If not, may I suggest Your Excellencies go to the RTÉ website and have a listen. It was on Morning Ireland on Tuesday, August 3.

In a couple of lines this mother perfectly illustrated why health authorities are worried about these ceremonies. It’s not for what happens inside churches, where people are respectful and well-distanced.

It is for the parties that inevitably follow.

If they listen back, it may also occur to the bishops that they have missed a great opportunity. For years people have been complaining that First Communions have got out of hand. Far too much money is being spent on dressing up, giving presents and entertaining on a lavish scale.

Of course, the people who do the complaining are often the same people who splash the cash when their own children’s time comes. Change needs active intervention by the church authorities and Covid provided an opportunity for them to do so with little fuss.

Communicant families could have been divided up and dealt with in the course of any normal Mass; not more than, say, two at a time. It would have taken a while, but what’s the rush? The children could have been asked to dress neatly, but in ordinary clothes, and parents could have been urged not to party afterwards. They might have disregarded that advice, but at least the Church would have tried.

I should say here that I have no skin in this game. My children are long, long past First Communion age and I have absolutely no religious scruples on the issue.

But it does seem odd to me that a ceremony believers hold to be sacred should be trivialised in the way it is and strange that, given an opportunity to stem the tide, bishops should instead have got entangled in a row with the Government.

The little girl who was the subject of this particular interview also spoke on the radio. She didn’t sound particularly stressed. In fact, she seemed pretty unconcerned about the whole thing. It was adults who insisted she was under stress.

Here, I think, is an example of another problem. Throughout the course of the Covid pandemic I have heard people complain about stress and emotional suffering. They have ‘mental health issues’  caused by many things, from not seeing their parents to not going for a pint, on holiday or to a football match.

In most cases what they really mean is not that they are under  psychological  pressure but that they are frustrated, annoyed, pissed off. They are not suffering from deep anxiety, just  a bit worried as a lot of us are a lot of the time.

The modern trend to talk things through, share your feelings, get it all out in the open, may have its virtues,  but it also creates problems where none really exist.

I grew up in an age when the standard response to the niggles and moans of life was ‘stop complaining’ for, as the seanfhocal has it, what can’t be cured must be endured.

Sorry, all you sensitive folk – but I think that is sound advice.

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