Thoughts on a Christening.
I have just returned from my granddaughter Iona’s christening in Scotland. It was supposed to be a community welcoming, a rejoicing because new life was coming into the parish; the different stages of the baptism took place throughout the 90-minute High Mass. Since most of our party of 18 family and friends were non-believers I prayed long and hard that it would be a beautiful and uplifting spiritual experience for all. God knows it is hard sometimes to show our church in a good light these days.
I cannot fault the ritual of the ceremony. There was a choir which processed down two aisles, a vigorous shaker of the thurible and all the vestments and trappings were as ornate as we would expect of a High Mass. However, viewing it through the eyes of outsiders it did seem rather strange, detached almost. Little Eimear, 25 months, exclaimed in surprise when she saw the priest appear on the altar, “Look, mummy, dat man playing dressy-up!!” Out of the mouths of babes…
The one recognisable prayer was in Latin and so only the few of us older folk who remembered bits of the Pater Noster were able to recite it. It was altogether a fine example of Roman Catholic ritual but was there any real connection with the people there?
After the Mass the four sets of parents, who were all of different nationalities, Polish, French, American and Scots/Irish, were left in the church and no one came over to say hello or smile or connect in any personal way. The only communication up to this had been by telephone or email with a rather abrupt secretary.
I thought of how these four beautiful babies were supposed to be welcomed into this Christian community and I wanted to weep. Where was the welcome, really? Why couldn’t the celebrant or even a representative of the parish have shaken hands with the parents, smiled at the new little Christians, made some sort of effort to connect heart-to–heart?
I have lined up after Mass outside another church where the celebrant, a member of the hierarchy, stood to shake hands and have seen him hold his hand out and turn away his face. It wasn’t that he was talking to anyone on the other side but simply perhaps because he was bored, tired and not thinking. Why go through this ritual if there is no real connection of person to person?
So this is a plea to priests to think about ritual and about real connection. What matters if you stumble over the words or get flustered over which chasuble should be worn or whether something is or is not liturgically correct? Does it really matter what garment is worn as much as clothing yourselves in and reflecting Christ’s warm, loving, reaching-out to all in the congregation. A smile, a nod of warmth, a handshake with eye-to-eye contact, a pat on the back, a hug – these are the marks of Christ. These convey so much more than you realise.