Example matters, and not just to appease and please the cranks

Friends of mine, who are practising Catholics have been scratching their heads and saying that they are reluctant to attend ‘Traddy Mass’ or the Latin Mass, because they say that whenever they go, they meet people who want to criticise them for things they do – or don’t do at Mass. 

There is casual, anecdotal truth to this. Once, I took my friend Chiara to a Latin Mass and before Mass, as she leafed through the red missal a man stuck his head between us and grumbled to her, ‘you can’t behave like a Modernist, not knowing what to do at Mass!’ It annoyed him that we seemed unfamiliar with the Mass.  
Recently, at a very crowded Mass in central London, I found myself a tiny place to sit at the back and after the priest had come onto the altar, a woman in front of me had turned around and was trying to scold me because she didn’t think that I had knelt down quickly enough. She was pointing at me and causing me some embarrassment. 
My brain felt a twinge of temptation to narrow my eyes, fence my brow and growl, ‘mind your own business’. But she had diverted her attention from the Mass to criticise me, and as I didn’t approve of what she did, it didn’t seem logical to do the same, take my eyes off the Mass, in order to upbraid her. But at that very moment, a young family came in, and a girl of about seven squeezed next to me. Her mum’s hands were full with some giddy, wriggly baby brothers. And the little girl seemed a bit lost and not accustomed to a Tridentine Mass. I invited her to share my missal, but she was fascinated at the proceedings and wanted to study the actions of the congregation and the priest. It was teeming with people, so it was difficult for her to see the priest at times, so whenever she was uncertain what to do, she would look at me.
When I stood for the Gospel, she stood for the Gospel. At one point, I rolled my shoulders, unconsciously, out of habit, and a split second later, I saw the little girl roll her shoulders and join her hands in the exact same tight way as mine. She also checked to see if the priest was rolling his shoulders and then looked at my shoulders again. After the Consecration, when I dropped my head, she dropped her chin into her chest, and turned her eyes up, to check if my head was still dropped. When I lifted my head, she lifted hers. During the last Gospel, I bent my knee at the words, ‘Et Homo factus est’, and a second later, she did the same.
During the prayers after Mass, without thinking, I rolled my shoulders again, and quick as she could, she rolled her shoulders.
It struck me that the attentive little girl was intuitively trying to be as reverent as she could, but not being accustomed to the Mass, she had to follow whichever example was nearest to her, even one as poor as mine.
At the start, had I succumbed to the temptation to scold the woman who was not happy with my kneeling posture, then I could have seemed like an angry adult and my cross expression could have alienated the little girl who slid into the place next to me. (I’m sure, in time, she’ll learn that shoulder-rolling is not part of assisting at Mass!)


  1. Maybe you have been unlucky... in my experience, people are generally less worried about doing things in the TLM than at the NO mass - for example, sometimes I follow every word in the Missal, sometimes I let it all just wash over me and immerse myself in the sights and sounds... then again, maybe I've been unlucky at the NO Masses I've attended!

  2. Thanks for this post, Mary.

    I think we can all have 'off days', the trick is to do as you did and not react to unkindness with unkindness... (An art I myself am far from perfecting!)

  3. @Mac - I may incur more...intolerance...from regular attendees of the TLM because I've tried to bring newcomers who may not know the ropes.

    Had to say that I really liked your latest kitty posts (and 50 Shades of Prey made me laugh). Thanks for that. Please keep blogging as much cat-related posts as possible. Lovers of cats and dogs like myself take delight in reading them.

    @Dylan - thank you for your comment. Very perceptive point, 'not react to unkindness with unkindness', which I am committed to memory.

  4. It might be where you go Mary, I've been to various EFs. I was warned that one was "a tutter's liturgy", It was. At another I was the one who got upset when a camera was whipped out, how inappropriate!

    You'll always get detractors at any kind of Mass, like the people who chat during the collection but tut when a child makes a noise. I give you that as an example, the type of which can happen at any Mass.

    The story of you and the little girl is beautiful,just beautiful. And most importantly of all, you did not attempt to denigrate any style of Mass or any style of music. God comes to us all in different ways, sniping at a persons taste, which God gives them, is the worst fault among worshippers.

    As you did with the little girl, keep your eye on the goal; Him.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment, Tony. I don't think it's where I attend Mass, I've found that some people appoint themselves as police in most congregations. But as you say, we should keep our eyes on the goal: Him.

  5. I'm sure I could try and get shoulder rolling added to the posture guide in the Baronius Missal, if you'd like...

    1. John, Go for it! The little girl can grow up and her claim to fame will be that she inspired a change in the posture guide in the Baronius Missal.

      So good to hear from you,

  6. Years ago Hilaire Belloc was rebuked by an officious steward of some kind, at Westminster cathedral and told that he should be kneeling or standing; he roared out:Oh go to hell, to which the steward replied:I am sorry sir, I didn't realise you were a Catholic.

  7. Thank you for sharing this story:) What a beautiful example!


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