What not to do during Mother’s Day Mass

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

With a new baby born last August, this will be my first Mother’s Day as a mom of four. I am hoping for crayon-scrabbled construction paper cards crafted by my children and maybe breakfast in bed. What I hope I don’t have to do is stand up to be acknowledged at Mass. Do I want to be celebrated? Sure! But Mass is not the place for moms to be applauded on Mother’s Day.

Last Mother’s Day I texted a close friend after the early Mass to warn her that moms had been asked to stand for a special blessing. I knew she was planning to attend a later Mass, and after her two recent losses (with no living children), I could not bear the idea of her being caught off guard by the request. I hated that she would have to make the agonizing decision of whether she “qualified” to stand with the other moms or to sit while the moms of living children stood to be applauded. Another beloved friend who longs to get married and start her own family shared that last year as the women around her were asked to stand and flowers were passed down the pew to celebrate them, she sat and wept. The grief was too much.

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Do I want to be celebrated? Sure! But Mass is not the place for moms to be applauded on Mother’s Day.

While kind and well-intentioned priests surely desire to encourage mothers in the daily self-gift of caring for children—something that we need in a culture that is increasing anti-child and anti-mother—Mother’s Day is already difficult for women who long to be moms or have lost children in miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a child after birth. And these women do not make up a small percentage of the women in the pews.

With one in four pregnancies ending in a miscarriage, for instance, the church is full of grieving women. Do we need to add to their pain as they come to faithfully fulfill their Sunday obligation and find solace in the Blessed Sacrament? And perhaps more to the point, is the Mass the place to give special acknowledgements to anyone save God, Our Lady and the saints? While it is the priest’s job to offer the sacraments, it is not his job to make my Mother’s Day special. The Mass is offered so that we may give proper worship to God and receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. Why do we feel the need to bring secular “holidays” originating in the 20th century into the sanctuary at all?

A prayer for God’s blessing on mothers, spiritual mothers, godmothers and all women who long to be mothers is a beautiful thing.

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As a sleep-deprived, homeschooling mom with wonderfully loud children who fill my heart with joy while simultaneously exhausting me, yes, I would like my hard work and sacrifice to be acknowledged and appreciated, but not at Mass on Mother’s Day. Instead of singling out moms to stand and giving them flowers, why not offer a prayer when all parishioners are standing during the Prayers of the Faithful or at the end of Mass. A prayer for God’s blessing on mothers, spiritual mothers, godmothers and all women who long to be mothers is a beautiful thing. But we do not need to ask moms to come forward and clap for them.

But, as I discovered when voicing these thoughts on Twitter, the idea of not singling out moms with a special acknowledgement on this most Hallmark of days infuriates some who interpret the omission as so much politically correct handwringing that refuses to celebrate anyone at risk of offending someone. “We need special ceremonies to honor moms,” they say. Those folks will be glad to hear that at every baby’s baptism there is a blessing for the mother. The ancient tradition of the Churching of Women could also be popularized once again to bless and honor women after giving birth. The church already has ceremonies, ancient and beautiful, to acknowledge and bless mothers. There is no need to insist on observing a liturgically unnecessary secular holiday at Mass—a day that is already painful for many.

In May, the same month we always celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States, the church honors Mary, the mother of our Lord. She is mother to the motherless, and she understands the agony of losing a child. Rather than asking moms to stand, wouldn’t we do better to celebrate Our Lady on Mother’s Day as the model of motherhood to encourage moms in the trenches as well as the whole Christian community to emulate her in her humility, sacrificial love and maternal compassion?

Pray for God’s blessing on mothers (heaven knows, we need it!), but toss the applause for a non-liturgical “holiday” that is already a trial for many. May Mother Mary be a mother to the sorrowful, now and always.

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Alan Johnstone
7 months ago

Another view.
Mother's Day is no different from a day in the community when Veterans are acknowledged. Why denigrate it by the word secular?

When we gather on the day of the Lord, which is NOT the Sabbath, we are fulfilling several 'community of faith' functions, praised by St Paul in the New Testament.
You know, faithful to the gathering of the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers. Your children need to know that parenthood is holy, sacramental and of vital importance in their lives and to know that the secular society has a very different view and the differences are differences of faith.

There are solemn parts of the Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, it is not all solemn and it would not be right for it to be such.

Pity you carrying on about your sacrifice and earning of accolade of gratitude, it is not you we are acknowledging. Not I/Me/My much, is it?

Motherhood is the fruit of the sacrament of marriage, why do you not accept that it is Holy to its core and see it fitting to be celebrated during Mass.
We are thanking God for the gift of life given to us through motherhood. We are acknowledging that consenting to pregnancy is heroic, a life threatening condition which puts the woman in harms way the way a soldier on the battlefield does. (The Stoics of yore buried a woman who died in childbirth with full military honours due a fallen warrior, did you know?)

The anguish of the involuntary childless, the bereft who have dead children, those who have aborted by nature or artificial means and those whose children are utterly ungrateful is real and their pain is recalled often and should not make mentioning it forbidden.

Mary Therese LEMANEK
7 months ago

To acknowledge the gift of mothers can be done without asking women to stand, accept a flower and listen to applause. None of the "involuntary childless, the bereft who have had dead children, those who have aborted by nature or artificial mans and those whose children are utterly ungrateful" are pretending that speaking of motherhood should be forbidden. It should be treated as a calling vs. an accomplishment that earns a prize.

Amanda Roddy
6 months 4 weeks ago

The sacrifices a veteran makes surpass biology. Biology should not earn a prize.

Mary Jane Rynd
7 months ago

Thank you Haley for your thoughtful and compassionate article. I was at a service years ago with a friend who was divorcing and losing the right to see a stepson that she adored and had raised for several years. There was no recognition of maternal losses as you described and as I have experienced or that she was experiencing. It was excruciating. We should all be sensitive to how Hallmark Holidays impact others.

Thank you.

JR Cosgrove
7 months ago

Last week the priest gave a mother’s day story since he was a visiting priest and not sure what Masses he would be celebrating today. His mother gave him a present when he was ordained. It was a statue of the Blessed Mother that had a note attached. It said “Never remove this note. Know that I will love you always wherever I will be and will constantly pray for you.” This statue and note has never left his bedside since that time.

Martha Murray
7 months ago

Perhaps the priest could invite all who have ever had a mother to stand and give recognition to our individual mothers followed by a Hail Mary in honor of His earthly mother

Mike Hayes
7 months ago

As someone who is married without children, I can appreciate the sentiment, but I think perhaps this has made me feel worse when they don’t offer other fathers/mothers a blessing on their days when we celebrate them because of ME and my hardships of life.
We all have tragedies and St Ignatius would remind us that we need to sit at the foot of the cross and acknowledge those before the suffering one. It would seem to me that this would be one of those obvious times. To push away pain and suffering is to ignore our own humanity and quite possibly repress those feelings that we need to feel.
And what of the gratitude that we feel towards our own mothers? I like the idea of having all those who are mothers and who have had mothers stand. That’s inclusive enough, I suppose.
I’d add that I don’t stand on Father’s Day when they ask for fathers to stand out of respect for those who do have children and have sacrificed much to do so. I sit and look around at the parents in the church and admire them for their efforts in raising a child and as a Campus Minister, I am blessed by their gift of their child to us who journey with them as we are called during their college years.
A final note: the idea of “churching” women seems archaic and misogynistic to me. We need not retrieve that one.

Alan Johnstone
6 months 4 weeks ago

Last point. "Churching" of women after childbirth was a continuation of the Mosaic Law concerning issues of shed blood, and being ritually unclean. Men could be unclean through blood too.

I could not agree more, it is well that it has been left behind. Salvation for the gentiles is not through the Law.

Joseph Billotti
7 months ago

This is a beautiful letter. As a priest who has done many of these blessings, you have given me much to think about. Would it be possible to have this blessing also be an explicit blessing of healing for all those women who have suffered in any way because of their motherhood? Their tears, then, may also have a healing aspect.

Fred Wendel
7 months ago

I appreciate reading these comments but I just don't agree. My mother died 23 years ago and I miss her very much. To see women stand and be honored on Mother's Day is a painful reminder of the absence of my own mother. Nevertheless, I think they should be honored and it would be selfish of me to think otherwise, in my opinion. I appreciate the sensitivity to those who are not mother's and I believe they should be remembered at Mass as an intention in the Intercessions. Their pain should be respected and it very real, But I don't believe that should keep us from honoring Mothers present at Mass. Fred

Cynthia Branch
7 months ago

Please always remember that there are many in the Assembly who had/have tortured relationships with their mothers, or mothers who had/have tortured relationships with their children. Mothering is not an exact science, and for some (many?) the whole experience is fraught with pain. Just because Hallmark says it is a joyous day - as they do about Christmas - it ISN'T for some. And the stand-up-and-get-a-flower thing only makes the sadness worse.

Dan Braccio
7 months ago

In fact, Mother's Day is NOT a 20th Hallmark creation designed to sell cards and easy sentiments. In fact, the holiday was originally conceived in the aftermath of the Civil War, by Julia Ward Howe, who believed that women must unite to end war and violence. In her Mother’s Day Proclamation, she wrote, in part, “Arise, all women who have hearts … and say firmly… ‘Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’” What can we do today to work for peace and justice for the children of tomorrow?

Peggy Shultz
7 months ago

As a mother of a 12 year old son who died on Mother's Day, and the mother of another son who is 12 now, I couldn't agree more with the author. I am especially sensitive to all those who are not acknowledged on Mother’s Day (Father’s Day, too): those who have experienced the death of a child at any age or stage of development and from any cause, including miscarriage, stillbirth, and abortion; those who would have wanted a child but didn’t marry or have a partner; those who weren’t able to conceive; those who had abusive and/or neglectful parents. Let the best of the feminine and motherly qualities be acknowledged and honored, and the best of the masculine and fatherly be acknowledged and honored; these are of and from and by God. Those are the messages my husband and I want to hear at Mass on Mother's Day, Father's Day, and every other day.

Christine Coleman
7 months ago

Thank you for this. I am fortunate that my pastor is sensitive and caring, and makes sure to acknowledge EVERY woman on this day -- which means a lot and truly makes a difference on a day that emphasizes, for women like me, opportunities that haven't come to be.

FRAN ABBOTT
7 months ago

I thank the author and agree with the women who have commented here so far. Who needs to inflict pain on others when it can so easily be avoided?

Robin Vestal
7 months ago

Thank you! This Sunday I realized with joy that I did not have to go to Mass since Fr offered Sunday Mass at the detention center where I volunteer and since it was raining the elderly man I usually take couldn't come (too hard with walker etc in the rain). It's painful every year to think of my dead son as they call mother's to stand, stand, not stand. So I was happy to be able to have already satisfied my obligation, but again I hate that because I usually go to daily Mass.

William Barlak
7 months ago

My wife and I recently hosted a game night. One of our guests was a single mother of four (!) whose birthday was the next day. At the end of the evening, we made sure she had a cake and we sang happy birthday to her. It turns out, due to the unfortunate situation in her family, our game night celebration of her birthday was the only birthday recognition she received. Her own kids did not acknowldege it.

I can imagne the pain of mothers at Mass today whose families do not acknowledge Mothers' Day for whatever reason. The only recognition they may get is the brief honor that occurred today after Mass.

My community uses many secular celebrations (Mothers' and Fathers' Days, World Marriage Day, Veterans' Day, Memorial Day, Fourth Of July) to honor and pray for those mothers, fathers, married couples, veterans, etc., who have sacrificed for the good of all. These honors and prayers always occur after the Final Blessing, so as not to be interpreted as part of Mass. This morning, after the Mothers' Day blessing, instead of a Recessional, mothers lined up to be presented with carnations from the celebrant as the cantor sang Ave Maria.

I disagree with Ms. Stewart when she proposes we eliminate this brief acknowledgment of Mothers' Day in order to prevent those mothers who have lost children, or those who wish to become mothers but are not, from being confronted again with their painful situation. We pray for the dead during Mass even though by doing so we may be reminding someone at Mass of the death of someone dear. We pray for the sick, even though many in attedance may be carrying the burden of an ill loved one.

As I see it, we are the Body of Christ and our mission is to be aware of those who are suffering and bring Christ's love to them in midst of their suffering. Rather than structure situations to avoid inevitable pain, we are called to help by reaching out, being present, and listening to those in need.

Amanda Roddy
6 months 4 weeks ago

This is why people are leaving religion by the droves. Not everyone is meant to be parents and until churches learn everyone contributes to the world in different ways it will continue. And a parent wanting to be honored for something that has been done for all eons is egotistical and prideful. I hardly think society is anti-child. Anti-child are the ones who have kids and don't take care of them. No tones who realize they won't make good parents. Plenty of notable women never had kids. If you are feeling down because you have no kids, you are still a human. There's no reason to worship one aspect of existence.

Amanda Roddy
6 months 4 weeks ago

Duplicate

Cathy Santos
6 months 4 weeks ago

I appreciate being given a blessing on Mother's Day. I am not insensitive to those who are not mothers. Does that discount my sacrifices?
As for being "churched", are you serious? No thank you.
I'm grateful that my pastor offered a blessing to all of us today, along with a rose. We earned them.
Cathy
Mother of 4, grandmother of 7, and a teacher in Catholic School( not a home schooler)

Molly Kenney
6 months 4 weeks ago

My priest gave the blessing when everyone was standing. Problem solved. Moms who are working in the trenches deserve a blessing.

Mary Putman
6 months 4 weeks ago

Thank you for this article. Last Mother’s Day I asked my adult daughter to come with me to Mass before we went to brunch (to which she had invited me.) My daughter is married and infertile. For years she and her husband tried to become pregnant, stopping short of IVF because they just couldn’t see “manufacturing a baby,” as they put it, to be the right way for them to go. My daughter was heartbroken. But she worked hard to come to terms with her infertility and build a marriage and a life that is fruitful in many other ways. The deacon in his homily praised mothers, talked about the anti life culture, and seemed totally unaware of women like my daughter, and others who have been described in this thread. My daughter and her raised Catholic husband do not practice. I was hoping that sharing the Mass with me at a parish that does a beautiful job with liturgy would “nudge” her a little to take a second look. I was distressed sitting next to her during that sermon. Once, when I asked her what was keeping her away from the Church she said, “Mom, there’s no place for me there.” That Mother’s Day at Mass, I agreed with her. The Church has much work to do to be the communion that Jesus desires.

Joanne Dacek
6 months 4 weeks ago

I had a similar experience last fall when everyone who was married was asked to stand for a blessing. I am a recent widow and found this heartbreaking. It was difficult to even remain in the pew and not leave. And I found myself thinking of all of those others who might have lost a spouse, or longed to be married and weren't, had suffered a divorce, etc. So I fully agree with your article. Thank you for expressing this!

Peg Bingham
6 months 4 weeks ago

I know, all too well, the challenges of infertility. In my twenties, my doctors and I struggled with managing my endometriosis, one of the primary causes of infertility. One of my biggest challenges was how & when should I tell the guy i was dating! The one I thought was The One dumped me. He couldn't handle the pressure to have children quickly nor the prospect of never having them. Six weeks after my first date with my now husband, most of both ovaries were removed. Two weeks after the wedding, I had another clean-cut major surgery. A year later, we were blessed with our first son; a year later second son; another year later, complete hysterectomy. My personal perspective is that maternity may not be merely biological. I strongly believe that our two sons are bona fides miracles, here via the real hand of God.
Do I want my motherhood blessed? For sure! And where else but Mass? Avoiding to do so because the foundation of Mother's Day is secular does not ring valid to me. Should all parishes stop offering Mass on Thanksgiving?
I am now in my sixties and I have terminal cancer. There is no cure. There will be no miracle. When a well-meaning person hopes that I get well, I am reminded. Every good wish can break my heart.
Through much prayer, study & counseling, I have learned that my personal Christan responsibility is to not allow my heartbreak to interfere with anyone's joy, gratitude, or praise. I cannot allow my grief to overshadow another's joy. My struggles should not diminish the blessings granted to others. Jesus called us to love others and in that command, I find my joy is expanded when I celebrate the blessings within my parish community.

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