I did. Of course, our 12-year-old refrigerator decided that Holy Week was a good time to display threatening signs of imminent compressor failure, but we're sort of used to appliances picking holidays around which to die. The new fridge appears to be working fine. We went with a lowish-end model after reading horror stories galore about planned obsolescence and the notion that a fridge should really only last five or six years these days--you know, like cars. Grr. Arrgh. What happened to a nation that used to build appliances that could last two decades or more? Of course, the most amusing thing was that the new fridge is black and reflective (because that color was in stock), while we had a white non-reflective one before. It has taken the cats a couple of days to stop being jumpy when we open the fridge lest the other cats, the ones they can see in the door when they walk by, decide to jump out at them. Our main cat, Emmett, is still a little nervous, but Smidge has decided to make friends with the fridge-cat on the excellent grounds that the fridge-cat never interferes with him and has not made a single move in the direction of the cat food.
Between a busy Holy Week full of choir obligations, the fridge thing, and today's invasion of ants into our kitchen (ahh, spring! And to think that the pest control guy was just here on Monday...) I've been a little bit away from the Catholic blogosphere--but not so away that I didn't notice the latest Great Catholic Blogosphere Rant-Debate-Fight, over the subject of whether or not blessing children in the communion line is Terribly Wrong and must be eliminated posthaste or mildly annoying or really not such a bad thing after all. On the side of Terribly Wrong and must be eliminated: Father Cory Sticha, who started this latest round, and Father Z. On the side of perhaps mildly wrong or perhaps not so awful: Deacon Greg and the Anchoress. On both and neither and even more extreme positions: legions of commenters on each blog.
Now, I have a couple of things to say about this (you knew I would).
First, I have no strong opinion about the blessing of children in the communion line. If the Church says "It's wrong, so cut it out," that's fine by me. It has been years since my children were infants or toddlers, and I can guarantee you that back then, by the time we drove over an hour each way to Mass every Sunday from our home in the rural South with three children under the age of three, the only thing I was concerned about in the communion line was whether or not any of the children were reaching total nuclear meltdown point, and if so, whether it was more prudent to wait outside during the final blessing and the recessional hymn or to climb back into the bench while ignoring the grimly contemptuous scowls from those sitting around us who thought we belonged in the glassed-in Chaos Room in the back (which was always full to the brim with adults who arrived at Mass late and thus glared just as hard at the children, along with children who had clearly been told that Mass was playtime and behaved accordingly). In other words, I really don't care if priests everywhere stop blessing children in the communion line or even smiling at them there on the grounds that any notice given to toddlers in the communion line is liturgically incorrect; that's their call. I think that most parents of infants and toddlers would agree: it's already so excruciatingly difficult to get young children to Mass that a little tap on the head by Father isn't a make-or-break point for most people.
Second, where I disagree with Father Sticha it's here:
To me, this seems like a rather deplorable example of Blaming the Laity for what priests initially did wrong. I'm sorry, but I recall much of the past 30 years as a Catholic, and I can honestly say that there was never a spring day in, oh, 1978 or something when mobs of feel-good warm-fuzzy parents and grandparents stormed the communion line demanding a head-tap from Father for their little cherubs. No, what happened was that priests decided it would be nice to acknowledge the pre-first-communion kiddies in some way, and the blessing notion took off. Where, exactly, this came from, nobody seems to know. Commenters on various blogs have pointed to customs in other countries, to pre-Vatican II habits and postures, to the Eastern practice of giving even infants-in-arms the Eucharist, and to Novus Ordo-style disobedience and hippie-dippy stuff, but there doesn't seem to be a clear point of origin for this custom, except for this one incontrovertible fact: priests decided to do this, and then--only then, and after considerable time--did the laity come to expect it.
Of course, people don’t like to hear that. They think it makes the kids feel “special” that they receive this blessing. (As an aside, I think the parents and grandparents get the warm-fuzzies more than the kids do.) Of course, they can’t be blamed. For 30+ years, they’ve been fed a mindset that the liturgy is malleable to whatever we want to do with it. Blessing for kids? Sure, we can add that right during Communion. Having kids come up for the homily and sit with the priest on the sanctuary steps? Sure, we can do that. Holding hands during the Our Father and running around the nave greeting people during the Sign of Peace? Absolutely! Whatever makes you feel good!
As I’ve studied more about the theology of the liturgy, I’ve come to the realization that this “feel good” approach is sending the wrong message about the liturgy. I’ve also become concerned that this has dangerously damaged their relationship with God, and they are blissfully unaware that any damage has been done. Instead of liturgy being the community focusing their minds and hearts on worship of God, it has become a social activity, focusing on ourselves. Now, we don’t come to liturgy to turn to God, but to ourselves. For this reason alone, I despise blessing children in the Communion line (and yes, I chose that strong language very carefully), and encourage other priests to stop immediately.
Which, when you think of it, is the truth for nearly all of the liturgical abnormalities of the post-Conciliar period (and probably before, but I don't know much about pre-Conciliar liturgical abnormalities). In fact, of all the liturgical irregularities I can think of, only one, the holding of hands during the Our Father, clearly originated from the laity. The others did not (no, not even the "running around the nave" during the Sign of Peace, because I can clearly recall many priests leaving the altar during the Sign of Peace to shake hands with as many parishioners as they could reach, something which is quite obviously forbidden). I say this not as a mere pointing of the fingers of blame, but just to point out, in charity, that it's sort of odd to hear a priest scolding his parishioners for having become accustomed to a liturgical abuse that was the fault of other priests, without mentioning that priests were ever at fault here. If the people seem to think--and I'm taking Father's word for it that they do--that their children will be missing out on something important if the blessing is eliminated, would it not be beneficial to apologize to them for the fact that they were misled by earlier shepherds, some of whom probably all but insisted that the little tykes be dragged up for a head-tap? To me, too many articles and posts like this written by priests fail to own up to the clerical responsibility for liturgical abuses. If the people got used to seeing the Mass as a personal plaything, they were led in that direction by Father Ad-Lib and Father Liturgical Loosey-Goosey; they did not wake up one day right after the Second Vatican Council full of the idea that lay people should demand things like the Rite of Dismissing the Children so They can Go Color Things.
Which brings me to my third point.
There is a question here, to me, which needs to be answered, and answered as soon as possible: Are young children, that is, infants, toddlers, and children below the age of reason, actually welcome at Mass or not? I know, I know, plenty of people say they are, and there are dear priests like this one who make a point of saying so very encouragingly. Yet there are lots of other voices to hear, and these voices are especially loud in the ears of parents: voices which point out that children below the age of reason don't actually need to be at Mass, that they can't participate in the Holy Sacrifice or receive Holy Communion (in the West), that their presence is distracting to those who are there for the real business of worshiping God, that mothers are excused from attending Mass when they have infants to care for anyway (so long as Mom makes her Easter Duty, that is), that split Masses are the best solution for families even if that means that Mom and Dad never attend Mass together until the last of their numerous progeny is old enough for Holy Communion, that "we have a nursery," that "we have a special Mass in the gym for families with children," that "Saturday night Mass has guitars--the kids love it!" and so on and so forth.
The message that parents are getting, loud and clear, is this: Don't bring your children to Sunday Mass. And if you look around at most parishes in most places in America, you will see how well parents are receiving that message, because you will see how few families with small children actually bother to show up on Sunday mornings. (Yes, I know that there are exceptions--but they are exceptions). Or, take a look at the children gathered for their First Communion Mass, and see how many of them actually come to Mass with their parents on a regular basis--sure, some pastors have instituted the laudable practice of making children who are going to receive the sacraments prove that they've been at Mass, but that only works for the time period immediately prior to First Communion. Lots of those children, and their parents and younger siblings, will disappear after First Communion and will next be seen when they register for Confirmation preparation--if they bother to come back then.
Now: does giving the children a liturgically-incorrect tap on the head with words of blessing (or without) when their parents come up for communion address this problem in any way? No, not really. But does the ambivalent attitude on display in far too many parishes about whether or not children are actually welcome to come to Sunday Mass with their parents when the children are still too young to sit angelically still and seraphically silent for an hour impact parents' decisions about whether to bring their families to Mass or not? Sure, it does. And do parents tire of the split-Mass Sunday routine, given the pressures of modern life, and eventually figure that they won't bother coming to Mass until the kids are old enough--especially given how many of them out there have never heard that it's a serious sin to miss Mass on Sundays without a valid reason, or who might think that "care of infants" covers both Mom and Dad until the youngest baby is five or so? I'm sure that plenty of them do.
The bottom line, for me, is this: priests, by all means don't bother giving children in the communion line a silly head-tap of blessing, especially if it's not allowed. But if you don't figure out some way to make sure that infants, toddlers, and young children and their parents really are welcome at Sunday Mass--not barely tolerated with tight-lipped endurance, but truly welcome as Christ welcomed the children--then the question of whether or not to bless children in the communion line will become moot: there won't be any children coming to Mass anymore anyway.