In reading some of the various posts by various people who are worried that Pope Francis' choice of plain black shoes means that he's planning any day now to sell the Sistine Chapel on e-bay, I have had occasion to remind myself that sometimes I, too, veer into the errors of grumpy liturgical nitpicking.
Yes, even after this sort of thing, I still find myself sympathizing more with the Truly True Secret Catholic Preservation Society than I ought to. I scrutinize, criticize, grumpicize, and even sigh over such horrible practices as The Rite of Sending the Children Out To Go Color Things, the songs with more time signatures than a time-travel movie, and the practice at our church of giving people a blessing on or near the occasion of their birthdays.
About that last: I don't really mind Father reading a prayer straight from the Book of Blessings over those celebrating birthdays which mentions the day of their birth and asks God to grant them "...many happy years, all of them pleasing to You..." etc. It's a nice blessing. And I don't even mind that the choir sings to them, because thanks to our Byzantine-raised choir director we sing "God, Grant You Many Years," instead of "Happy Birthday" or some other secular garbage. What I mind is the timing: after Communion, before the final prayer and blessing. In other words, it's still during Mass.
Now, I get that Father can't do it before our 8:30 a.m. Mass as he's most often saying the 7:15 a.m. Mass at our main parish 25 minutes away. And he can't easily schedule it for after as he's most often dashing out our door to get to the main parish in time to say the 10:00 a.m. (At both churches, the before-Mass question "Is Father here yet?" is quite common, especially if the choir director or servers need extra instructions for a special Sunday.) And if he waited until after the final blessing the birthday blessing recipients would likely be trampled by those exiting (though I can't really complain, as our congregation is fairly respectful in that regard; we don't have the Parking Lot Grand Prix so much). But that doesn't stop me from thinking that this birthday blessing business is not really necessary, and not particularly liturgically correct.
But sometimes, it's an occasion of something rather special. Like the time our most senior parishioner received a blessing on the occasion of her 95th birthday. And when a parishioner who has been fighting a serious form of cancer for many years now receives her annual blessing, I think we're all rejoicing with her.
And then there was yesterday.
Father read two names, and two children came forward--both of them turning six, a boy and a girl who greeted each other with that kind of sweet camaraderie that only those who have endured--er, received--religious education together can share. As Father prepared to read the blessing, he asked the children, as he usually does when children are being blessed, if they had anything special they'd like to pray for.
The little girl asked shyly for prayers for her grandparents, which was very sweet.
The little boy rattled off something with enthusiastic zeal, which Father repeated for us to hear: "I want to pray for the whole world, that all people will become Jesus' favorite children!"
Father clapped a hand on the young man's shoulder, and said, "I think we need you to be a priest!" And he encouraged the young lady to consider religious life as well. The parish joined in pretty enthusiastically with the song asking God to grant these two many years.
Should the birthday blessing take place outside of Mass? Probably. But it's not my call. And regardless of the liturgical correctness of it all, I feel pretty privileged to have experienced that particular moment yesterday. Out of the mouths of babes, and all that.