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Mass Is Important – But It’s Not The Royal Ballet

December 8, 2012

The Royal Opera House’s website says patrons must be over five years old to attend performances, and babies and infants are not admitted to the auditoriums. Similar rules apply at other venues where serious artistic performances take place, e.g. at Shakespeare’s Globe children under three are not admitted and, “If your child cries or causes a disturbance you will be asked to leave and may not be readmitted to the theatre”. These types of restrictions apply to the higher quality productions outside our great metropolis too.

As the performers on stage – whether dancing on pointe, singing bel canto, or emoting as a diffident Danish prince – have spent a decade or two honing their craft, they deserve to be the sole object of the audience’s rapt attention. What’s more, how could a prima donna be expected to remember her steps when some baby is roaring its lungs out in the stalls circle? Equally important is the fact that the tickets are very expensive, and no one who has paid £200 or more, or even £38, to see/hear the world’s premier artistes wants their transcendental experience spoiled by a child’s vocalizing (be it hunger, annoyance or glee). If we are to be transported to the Land of Sweets, or 19th Century Paris we cannot be continually dragged back to 21st Century Covent Garden through auricular discordancies.

This attitude may seem to some to be reminiscent of Britain’s repressed, monocultural past when everyone was frightened to death of “making a scene”. Children were to be seen and not heard and certainly never allowed to socialize with adults. It may be frustrating for parents with toddlers, who recognize the necessity of introducing babies to their community early, but an age restriction is a compromise that acknowledges that what goes on at the Royal Opera House is a mystical representation of real-life drama, and we should be affected by it.

Contrast the pious reverence appropriate at ROH with the joyous celebration of life and community that is a modern Mass, in either of its forms. As Vatican II, in document and spirit, made clear, the Mediator Dei view of Mass as the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has been re-thought; now it is a communal expression of the good news of Easter Sunday – everyone is inside the Mystical Body and all are saved.

Along with the updated theology, comes updated social mores and thank goodness everyone in the parish can participate to the fullness of their talents. The music, bidding prayers and themes are the property of all the parish, so all the parish (represented by those best qualified among the laity to know) has input. And if the younger members of the community, who are after all its future, can only contribute their own vocalizings, then the louder the better. Not only is it obvious that infants should not be removed from a celebration of the community of which they are members, it is Church policy too. I know this because the leader of my parish Journey in Faith/RCIA told the enquirers so at a recent class. Her words were, “We don’t mind about crying babies at all. In fact we love to hear them, the louder the better”. It was reassuring that parents no longer feel obligated to take the child outside, as was done in the pre-Vatican II days, or even worse, sometimes infants were kept at home. I know it sounds ludicrous to us – to celebrate the community without all its members present – but that’s how brow beaten parishioners were back then by the “Hell is real” scaremongers.

Not only are crying babies to be encouraged, but those assisting are now so comfortable at Mass that adults too see no reason to modify their behaviour either. After all, if adults are part of the community then what they do as members of it has as much legitimacy as a lachrymose infant. This is not just a matter of us feeling comfortable enough to wear shorts and flip-flops to do the readings, but today (The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception) someone’s mobile phone rang during the Eucharistic Prayer. No big deal you say, people’s phones ring during Mass all the time. True, but this woman was comfortable enough with proceedings to take the call. It wasn’t a long call, but that’s not the point. It was that a middle-aged woman who probably had a certain amount of that “Woe is me” theology in her early life has come, through Vatican II (word and spirit), to answer her phone in Mass. Gaudete!

Most encouragingly of all, the community feeling has reached into Latin Mass as one of the fruits of mutual enrichment. I sometimes go to Latin Mass and there also, proud parents who do not wish to deny their children those important formative experiences bring them to Mass. If the children are crying or laughing or just shouting along they feel no obligation to step into the vestibule or parish room. No sir, they just keep right on praying with an occasional “sssh” to quiet the child, who has more sense than to comply.

Finally, there are a few dinosaurs who grumble about how things were done in the old days. Well, as I like to tell them, “If you want to spend an hour or two witnessing a transcendental mystery, take yourself off to the Royal Opera House pal. This is Mass, and that means we celebrate our community. Plus, you haven’t paid for it, so what’s your problem?”

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From → Chapter 1

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