Sacrament or status symbol ?
By Canon F. H. Drinkwater
REMARKS made last time
in this column about the possibility of competitive spending-sprees on the adornment of first communicants seem to have been not superfluous.
What a pity if the excellent idea of "family first communions", throwing more responsibility on the parents, should ever lead to a highly unspiritual orgy of money-conscious display! Sacrament degraded to status-symbol! One competent observer writes to describe "ultra-modern designs from fashion papers", dresses with tight frills "which impede the child's natural movements of sitting, genuflecting etc.", and "headdresses on veils perched on to bouffant hair-styles which make the poor child incapable of holding up her head to receive Our Lord".
Exactly — in such a case the attire is acting against its own
purpose. N o t "functional" enough, as the architects would say. One can hardly see what little girls want with special hair-do's anyway, or any young schoolgirls; it just is not really "functional" in their case and therefore not really beautiful.
A friend of mine says that all women, from six to sixty, look best in uniform of sonic kind (he doesn't mean the peak-capped sort of course). The comparatively few of the female sex who have any dress-sense the says) can express it even better in what they do with a uniform than in following the fashions.
This theory may be right or wrong, but we must admit that it is educationally valid for sevenyear-olds at first communions. That "wedding-garment" referred to in Our Lord's parable—the idea of it. we are told, was to introduce a certain classlessness into the wedding-party, everybody feeling equally at home, in first place or last place.
No class struggle
I suppose the one occasion where any kind of class distinction or competitiveness would be all wrong is at the communionrails. One might just as well have seat-rents (perhaps one does!) That very word "communionrails", you may tell me, suggests that the Church herself seems to encourage some distinction between cleric and lay even at communion? Maybe, but I must admit that (although no sharer of those extremes liturgical views which would like to do away with private masses) nevertheless on this or that crowded occasion, when the pious young priests and the energetic middle-aged ones are fighting for altars to say Mass at (well, you know what I mean) I find a real pleasure in lapsing into lay communion alongside the rank and file of the faithful, old and young.
Yes, at the communion-rails we are at the very heart of the Christ-Mystery and the Christian Way of life. having just said the Our Father. and coming round our Father's table to receive back what we gave, now so marvellously transformed into the living and life-giving Bread from heaven: it is no time to remember that we are rich and poor, educated or simple, coloured or whites, officers or other ranks, convicts or prison guards.
Seven years old is not too soon to be getting the feel of that strange new world, where so few of us are at home even yet. That momentary vision of a scarcelycredible hope, that unforgettable glimpse of what a renewed Church cottld be to a desperate world, which all men saw through the eyes of Pope John, came not a moment too soon. At least we must hope it was unforgettable. I/eni Lumen cordiuml
All this depends very much on what we make of Our Lord's life and teaching, and the first thing is to hear about it. With the great feast of Pentecost over, the Church has once again finished
her main educational effort towards this, her annual re-enacting of it all from Advent to the Sending of the Spirit.
It is a long-term teaching device that has its effect over a life-time, deep, but gradual. Teen-agers begin to catch the idea if their attention happens to be effectively called to it, (quite an "if", that is) but young children can hardly have yet the mental-organising ability to grasp the panorama of the Church's year, any more than the recurring wonders of the seasons.
All the same. as far as the mere events of Christ's life are concerned_ getting a total picture of them I mean, there are quicker paths to take than the liturgical one. Without mentioning filmstrips (which would be for children of school-age) there are nowadays some very helpful booklets for learning-to-read age which mother-catechists can make use of such as a set of twelve called My Own Books about Jesus, by Hilda K. F. Gull (Macmillan, Is 9d. each). Together these cover all Our Lord's life, but not exactly in consecutive order, because books 1 to 6 deal with the main mysteries of the Infancy and the Redemption, while books 7 to 12 go hack to fill in the period in between, that is the three years of Our Lord's preaching and miracles. Mother-catechists will also be grateful (if they have half-acrown or so to spend) for the latest O.L.C. series Little Books about God at e e(3hsi s6t sd ea , Brcahrnoil slifrott: Liphook, Lady's
hook, Hants). These are aimed at deaf children actually. but will be found fine for the under-fives.
The two that have appeared are simply about God: making God real and lovable to the child through the sights of daily life— you know "God made the postman" and so on; but done very well.
If attractive and illuminating books make any differenceand surely they muse—the child of today is very fortunate compared with those of severity years ago.
Word of mouth
If you're a pessimist you will say that all our beautiful picturebooks and film-strips and whatnot do not seem after all to result in any more real religion; they are necessary, but chiefly to balance the overwhelming catechisms of the world, the flesh, and the devil, on TV and mass-media generally.
All right. they're necessary, but we will agree that nothing, certainly no book, can really take the place of the word of mouth and the loving personal interest of some apostle.
And that is why such books as the ones I have mentioned can be used with tenfold force in the hands of the mother who understands that, whether she means to or not, she is actually teaching all the time.