Triduum With Littles: A Mommy Processes The Heart Of Holy Thursday

Pope Francis waves to crowds

Pope Francis waves to crowds (Photo credit: Christus Vincit)

Triduum with young children is not a blissful devotional experience. But we do it anyway, because it’s important.

Michael is a wiggleworm during church at all times, but at bedtime, after immunization shots, it increases exponentially. I kept having to take him to the back so he could run back and forth, put his arms up to be picked up only to squirm back to the floor (rinse & repeat). Then he grabbed my face between his hands and started playing Eskimo kiss. It was less charming than it sounds, considering his version involves crashing foreheads and a runny nose.

But somewhere amid toddler wrestling and trying to show the 6- and 4- year-olds what’s so special about this particular day and why we go to Mass at night, something occurred to me that had I had never processed before:

Jesus washed Judas’ feet.

Now that has some pretty profound implications. And it seems to underscore the point about humility that our new Pope keeps making. Francis is rocking the whole world. No limo? No papal palace? You can hardly catch your breath between stories. I can’t help thinking this man knows exactly what the Spirit is calling him to do with his pontificate, and that is to wake up a Church that’s been so myopically focused on liturgy wars and the blame game (re sex scandals) that we’ve let ourselves ignore the call to live the Gospel, which is the reason we exist in the first place.

And that brings me back to the washing of the feet. Because Pope Francis did something really big yesterday. He washed the feet of girls.

Now, if you’re not Catholic or if you are not passionate about matters liturgical, you might shrug and say, “So what?” Certainly that was me until a few years ago, when I discovered that this is, indeed, a hot-button liturgical issue. Some insist that only men may have their feet washed, because the Apostles were men. So for the Pope to go to a prison and wash feet of both sexes is a big deal.

Maybe he’s making a larger statement about gender roles, maybe not. To me Pope Francis’ actions keep reiterating, gently and yet firmly, that the things we’re spending so much time and emotional energy on, things that cause so much division and bad feelings, really are incidental. That if we’d spend more time on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy we’d probably stop bickering about whether Tridentine or Novus Ordo is better, or whether organ music is a funeral dirge or guitar music is sacrilegious.

I’m going to get myself in so much trouble with this post. But there comes a moment amid wrestling babies and trying to pass the faith to small people–for whom the faith has to be distilled to its core essence–it’s hard not to confront how petty our biggest internal arguments really are. On both sides.

After the Lord’s Prayer, Christian took Michael to the back of church. We didn’t see them again until after Mass. In the midst of trying to keep Alex focused and negotiate a truce between Nicholas, who was putting his legs on top of Julianna, and Julianna, who wanted to pull her skirt up and show everyone her purple My Little Pony underwear and receive her First Communion two years early…amid all that, I didn’t have any attention to spare for Christian and Michael’s Holy Thursday moment. Apparently, Michael self-destructed at being ripped from his beloved Mommy’s arms (Christian says I’m like chocolate to Michael 🙂 ). He fussed and cried all the way through the Sign of Peace, the Lamb of God, and Communion as Christian went up the main aisle to receive. He had his head down on Christian’s shoulder and just kept crying. Until the deacon made the cross blessing over him…and he stopped crying instantly. That was it. It was the end of the drama. “You know,” Christian said, “every once in a while you just need one of those reminders that this is all real.” I’m not sure, but I think my non-demonstrative husband might actually have choked up telling that story.

So yes, Triduum with small children is, ahem, less than choice soul food. But it also strips away the non-essentials. And perhaps that’s what I most need right now, anyway.

13 thoughts on “Triduum With Littles: A Mommy Processes The Heart Of Holy Thursday

  1. Yes ~ to the young kids struggles and finding the moments of gold; and enough to all of the liturgical fighting.

    LOL ~ yes the rubrics say men only unless given pastoral permission, he is the pope, I think that means he had pastoral permission.

  2. Andrea

    I just wish that people would not give me dirty looks when my children are less than angelic during Mass. I wish they would pause and think, “wow, it would be easier for her to stay home than wrestle the kids by herself at church. Good for her for coming anyway.” A
    Twice I have had strangers pick up my toddler and give me blessed respite, during which I try to focus on helping my first grader understand what’s happening. But mostly I just shush and try not to meet anyone’s eyes for fear of disapproving looks. I actually heard an elderly lady complaining about having to share the church with the school kids during weekday Mass. This is my reality. 😦

    • When that happened to us in So. Illinois I wrote a strongly-worded letter to the pastor, careful not to blame him but to ask him to use his influence to guide his flock. He wrote me back a letter telling me why I was wrong. Thankfully, he’s been moved from that parish and the new pastor there is wonderful. Our church is full of noise all the time and although I know some have gotten dirty looks it doesn’t happen often.

      • Andrea

        Well, our pastor has already put a two-week series in the bulletin about church etiquette. He would be telling me I was wrong, too.

      • It is time for a letter, then–one that says exactly what you said in your comment, and adds, “If we are a Church that expects to have a future, we have to include children in it.” And if you want, you can add this quote, which is all me:

        I sympathize with the desire for a distraction-free environment to worship in. But children are the future. And children are children. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” and I highly doubt that he added, “As long as they are quiet and don’t bother anybody.” If we make kids—not to mention their parents—feel unwelcome, we are sabotaging the future of the church.

        (That’s from this post:

  3. Reblogged this on Lioness and commented:
    Pope Francis washes the feet of God’s wayward children, boys and girls. Mommies and daddy’s wipe noses and evangelize just by being present in the midst of community.

    • Colleen

      I am an empty nester and I still love seeing children at Mass. I sat near a family of 5 on Good Friday and the baby was cooing and gooing all through the service. I loved it.

      Great post. I agree with you about the petty arguments. They have been driving me crazy for a long time. Pope Francis is showing us by his actions how we should be. Praise God!

  4. Colleen

    I am having a terrible time with replying lately! Sorry about that but I replied in the wrong place. However, I do love Lioness’ (Joann) comment.

  5. Christy Reedy

    I’ve been asked not to sit in a particular section of the church, here in Columbia, because it’s apparently reserved for older people (despite the large number of young families who sit there because it’s near the exit so they can leave if they need to) and they can’t hear over my toddler’s occasional, non-whisper-voice comments. It’s hard to feel unwelcome in your hometown parish.

    Also, just as a note, I’m not sure the McDonald’s night shift story is true. The link is to a site that seems to be a Catholic version of The Onion. One of their more recent posts claims that, after attending the Inauguration Mass, Joe Biden had a long talk with Obama about how his views on abortion had changed and then subsequently resigned.

    • Ha! You know, my husband asked the same question. I only skimmed the headlines that day, mea culpa! I have edited it out. That’ll teach me, n’est-ce pas?

  6. This year was the first Easter vigil mass my three boys, ages 12, 10 and 8, behaved themselves the entire time. Which is something because they can’t manage that every week, even. The candle had much to do with their attention being occupied.

    I read somewhere that the foot washing of the Apostles on Holy Thursday was like a preparation for priestly ordination. I don’t know how valid that thought is especially as you point out that Judas was among them. (Hence the expression “a Judas priest?”)

    But if that’s the case – if it’s related to ordination – and if the Church desires to re-enact this Last Supper scene, not only would the participants have to be male, but also unmarried. Instead, the reality is that the participants ARE OFTEN married AND EVEN already ordained, as I’ve seen priests and deacons receive a foot washing.

    • Yes, the argument about preparation for priestly ordination is familiar to me. I think the trouble we have is that there are two different things to commemorate or celebrate in the Holy Thursday liturgy–one is the institution of the priesthood, and the other is simply the universal call all Christians have to serve each other (and the world). Is there a formal teaching from the Church about which one of those the washing of the feet is meant to connect with? I don’t know the answer to that, but my gut tells me that we shouldn’t narrow the focus to a priests-only mentality, because the entire Church is present, and the entire Church is called to serve. I guess is what I’m getting at is that there are more people present than just the ordained, and to make it an exclusive club leaves the impression, right or wrong, that this has nothing to do with the rest of us.

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