Given from the Catholic Broadcasting Station 2SM Sydney Australia
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All depends upon the manner of its observance. The modern "Mother's Day" celebration was originated by an American girl named Miss Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia, U.S.A. On one occasion, whilst placing a wreath of flowers on her mother's grave, she got the notion that people should wear a white flower on some yearly anniversary in honor of a living mother, instead of waiting to pay the tribute of putting flowers on her grave. It was a pretty sentiment, though quite detached from religious motives. In May, 1913, the United States Congress declared the second Sunday in May to be a day of national observance in America; and the idea spread to other parts of the world. Now a celebration in honor of mothers is the expression of a naturally noble sentiment, and with such a manifestation of filial piety the Catholic Church could not quarrel. Unfortunately, the selection of a Sunday, and the adoption of the idea by many Protestant Churches have invested the celebration with a non-Catholic religious atmosphere. The day has become almost a Protestant substitute for our Catholic religious Feast Days. That aspect naturally does not appeal to the Catholic Church.
I certainly do not think so. I do not agree that the celebration of "Mother's Day" is intended to serve any "base commercial ends." It is intended as an expression of a naturally noble human sentiment, and to foster that sentiment. But the celebration is not of Catholic origin, nor is it drawn from Catholic sources. The Feasts of the Catholic Church are concerned with the very highest nobility of man which results from his elevation to the supernatural order by divine grace. But those who have rejected the Catholic Church, and who have lost their supernatural ideals, find themselves confined to the infinitely lower, and merely natural plane. Finding no significance in the Feast Days, and the celebrations promoted by the beautiful liturgy of the Catholic Church, they are driven to the invention of new festivities for themselves. Having forsaken the divine for the merely human level, they celebrate what all admit to be the noble human relationship between mother and child. "Mother's Day" is a kind of humanitarian substitute for the great Christian Feasts of the Catholic Church. And many will find a significance in it who have long since ceased to find any real significance in Christmas, or Easter, or the Feasts of the Ascension of Christ and of the Assumption of our Blessed Lady.
It is not more than a coincidence. The American originators of the present "Mother's Day" were certainly not moved by the fact that Mid-Lent Sunday used to be known in England as "Mothering Sunday." They themselves would not admit that they drew their ideas from Catholic sources.
That is true. But the primary sense of the expression was not merely natural. The Epistle in question has a deep supernatural sense. St. Paul contrasts the Jewish Dispensation with the Christian Dispensation. In other words, he contrasts the Synagogue with the Catholic Church. And he shows that the Church will be a mother for far more children than the Synagogue, bringing forth those children to eternal life in Christ. In the Middle Ages Catholics so well understood this supernatural fact that the faithful used to go in procession to the Cathedral or "Mother Church" of their various dioceses, carrying gifts and offerings as tokens of love and gratitude. Surely you can see how far elevated this celebration of "Mothering Sunday'' was above the present non-Catholic celebration of a merely natural and earthly relationship.
It is true that, besides the visits to the Cathedral "Mother Church," the day was celebrated in the family circle, with the presentation of Simnel cakes in honor of the mother of the household. The English poet Herrick alludes to this custom in the well-known lines:"I'll to thee a Simnel bring'Gainst thou goest a-mothering,So that, when she blesses theeHalf that blessing thou'lt give me."But even the festive celebrations at home on Mid-Lent Sunday, when the table was adorned with the rich plum Simnel cake, was intended as an encouragement to continue the strict observance of the Lenten Fast on weekdays.
As I have pointed out, there is no connection between the two celebrations. When all Christendom was Catholic, there was a succession of beautiful festivities and celebrations of deep religious significance. And we Catholics still have a most inspiring succession of liturgical Feast Days. But non-Catholics, who have abandoned the Catholic Church and her festivities in honor of the great mysteries of the Christian religion, have to look round for other things to celebrate. And as their vision does not rise above the merely natural level, they have invented "Mother's Day" to celebrate the noblest of purely human relationships. We Catholics, however, must remember that human sentiments are not everything. And wonderful as mothers may be, still more wonderful is the story of our supernatural life of grace derived from Christ our Lord. "Mother's Day" may be all right in itself, and good as far as it goes. But as a humanitarian substitute for the beautiful festivities of supernatural significance in the Catholic Church, it can have little appeals for Catholics. As citizens, we join most heartily in the celebration of national holidays. As human beings we are prepared to do honor to all good mothers. But as Catholics our bond is one of supernatural grace with Christ, and it is not possible to find a place and significance in our religion for a purely humanitarian institution.
He certainly could not be called a hypocrite. If he wore a white flower, it would be in all sincerity as a tribute to the memory of his mother, and for no other reason. But like many other normally good things, the wearing of the white flower on "Mother's Day" has suspicious associations from the Catholic point of view. Miss Jarvis conceived that idea one day when visiting her mother's grave in order to place some flowers there. This to her seemed rather futile, and she suggested that it would be better to wear a white flower in honor of a living mother than to wait until it could be placed on her grave. The very thought carries the vague implication that we can do no more for our dead when death takes them from this world, and that, of course, is quite opposed to the Catholic outlook. By our prayers we can follow our loved ones, and still help them; and a prayer for a departed mother is of infinitely more value than the putting of flowers on her grave, even as a prayer for a living mother is far better than wearing a white flower in her honor. If the white flower is to be worn on the supposition that we can do no more for mother when she is dead than put flowers on her grave, then the Catholic Church could not but object to the practice. If, however, this implication be not in the least intended and the wearing of the white flower be a merely natural tribute to one's respect for mothers, the practice would be harmless.
There is no harm whatever in setting aside a special day in honor of mothers. It was the practice of medieval Catholics in England to do so. The only difficulty for Catholics in the modern celebration lies in the circumstances surrounding the observance today. The fact that a Sunday was chosen as an explicitly religious day, and that Protestant Churches have invested the day with additional religious significance, and that the honoring of a living mother was prompted by the thought that nothing of any practical benefit could be done for a dead mother—these things make Catholics hesitant about adopting the practice; and above all since, however their own motives may exclude such ideas, there is always a danger of their participation being misinterpreted. I think, therefore, that I have made things clear. In itself, there is no harm in the observance of "Mother's Day." But its origin and circumstances rather rob it of its appeal for Catholics.