herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Camcorders, limos and helicopters - my red carpet First Communion hell

Is it time the Vatican followed UEFA's example and, in the way that Russian club CSKA Moscow was ordered to play three home European matches behind closed doors, instruct the church in Ireland to hold First Communion ceremonies in empty venues.

It wouldn't be as radical a measure as you might at first think.

Controversially, many Irish churches are virtually empty most of the week and attract even smaller attendances for mass on Sundays than most poorly-attended League of Ireland fixtures.

UEFA was forced to take action when crowd disturbances forced some games to be halted for several minutes.

Recent requests by the Dublin Archdiocese to refrain from filming or photographing during First Communion ceremonies seem to have fallen on deaf ears with selfie-fixated parents already protesting the Church is spoiling the kids' big day out.

The request follows a directive from the National Board for Safeguarding Children. The concern is that pirated photos of innocent children could end up on the dark web.

Having witnessed unruly scenes at such a gathering, I have some sympathy for the Church.

I'm assured that things have become even more hysterical since I attended a Holy Communion ceremony a few of years ago. I'd been invited to an afternoon cocktail party but, naively unaware of the protocols, I rocked up at the church for the special occasion.

If Beyonce and Jay-Z had announced a gig in the Submarine Bar I'd have found it easier to get a seat than I did that morning. The church was rammed. Expecting a solemn occasion, I was astonished by the style awards red carpet atmosphere.

Katie Price sure has a lot to answer for. The mini-stars, or aspirant communicants, arrived like Oscar hopefuls in stretch limos or wedding carriages. Afterwards, some were whisked heavenwards in helicopters to a land of bouncy castles, fun food and sugary drinks.

TAN

If I hadn't known this was a day for the sharing of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist with the young, I might have thought it was a wedding fair or the launch of a new spray-tan for mums.

Some parents understood that this was an important moment in their child's spiritual life. An initiation, through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, into the community of Christian faith.

But gently-worded requests to leave the limos at home because of "demand on parking spaces" went unheeded and the ceremony began to resemble a gaggle of paparazzi flocking after Niall Horan, George Clooney and Bressie.

Egged on by their over-zealous other half, fathers or partners (and it was mostly men who wielded the cameras) clambered into position to shoot good face time.

It was dispiriting to watch a meaningful religious rite being downgraded to the status of a photo op for a young lad in his new runners or a little girl dressed like Kim Kardashian in bridal wear as a ruck of camcorders, iPads and smart phones threatened to engulf the parish priest.

I was struck by the recent protest of one young mother who complained about the camera ban, explaining that it has become family tradition to grab a shot after baptism of the latest baby posed on the altar.

I thought an altar was a sacred space and not simply a stage prop.

The Church might have to engage in some lateral thinking if it's to successfully defeat the happy-snappy menace, which is sure to escalate with the sale of selfie sticks. But just wait for the compo claims when someone gets poked in the eye.

For those à la carte Catholics intent on turning a holy event into something resembling an X Factor heat, the Church could perhaps consider introducing a musical theme to the day with, say, the Singing Priest from Oldcastle warbling like Elvis being paddled up-stream in Blue Hawaii, "This is the moment…". The parents would pay handsomely for a DVD of their little Bertie or Chardonnay in the Irish equivalent of the Las Vegas Wedding Chapel.

But it might be more effective just to ban the parents from attending these ceremonies altogether. The pushy camera buffs should be warned they're now on a yellow card.

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