St. Therese, Barbaric Baptism Practices, and Not Taking Your Kids to Mass


Can anyone translate for me?

Can anyone translate for me?   “Earth collected under the first coffin of the Blessed Therese of the Infant Jesus during her exhumation on the 6th of September 1910”

Thoughts on a saint I don’t get.

{Her feast day is October 1.  I’m posting this October 2 but writing it the evening of the 1st.  So there.}


St. Therese was baptized two days after her birth.  Two days!!!  What are the odds her mother was present at the baptism?  Slim to none, I’m thinking.

A lot of Catholic women I know–myself included–are drawn to the theological ideal of having your child baptized as early as possible.

At the same time, we adhere to the modern social conventions of the mother showing up at all.   And getting dressed up.  And being in a crowd (especially if several other babies are being baptised that day and/or it’s done at Sunday Mass.)   And hosting a party.  Or at least attending a party.  This all makes sense if a child is baptized at six months or a year, as is common in less-conservative religious traditions.  It makes no sense when you’re just a week or two or three out from giving birth.

A friend of mine passed out and started hemorrhaging at her baby’s baptism–only a week after the child’s birth.

This is madness.  It’s barbaric.

We traditional(ish) Catholic women (all women??) have a way of taking conflicting burdens upon ourselves.

Both my girls were baptized at two weeks.  Both times Pat’s and my sweet parents took care of all the entertaining.  And we kept it really small the second time around.  Still, I looked like crap and felt crappier.  I should have stayed in bed.

I don’t know what I’ll do next time, but I can promise you it will be different.

There’s a line early in Story of A Soul (St. Therese’s autobiography): “On Sundays Mummy stayed at home to look after me, as I was too young to go to Mass.”

I wonder if her mother was considered exempt from her Sunday obligation because she had to stay home with a young child?  (There’s a thought, eh?)  Or if her mother went to a different mass?

In my circles, there’s a lot of emphasis on taking one’s children to Mass.  A lot of frustration with those who aren’t accepting of young children in church.  And I’m 100% understanding of that.  You want people to avoid contraception, you’re going to have a lot of young children in church!  Get over it!

This is a source of tension in our parish, where the pastor is less than fully. . . sympathetic.

For one thing, when a family lives half an hour or more away from church, it just isn’t feasible for the parents to go to separate masses.  Just driving to and from the church would eat up two hours of the day.

At the same time, I felt a lot of pressure for a long that that it was an ideal to all go to Mass together as a family.  That I was taking the lazy way out if Pat and I went to different masses, leaving the girls at home.

Never mind that they were miserable and we were miserable.  They weren’t getting anything out of it, and dealing with the girls during mass was a huge source of tension between Pat and me.

I got over it a while ago.  Pat and I go separately.  We only live five minutes away from church.  The five-year-old comes with one of us about half the time; the two-year-old, almost never.  I love it.  And that little line from Story of A Soul made me feel even better.

Maybe my kid still has a chance at becoming a doctor of the Church,

even if she doesn’t go to Mass as a toddler.

I first read Story of a Soul back in high school, I think.  It didn’t sit well with me.  I couldn’t reconcile the idea of a “little way” that was supposedly so simple, with giving up your life at 15 to be a cloistered Carmelite nun.  That seemed the hardest, least appealing thing I could think of.  If that’s the “little way,” maybe I’ll take the big way.

And melodrama, oh my goodness.  St. Therese is full of that.

For instance: “I felt myself abandoned and there was no help for me on heaven or earth. . . . Nature seemed to share my misery.  The sun never shone once during those three days and the rain fell in torrents.  I have noticed that, at all the important moments of my life, nature has mirrored my soul.”

Um, it’s called seasonal affective disorder girlfriend.  It’s your soul mirroring nature, not vice versa.  Self-absorbed, much?

{Cue lighting striking me down dead for my irreverence.}

I re-read it a few months ago.  I’m better able to appreciate, now, the idea that her words can have meaning for me, even if I don’t relate to how she applied them to her life; does that make sense?

My maternal great-grandmother’s name was (is) Theresa.  (Spelled with or without an “H”?  Can’t remember.)

She was of English/Irish descent, and some ethnic tensions existed in New England between her people and the French Canadians in the 1930s or thereabouts.

My grandmother (her daughter) once asked her, “Which Saint Theresa are you named after mom?”

She replied, “. . . Not the French one!”

My maternal grandmother (“Meme“), nevertheless, developed a great devotion to the Little Flower.

She was over the moon when we picked “Teresa”  as the middle name for one of our daughters.  We talked on the phone and she told me how much the name meant to her: it’s her mother’s name, the name of a favorite saint, the name of her parish, the name of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, etc.

Come to think of it, it was one of the last cogent conversations I had with her before dementia took a stronger hold and, ultimately, she passed away.

I didn’t have the heart to point out to her our “Teresa” is without an H . . . not the French one!

Meme gave me her relic of St. Therese (pictured above).  It fell off the shelf recently, cracking the frame, when Girl 1 had one of her many wall-kicking sprees.  (Fitting, perhaps, given St. Therese’s fiesty personality as a child?)

I still don’t really “get” St. Therese.

But I’ve put her relic on the mantle, cracked frame and all.

We have a connection, she and I.

26 thoughts on “St. Therese, Barbaric Baptism Practices, and Not Taking Your Kids to Mass

  1. I can translate for you!
    collected under the first
    of the Blessed
    Therese of the Infant Jesus
    during her exhumation
    on the 6th of September 1910

  2. I love this post. I never really liked St. Therese either, growing up. I read Story of a Soul when I was in 9th grade and I totally didn’t get it and thought she was a drama queen too. But somewhere along the line, she inserted herself into my life and I guess we’re friends now. I still don’t really get her spirituality. I mean, I understand the gist of the little way, but a lot of her writings and spirituality don’t do it for me. At least not yet. Maybe I’ll grow in virtue.

    And as for baptisms right after birth, preach sister! Gus’ baptism was 6 weeks after he was born and I was freaking out the whole time leading up to it. That’s not cool. I understand the desire to have our kids baptized as soon as possible, but I think you can give yourself some time… I think God understands. I really wanted him baptized that weekend because we were traveling to New York for a wedding the next weekend, and call me superstitious, but I wanted him baptized in case something happened. Anyway, I hear ya. What I totally don’t get is the women who do baptisms right away and manage to throw a massive party and make the cake and food and clean and everything?!? I totally ordered all the food and the cake this time. No shame. I didn’t make a thing.

  3. I totally agree with not having a party for baptisms. I always stay home from mass the first 4 weeks to rest so I only leave the house for the baptism (not even going to mass the baptism day) but all 3 times I’ve stayed at the church and party way too long and felt crappy the next week which I think slows my recovery. And our church is super far away so I’m hoping I stick to my plan next time if no friends and no party. With mass, unfortunately we have to take the kids to mass (there is no way for us to go separately) so we just do the best we can but I agree 2 yr olds are not fun in church! Lastly I really want to read her autobiography now. I am super melodramatic so maybe I will relate well to her.

    • Oh and my mom and mother in law always do all the work for the baptism party – making the food, serving people, cleaning up. So even though I am 1-2 was postpartum I mostly just sit which is the nice thing about early baptisms.

  4. I’ve always disliked St Therese. Or maybe I disliked the authors of her biographies. Anyhoo. I can understand getting your kids baptised that early back in those days – didn’t her parents lose a couple of children? Still born or right after birth? I think they lost four. Could be wrong though. I can also understand it if the baby was baptised at home/in hospital, chances are they didn’t do a big thing. And to be honest I felt pretty good two days after my babies were born. All high on hormones. It’s day 3 that’s the killer. All your nerves start waking up.
    Mine were 6 weeks (my mum organised it) and 2.5 months (I organised it). I feel like 6 weeks were too early. I was too fuzzy to care about what I wore and now I cringe when I see the photos. Shapewear? Or a brush? Anyone?

  5. Love St. Therese.
    Um mine were all six weeks or older – on purpose!
    The Catechism lists that tending to children does exempt one from mass…(grabbing Catechism to get paragraph for you…) Back! Paragraph 2181 – check out the parenthesis.

      • Maybe, but I think its more of a: you know your kids, if you will be outside with three kids screaming and no where to nurse the baby (or whatever!!), then stay home. But that’s my own digesting of it. Mine are 3.5, 2 and 5 months…so I don’t stress if I can’t make it. My husband shares the homily message and the readings, if I can’t get to them while he is there. Also, I try (try) to say a decade of the rosary or at least an Our Father with the kids and talk to them about Dada visiting Jesus as our representative, etc. etc. As for us going separately, then we end up blowing the budget and eating out because I find it highly impossible after three years of trying to cook three meals and attend mass and nurse a baby all in one day. We just end up with me having an utter meltdown. Wow. Am I a basket case? 😉

  6. The Orthodox (and indeed, many other traditional cultures, and probably going back a bit, Catholics did this too) have a tradition that the baby is baptized at 40 days, which is when the mother is “churched” and received back into the community after a lying in period. When you think about it, it makes sense. You are still bleeding for the first six weeks, everything is about nursing, night wakings, birth recovery, etc. and the baby really should be kept home to protect from illness. After that is when it is safer to have a baby in public, nursing is more established, you might feel (slightly) more sane, etc. I like that the Church gives women this little gift and says, here, recover, rest, stay home from church with our blessing. We’ll see you in 40 days.

    As for attending separately, yeah, we do that too for the Vigils on Saturday nights, as we go to a parish down the street for that service, but our regular church is an hour away, so it just isn’t realistic to go to Liturgy separately. So we juggle, and endure for 2 hours every week.

  7. It took me a while to get over the fact that we just need to go to Mass separately in this season of life, too. One two-year-old is hard enough, but two who never.stop.talking? Oof. It’s rough when we try to go together, and John Paul and Cecilia are *mostly* good at this point. Andrew has been going to a later Latin Mass for the past several years anyway, so it’s thankfully really easy for us to go separately – I take the older kids to the 8:30 at our parish 3 minutes away, and maybe once or twice a month we try to hit that Mass together and then realize that it still doesn’t work. And we’ll probably keep doing it like this when the new baby’s born, just because there aren’t enough laps for the twins and a new baby!

    And early baptisms… Andrew feels REALLY strongly about getting it done as early as possible – John Paul and Cecilia were a month old I think (which was too late, in his opinion, but we couldn’t get the church to schedule them earlier), the twins were 2 weeks. And it really wasn’t bad – I think we had a lot of help for the parties afterwards, and with the twins we decided that everything is pretty much just going to be a potluck from here on out because it’s so hard to take care of everything yourself! I’m just sitting around nursing the whole time anyway, and he’s the one who does all the cleaning so it works out well enough for us, thankfully. But yeah, the pressure to do a super-early baptism AND a fancy party with decorations and custom cakes and fancy things to eat? Not happening here.

  8. Roc was 3 months old, George was 6 months old. If I’d known I could have stayed home to “tend the children” I would have. Geesh. Rob and I went separately for a few years – until Roc could sit still…I guess he was about 4 or 5 when we all got back to going together.

  9. Yeah, in retrospect traveling 6 hours less than three weeks after birth to have the baptism at my family’s parish and celebrate Thanksgiving with them was REALLY stupid. I got mastitis and ran a temp of like 102 I think. Wasn’t able to enjoy the baptism much or socialize bc I kept having to excuse myself to another room bc I was feeling like crap. Live and Learn. With #2 I thought I was taking it easy bc we weren’t traveling. Instead we had 12 people stay at our house and I planned, coordinated, and did some of the cooking for a party with 50 people. Clearly I have problems with knowing my limits.
    Also I hope the article I posted on fb yesterday about bringing kids to mass don’t offend you at all if you saw it. I am totally supportive of parents tag teaming and leaving young kids at home for mass. N and I do it prob once a month. Until recently there were weeks when Sam was being so crazy we couldn’t be in the church, vestibule or chapel, so yeah on such weeks it totally would have been better to tag team mass. My post was more directed to the popular idea at our parish that if you bring your kids they must be angelic, and that if their behavior is less than angelic that clearly no one in your family is going to get anything out of going to mass. What I really hope for is that our parish can foster a respect for other’s legitimate parenting decisions. Sorry for the rant. Really great post Laura!

    • Agh. Yeah I had a similar experience where I thought I was taking it easy the second time around, but no. Got an awful case of mastitis. Sat in bed and cried in pain two days. Lost most of my milk supply on the left side and never got it back. … And I didn’t even see your post so no worries. I don’t haVe a Facebook feed with just a blog account, at least not that I know of. 😉 I think we’re agreed on the basic principles.

  10. Not to be pushy about st Therese because i know she doesn’t appeal to everyone, but there’s a really good book called the passion of st. Therese, but guy gaucher, I think, and it is really good. It’s about her last few months dying of tuberculosis and the dark night of the soul she went through. Kind of cuts through the floweryness of her own writing style and portrays the hardcore reality of her sanctity. It definitely gave her more dimension, for me.

    Great post!

  11. Possible solution: having the reception later. Like a baptism birthday party a year later, or something. My brother got married in his wife’s hometown in Ecuador, and couldn’t reasonably expect everyone to come. A few months after, my parents hosted a reception for all the friends and family who would have come to his wedding if he’d had it in Michigan, and that seemed to work well. Or, honestly, not having a party at all. I didn’t realize baptism parties were a thing until I moved here.

  12. Ditto Juliana’s comment about the forty days thing. At our parish, you’re expected to be gone from church for a minimum of forty days, and longer if the baby is sick, complications, etc. For a party, we have majorly down-sized to a cake after church in the hall affair. (This after making the mistake with numbers 1 and 2 of inviting 150 people and barbecuing–in March.)
    As for taking little ones to church, I totally respect people who stay home with little ones. Some Sundays, I think I should’ve too. But there is a nice advantage to training them early too. I must say that since the Eastern liturgy is entirely sung by all the congregation, I get a lot more leeway with kids who are just burbling or chattering. No one can hear them anyway!

  13. I have yet to get all the way through “Story of a Soul,” I’ll admit. What I did read all the way through was a book called Maurice and Therese, which is beautiful but actually rather depressing. I think you might identify with her more if you read that one. I feel like I did. Also, it seems like she battled pretty hard with a religiosity/scrupulosity problem for most of her life–there’s a chapter in another book (I forget the title of book at the moment) that argues her “little way” was actually her own creative method of finding a way to spiritually heal herself from an emotional/psychological disorder. I thought the theory was brilliant/insightful and actually made her seem even more identifiable and heroic.

  14. About St. Terese: it seems that she was a bit more… colorful than her religious superiors thought appropriate when her works were published, so they did some editing to make it more “religious” (i.e. saccharin).

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