Kids playing Mass and burying a 60 year priest

We had the funeral Mass and burial of Fr. Leo Dolan today. Fr. Dolan had been a priest for 60 years, for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His last few years involved not a little physical suffering. Fr. Dolan was one of those stalwarts who survived the crazy years with his faithful and fidelity intact. He was also, among other things, deeply dedicated to the beatification cause of Matt Talbot. As a matter of fact, he unearthed the only surviving photo.

During the luncheon, on a table of photos of Fr. Dolan, I saw these two, which I captured with my phone:


They made me think of earlier photos, and a recent video I posted here, of children playing “Mass”.


You never know what you may be fostering when your boy wants to play “Mass”.

Pray for an increase of vocations to the Holy Priesthood.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Mail from priests, Our Catholic Identity, Priests and Priesthood and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Liz says:

    Neat pictures! How wonderful they are! I love how creative my boys are when they play mass. (I mean what they use for different parts of the mass or vestments etc.)

    I prayed for Fr. Dolan soul if he needs it and even TO him for courage for a phone call I had to make.

  2. Tim Ferguson says:

    Fr. Dolan was always an inspiration to me during the time I was in the college seminary in St. Paul. Good, holy, orthodox and invariably cheerful. Even when going through difficult times himself, he always had time for a chat with seminarians either on campus or, after he was named pastor of St. John, at the rectory. By some, he was given the nickname “Q,” because he seemed to be the quintessential parish priest.

    His mother was one of the foodservers in the priests’ cafeteria at the college, and would daily attend noon Mass at the college. When the priest celebrant would “open up” the prayers of the faithful for people to shout out their own intentions Mrs. Dolan would always say, “For my son…. the priest…. let us pray to the Lord.” I have been praying for the repose of his soul since learning of his death, and can’t help but smile thinking of all the prayers that have already gone before the throne of God because of his lovely mother.

  3. Centristian says:

    When I was in the seminary, an SSPX brother once showed me an old picture of himself as a boy playing “Cardinal Spellman”. I nearly collapsed in hysterics when I saw it. For his costume he used a red altar boy cassock, a lacey surplice, and using orange parachute material and white terry cloth, he crafted a very convincing “scarlet” cappa magna with an “ermine” cape. He also made a biretta and a zuchetto out of the parachute material. I have yet to see anything that approaches it as far as “play priest” costumes go.

  4. GregH says:

    Did Father Dolan know Monsignor Schuler? [Sure!]

  5. Bea says:

    Brings to mind when my kids were young
    The piano bench was the “altar”
    potato chips the “hosts”
    a nut/candy dish shaped with a stem their “chalice”
    and coca-cola the “wine”

    I don’t know if the “playing” is what lured the siblings to the “altar”
    or if it was the treat of potato chips and coca-cola
    In any case they were willing “active participants” of the “laity”

  6. AnnAsher says:

    Yes children playing Mass is only a problem when you’re two year old daughter carefully raises a cracker and says “body Christ”. We were amazed, amused and confused. Then the boys did it too. It always begins around age two. It is the same time that their lips begin to quiver and their eyes look longly as they can not receive Our Lord at Mass.

  7. Mary Jane says:

    My younger brother used to play “confession”. He was probably 8 or so. He constructed a “confessional” out of a couple towers of books and other household items, and my little sister (I’m guessing she was 3 or 4 at the time) put a veil on and made her “confession” to him (while he cupped his hand around his ear – too cute).

  8. kallman says:

    I thought it was considered sacrilegious to pretend to say Mass and in particular to pretend to consecrate food matter and that children (and adults) should not be allowed to do so?

  9. PostCatholic says:

    My condolences on the passing of your friend. May he live long in memory.

  10. Centristian says:

    “I thought it was considered sacrilegious to pretend to say Mass and in particular to pretend to consecrate food matter and that children (and adults) should not be allowed to do so?”

    No, of course it isn’t. Many priests, evidently, got their start this way. I once read a biography of Pope Benedict XV that recounted how he frequently played mass as a boy with an added twist: he delivered a sermon. His family’s gardener recalled that young Giacomo Della Chiesa would emerge onto the balcony (portent of things to come) to preach to him during his play Mass. According to the gardener, “some of them were pretty good”.

    This late friend of Father Z’s wasn’t the only Father Dolan to play Mass, either. Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s brother recently revealed in an interview on EWTN that young “Tim” Dolan played Mass all the time when they were growing up, and that attendance at “Tim’s Mass” was cumpulsory.

  11. contrarian says:

    Really interesting! R.I.P.

    I hope you realize, though, that the ambiguous syntax of the blog post title gave me quite a shock when I opened up your website…

  12. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Another commenter asked: “I thought it was considered sacrilegious to pretend to say Mass and in particular to pretend to consecrate food matter and that children (and adults) should not be allowed to do so?”

    One of the ways that children learn how to become the adults we want them to become, is by planning and executing these kinds of role playing games. If you spend time around children, you will observe them very naturally and spontaneously playing adult role games: “Mommy and Daddy”, “cops and robbers”, “Mommy and baby”, “army guys (war games)”; “tea party” or “cocktail party”. It is noteworthy that while “playing” at these adult role games, the children are often as sober, focussed, and intent on what they are doing as they can possibly be, so much so, that the adult observers will find themselves drawn into the childrens’ very serious frame of mind. I think that as Shakespeare put it, “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” and that children have a built-in understanding that this is so, and also that to become men and women who fit in smoothly and function well when the time comes, it is necessary to have rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed, for many years beforehand, to master the eye-hand coordination, the timing, the facial expressions, the tones of voice, the body language, the ability to sense what others around one are doing or are about to do, and to react appropriately; to remember where one is in a series of predetermined actions and words (script), without getting lost or muddled, and lots more: these are a series of incredibly complex and sophisticated tasks, and all interconnected. My supposition is that young children the world over are “hard-wired” to practice, to rehearse, in this way, and that they have been doing it from time immemorial.

    It is possible to distinguish therefore among the different stages of development pertaining to the various persons who may “pretend to say Mass,” and also various intentions in their doing so. Is the person pretending to say Mass a young child who is simply and naturally doing his *job*, that is, practicing becoming the adult he hopes one day to become? And with perhaps a little adult coaching, he may be kept in a reverent direction as he pretend to say Mass? Or is the person “pretending to say Mass” perhaps an older person with a (God forbid) irreverent intent? The age and intent of the one pretending makes all the difference.

  13. irishgirl says:

    @ Centristian: oh my goodness, that was funny reading about the SSPX brother and his playing ‘Cardinal Spellman’! I would have loved to have seen the picture!
    May the soul of your friend Father Dolan rest in peace, Father Z.
    That’s pretty cool, his finding of the only surviving photo of Venerable Matt Talbot! I’ve seen it in two books I have: “Modern Saints, Their Lives And Faces’ (I think it’s in Volume One) by Ann Ball, and ‘Secular Saints’ by Joan Carroll Cruz. Both books published by TAN.

  14. everett says:

    Simulating a sacrament (that is, saying mass with the intention/belief of actually doing what mass actually does) is very, very bad. Children playing mass with the understanding that what they are doing is not the same actual thing as mass can be wonderful.

    On a similar note to the above stories, after our Bishop came for confirmation last Sunday, we had this occur (N being our 4 year old, A being our 1.5 year old):

    N, while pretending to be a Bishop (using a crosier made of Trio blocks):
    “A Bishop carries a stick, a Deacon carries a big red book, and a Priest carries nothing.”

    “A, let’s play mass. You can listen to me read the Gospel.”
    within minutes: “I’m going to poke you!” (with his Trio crosier)

  15. ReginaMarie says:

    AnnAsher: Our 3 1/2 year old, who regularly receives the Eucharist at the Divine Liturgy, occasionally sheds very big tears over the fact that he is sometimes unable to receive Holy Communion at Mass when it is a different parish than our own & when we have not had the opportunity to speak with the priest beforehand to let him know that we are Eastern (Byzantine) Catholics.

    everett: “A Bishop carries a stick, a Deacon carries a big red book, and a Priest carries nothing.”
    That is hilarious!

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Simulation, as a technical canon law term, is not the same as the normal English word “simulation”. Simulation in canon law means that someone who has the power to administer a sacrament purposely doesn’t do so, while attempting to trick the recipient that he has done so; or occasionally, that someone who doesn’t have the power purposely attempts to do so, without informing others that he doesn’t have the power.

    So if Fr. Badguy decides that he’s going to trick someone by pretending to baptize their child, but he really just says nonsense words without any intention, he’s simulating the Sacrament. Or if Fr. Badguy’s twin brother, Mr. Laic Badguy, murders him, pretends to be him, and proceeds to pretend to take his place at Mass and everything else, he’s simulating a lot of Sacraments.

    Kids do not simulate a sacrament. They play make-believe.

  17. Bea says:

    me, too, contrarian

    I hope you realize, though, that the ambiguous syntax of the blog post title gave me quite a shock when I opened up your website…

    I immediately got a ghoulish vision of the kids burying a priest

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Adults are allowed to play make believe, also. For example, an adult layman may certainly play Mass with his kids, or enact the role of a priest in a play, or assist altar servers in learning their part by acting out the priest’s words and actions.

    Having an intention to be blasphemous, sacrilegious, etc. can make practically any act blasphemous or sacrilegious. And yet we don’t have a lot of people worrying about parents driving blasphemously and sacrilegiously, which probably happens a lot more often (especially in heavy traffic parishes).

    That said, some Catholic cultures haven’t believed in having priests or other holy persons portrayed on stage. This kind of horror of making light of sacred things seems to be being transferred to kids’ make believe games by some posters, but that isn’t how those cultures historically saw it at all. It’s a bit harsh to be more strict with your kids than the strictest grandees of Spain. (St. Teresa of Avila and her brother famously played missionary martyrs and child Crusaders, with her brother as priest.)

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Not posters in this thread. In a previous thread. Sorry.

    Anyway… “simulation” always involves active trickery of some sort, not just pretending.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    We use to bury dead cats, ground squirrels, squirrels, in shoe boxes, etc. singing the beginning of the Requiem Mass. No one minded, and the Protestant neighbors probably thought we were making up words…

    Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.
    Et lux perpetua luceat eis.
    Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
    Et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem
    Exaudi orationem meam
    Ad te omnis caro veniet.

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    There is nothing unwholesome or circumspect about children “playing mass” at all, even though it can look a bit odd to adults. Children use play to discover the meanings of things, and how things work. Play is really work for children.

    I would expect that there are a smallish proportion of Catholic children who want to play nun or sister, monk or friar too. And you may have more than a few tiny potential lay missionaries lurking around out there too. ;)

Comments are closed.