This past Sunday was the first time in a long time where we didn’t have to walk out of Mass. As Father began his closing blessing I looked over to my husband to express my excitement, and was met with his wide-eyed smiling face.
Yes. That was a good one.
We made it through without a single fit and no whining. It was incredible. This kind of quiet in Mass is such a rarity with two young kids…and a golden opportunity for me and my husband.
It was the first time in a long time that I could concentrate during the consecration, and it primed my heart so well that I even got choked up walking to receive Communion. In this quiet I could prepare my heart enough to savor the gift I was being given in the Eucharist, and it was amazing.
And, also, probably a fluke. As wonderful as it was, my husband and I laughed to ourselves after Mass knowing that it was probably a once in a blue moon kind of thing—enjoy it while it lasted! Next Sunday we will probably be met with the familiar cries, fidgets, and groans for Mass to be over that come from both a toddler and a baby who don’t quite fully get the magnificence of it all.
But that’s OK.
Joe and I go to Mass each Sunday because it is an obligation that our Church has given us. Canon Law says that on Sundays the faithful are obliged and bound to participate in the Mass, and that we should give particular care for reserving the day especially for worship. (Canon 1247) This law is what is called an “ecclesiastical law” (a law, given by the Church to the faithful, to those who possess the sufficient use of reason). So, in reality, our children could miss Mass if we didn’t want to bring them. It wouldn’t hurt them morally or be a sin for them if they didn’t go. Though we are tied to our moral obligation to attend Mass each Sunday, they are not.
But another, and more important reason, why Joe and I go to Mass is because it is the place where we encounter God in a special and unique way. Through the community of believers, and especially through the liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist, we are given a divine opportunity each week—rather than a mere “obligation”—to get especially close to God. It is a gift, and we go to receive.
However, in the craziness that comes from taking the kids with us, it’s easy to forget why we even go and tempting to throw our hands up in the air and give up bringing on them along. I have story after story of not-so-fun experiences with the children at Mass…
So why even take them?
We take them to Mass for the same two-fold reason that we go to Mass: the obligation, and the gift. Though they don’t have an obligation to go, as parents, we have an obligation to raise them in the faith. This is an obligation we signed up for when we baptized them as children. The family is the place where they are to gain the foundations of the faith, and there is no better way to prepare them than to immerse them in the communion of the Mass each week. Despite their distractions and clamoring for toys and snacks, there are many opportunities for our faith to become visible to them, so that when they are older and gain an understanding for the Mass, it is both familiar and familial. They are able to see mom and dad praying (or at least trying to pray), to interact with other members in Church (who overtime become familiar to them), and to gain a firsthand experience of God’s Fatherly love (a kind of love that is both patient and persistent) in our parental ability to make it through a Mass with them with patience and love–reminding them through our actions that this is where we are called to be. That this is HOME.
Even when it’s hard.
The graces that come from toting your kids to Mass each week payoff, but they do so in small ways overtime. When we walk into Mass now, sometimes I hear Eli excitedly saying, There’s my friend! As Father lifts the Host in the air I’ve heard Eli whisper, Mom why he do that? During the readings as he plays with my hair, he casually asks, Mom, what he saying? Question after question arises during mass—questions that seem so simple and easy to pass over—but each is an opportunity for him to encounter Jesus and the Church in a childlike but profound way. I whisper back, “Bud, Father is calling Jesus to be with us,” and, “That’s a ‘lector’—he’s reading God’s Word.” Sure, in the moments where the kids are crying or whining and I’m beginning to sweat it’s easy to lose sight of these little opportunities…but in the big picture, we are giving them an immense gift by going to Mass together as a family. And it starts as early as the beginning. Even Lucy, who is still so little, participates in the Mass just by being there. And with her smiles—and even her cries—her presence is a reminder to everyone else that the Church is young, active, and alive.
I urge you to take your children to Mass as a family. I know it can be difficult at times, and can be frustrating, but it is SO worth it.
Here are some tips for taking your family to Mass:
Sit near the front of the Church. I know it sounds counterproductive, but I swear to you this works. There is something about being near the front that calms the kids, more than if you sit in the back. This is not to say that you won’t have to head to the back of the Church at times, but being in the front allows them to see what is going on and gives them an awareness that they are there for a reason. Their perspective is so much shorter than ours—allowing them to see above the pews will do wonders for their behavior.
Avoid the cry room. I know some still prefer it, but the cry room can be straight out bananas most of the time. If you think it’s hard for you to pay attention in the Church, it is that much harder to pay attention in the cry room. To the kids it can make Mass seem more of a time to play, than a time to pray.
Make sure your kiddos are fed before Mass, and if necessary, bring a few quiet snacks with you. However, be smart in choosing your snacks. Hand held snacks are the best; avoid snacks that can spill all over the place and create distractions and a scene.
Bring a quiet toy. Once Eli was a little older and it became harder to keep him still and quiet, we allowed him to have one toy (more than one always proves to be too distracting) to keep him pacified. We allow him to bring a hotwheel, or a small figurine, and it has worked well.
If you don’t want to bring toys that are unrelated to the Mass, take a look at these options:
Don’t leave Church, just leave the pew. Make a habit of taking your child out of Mass when their noise/crying distracts from the Liturgy. Taking them to the back is a good way to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable, and signals to them that they are to be quiet in Church. However, don’t let them run around and play. Holding them teaches them that disruptive behavior isn’t rewarded.
Make Mass an experience for them. When they get noisy, quietly try distracting them. Ask them questions like, Where is Father? Can you find Jesus? Point to a candle! This works well, especially for children over the age of 2, and teaches them to participate in the Mass.
Don’t let other people’s concerns get you down. It is very rare, but in the case that you encounter someone who is rude or uncharitable to you because of your children’s (loud) presence, take my advice: Just don’t worry about it.
You are not there for them. Do your best to minimize your children’s distractions in Mass, but don’t allow someone to keep you from going. Brush any awful comments and disapproving glares off, and keep your eyes transfixed on the Eucharist, because HE wants you and your children to be there—and that’s all that matters.
Don’t sweat the fret. Even though it can be extremely difficult to quiet your own heart and pray during Mass when you take your kids, don’t be discouraged from taking them with you or from going to Mass. God knows your heart. He will feed you, even if you are unaware that you are being fed. That moment last Sunday in which I was able to savor the Mass was wonderful, but it was merely a fruit of the gift, not the actual gift itself. The Eucharist is fuel and nourishment for us, even if we unable to enter into the Mass fully. Our awareness is not primarily what God looks for, it is the opening of our hearts. If we come to him in the Mass with an open heart, he will fill it.
Thoughts or hesitations about taking your kids to Mass? Have any more advice to add? Comment below!