Sunday mornings can be tough for parents. Getting the kids up and ready for Mass is always a challenge, but then the real adventure begins.
Before you can actually leave for mass you have to remember to pack everything you’re going to need to make it through the morning – books, toys, snacks, and anything else you can possibly think of to keep your two-year-old occupied during mass, or at least long enough so that you can maybe at least listen to the homily.
You rush out the door, already late, kids in tow, and you barely make it into the pew before the procession begins. As you take a breath, the only prayer you have is that somehow your children will behave during Mass.
Just as you finish that prayer, your two-year-old somehow manages to pry the lid off the snack cup. Cheerios fly everywhere. Then as you’re scrambling to pick up the mess your toddler decides to throw her sippy cup. As if things couldn’t get worse, she then starts whining – rather loudly – for the cup she just threw. You try to calm her down but her whining gets louder. You immediately realize you have only one alternative – head to the back and leave your spouse to take care of the other children and clean up the mess.
As you quickly head out, you anxiously glance around hoping to catch an encouraging smile, or, at the very least, see people pretending to not pay attention. But then you spot the couple pursing their lips, rolling their eyes, and looking at you with annoyance, as if you have no right to bring your children to Mass. It’s a look that’s not only hurtful and frustrating, but also angering.
An All Too Familiar Play
This is a one act play that many parents are all too familiar with when it comes to attending Mass. From the first time they bring their newborn to Mass up to around grade-school age, parents seemingly spending the entire mass giving their attention to their children instead of in prayer.
I know this play all too well as I have a 16-month-old who would rather climb on the pews, throw her books and sippy cup, and make a commotion no matter how hard my husband and I try to occupy her during Mass. It feels as though we haven’t attended Mass in over a year because of the constant distraction.
We hope and pray for encouragement and understanding from the congregation, but there always seems to be a small minority of apparently annoyed parishioners that make us feel unwelcome and question why we even bother coming to Mass.
Something I remind myself of constantly, and which I hope will serve as a reminder to all other parents out there, is: Despair not, and do not let anger or frustration into your hearts because Christ wants you and your children with Him.
“Let the children come to Me”
“Then they brought children to him, so that he might lay his hands on them in prayer; and his disciples rebuked them for it. But Jesus said, Let the children be, do not keep them back from me; the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt 19:13-15 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation).
A priest-friend gave my husband and me that passage when the conversation about children at Mass came up. My husband had asked the priest what he thought of disruptions from children – if he ever noticed the noise.
“Sometimes I notice,” he said. “But all I think is how blessed we are to have life in our church. I’d rather have the children there being disruptive then have whole families not there at all.”
His answer forever changed my outlook on children at Mass. Up until that moment, I was one of those people who got annoyed at disruptive children, even placing blame on and judging the parents. At Mass, when we were supposed to wish peace upon our brothers and sisters in Christ, I wished they would leave so that I didn’t have to suffer through their screaming children.
But, when our priest gave us that passage, I was greatly (not to mention thankfully) enlightened. Now that I’m experiencing what I used to judge so many parents on in the past, I have to smirk as I realize that what goes around comes around.
Children Belong at Mass
Even now it makes me cringe to remember how annoyed I used to get by distracting children and how I used to judge parents based on how their children acted – as if they had no right or place to be at Mass. However, I’ve come to realize that the Church was not made for single people, or childless people, or adults; nor was made it made for families. It was made for the salvation of all – single and married, parents and the childless, children and adults.
The Church encourages family life through the work of the clergy, but that doesn’t mean it ends with them. The laity is supposed to encourage family life within the Church as well. Part of this encouragement means active participation by all baptized in the liturgy. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Sacrosanctum Concilium:
“14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
“In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit;”
It’s Not About Me Or You
The Sacred Liturgy isn’t about me, nor is it about you. It’s so easy to fall into this selfish and prideful way of thinking about Mass. How often have you found yourself annoyed by the person constantly coughing behind you; or getting caught up being critical of the music thinking it’s not sacred enough or, heaven forbid, not entertaining or inviting enough.
Of course, distractions are normal – coughing neighbors, antsy toddlers, and even music can be distractions. However, it becomes selfish and even prideful when your attention turns to these distractions instead of being centered on Christ.
Mass isn’t just for me or you. Mass is for the faithful as a whole, including the family with the antsy toddler. We (parents and non-parents alike) should always remember four things when children become too distracting:
1. Parents have a role and responsibility to educate their children in the faith in their earliest years (Catechism, 2226). This means participation in Mass.
2. Be charitable in your thoughts. Parents might be doing everything they can to keep their children from being a distraction.
3. Children are a blessing. I want to emphasize what my priest-friend had told my husband and me that day. Being part of the communion of faithful means following the Church in Her teachings, including being pro-life; and that doesn’t just stop at birth. Pro-life means the encouragement of life from conception to natural death, including life within the Church. This means encouragement of children at Mass.
4. Each one of us has a right and duty to actively participate in the Mass from the time we’re baptized, which means attendance at Mass as children.
A Distraction-free Mass Would Be Nice, But . . .
While we might all wish for a distraction-free Mass, we must remember the reason we’re at Mass – to take part in the Communion, to focus on the Real Presence of Christ in our midst. Just as we are called individually to partake in the Lord’s Supper, so too are we called as one body:
“Just so we, though many in number, form one body in Christ and each acts as the counterpart of another. The spiritual gifts we have differ, according to the special grace which has been assigned to each. Each must perform his own task well; giving alms with generosity, exercising authority with anxious care, or doing works of mercy smilingly.
“Your love must be a sincere love . . . Be affectionate towards each other . . . I would see you unwearied in activity, aglow with the Spirit, waiting like slaves upon the Lord; buoyed up by hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer; providing generously for the needs of the saints, giving the stranger a loving welcome.” (Rom 12:4-14 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation).