Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bringing Little Ones to Mass... A Useless Venture?

Last week, I read a discussion about taking children to Mass, and in many ways I could see both sides of the debate that followed.  I have strong opinions on the issue when it comes to what's best for our little family, because I've witnessed a beautiful blossoming of faith in Sadie as she's grown, and as her desire for the Eucharist seems to grow every single week.  At the same time I know wonderful Catholic bloggers who wait until their children are older to take them to Mass, who raise amazing faith filled children, and I wouldn't criticize the choices they've made as children before the age of reason are not required to attend Mass and their strategy for teaching their little ones in those early years has worked very well for them.

There was, however, a side in the discussion that made me uneasy (and inspired this post).  There were posts that were adamant that it was simply wrong for children to attend Mass at a young age, particularly as babies.  There was no benefit whatsoever, they insisted, and no reason to do so.  Whatever grace a baby supposedly received was obviously imagined.

And I have to say... I adamantly disagree.  Experience has taught me that the exact opposite is true.

By the time I found out that I was pregnant with Sadie, I'd been Catholic for not quite a year and I was volunteering in our little parish's office, and attending Mass twice a week.  The prayers that surrounded us during that time were amazing.  You see, we lived in an area with a high number of retirees, and our little Church didn't have many families.  As a result, before she was born, Sadie was already the "Church Baby" loved and prayed for by many.  Those prayers were surrounded us as we stumbled through the early days of parenthood.

When she arrived it seemed natural that I'd take her to Mass with me.  While I haven't actually read any books on attachment parenting, the method of parenting I practice most closely resembles what I've heard about it, simply because it made sense to me that my newborn and later infant and toddler, would be with me all the time.  She came along with me everywhere, and spent many a morning in her sling while we were in the parish office after a weekday Mass.  People were happy to see her.  Later, when I did occasionally leave her with Nani while I ran in to Mass (when I was very pregnant with Mae) people were quite disappointed not to visit with her afterwards.

On a practical level, I did see benefits in bringing her along and teaching her that we acted a certain way in Mass, from the very beginning.  Sure I spent plenty of time in the narthex.  I've also spent plenty of time outside the front door, explaining in a serious voice to my now-toddler, that we acted a certain way at Mass, that we were there to see Jesus, and that if we had to go outside we'd be standing looking at the wall, and it wasn't going to be fun.  There was much more to see inside, particularly since we sat up in the front row where she could see everything that was going on.

Now, as a mother who's juggled two little ones at Mass, and watched as they've grown through difficult times, one thing began to become clear to me.  Little ones may not understand exactly what's going on. But still moments arrive when I find myself utterly amazed by what they do notice.  The beauty and love and mystery of what's occurring before their eyes can still touch their little hearts.  And when they're older, like Sadie is, they'll begin to piece together what's happening, with a simple faith that we as adults might well long for.

Last week at Mass I was feeling like my regular dizzy, faint self.  It was a High Mass, and I wasn't sure how long Mae would make it for.  Would she make it to the homily?  Probably.  But after that all bets were off.  Now regular readers have probably gotten a pretty good estimation of Mae's personality.  She isn't one of those quiet, compliant toddlers.  Yesterday, while I was writing my blog post, she climbed up on my kitchen counter, retrieved a five pound beg of sugar, and dumped it all over the house (all under Daddy's nose).  Then when we went outside she ran over to roll in a pile of dirt (this I could tolerate) and then threw herself into a thistle bush and then back into the dirt to roll around a bit more (the bath that followed and the sticker picking out from her hair was not enjoyable for either of us).  She's also what you would call "a runner."  If you put her down she takes off and doesn't look back, perfectly confident that someone is following he and keeping her safe.  So good behavior at Mass is not guaranteed.  And with the added length of a high Mass, all bets were off.  It could have been a very long 60+++ minutes.

Instead, for the second week in a row, she sat next to me, holding a small doll and a chaplet, until after communion, when Daddy scooped her up and held her.

The most amazing moment for me, however, at the consecration, when she looked up, smiled from ear to ear so that her entire face glowed with joy, and began to giggle and clap her hands.  Then she went back to playing with my Saint Philomena chaplet.  That moment, and the pure joy I saw reflected in her little 27 month old face, has stayed with me all week.

At home Sadie showers me with questions.  She loves hearing about Saint Michael.  She demands Saint Therese stories.  When Paul arrived home earlier in the week she announced to him that Jesus had come to earth to open the gates of heaven for us.  Sometimes she'll look at me and say: "I'm not like an angel because I have bones.  I have a body and a soul.  Angels are pure spirits.  I like having bones.  And skin."  Her constant observations and questions amaze me daily.  When we were driving through Wisconsin, seemingly out of nowhere she announced:  "I hate sin!"

And of course, there is the weekly battle before Mass about whether she's old enough to receive, and I frequently catch her with her little outstretched tongue hoping that the priest will forget that she's only four, as she kneels next to me with her little hands pressed together sweetly.

Yes, I guess for me, the value of taking our children to Mass every week is clearly apparent.  Has it been work?  Absolutely.  Have I missed many a beautiful homily and been distracted (or outside) through breathtaking faith filled moments.  Certainly.  Yet, I think, that the moments that have come in place of those moments, are just as much a precious part of my vocation. They are moments that form me, just as they form my children, for they are often the moments when patience is demanded and my  temper is stretched... They are the moment when I am humbled.. and they are the moments that blossom into something beautiful and sacred, as I watch a love for the most blessed sacrament unfold in the hearts of my little ones.

My attention has been imperfect as has theirs.  We've "missed" a lot over the course of the many masses we've attended as a family.  Still, as I watch my little ones and prepare for the baptism of another, I can't help but marvel at what has been given us over the course of these hours that at times have seemed to stretch on and on.

For our family, the question of whether or not to bring our little ones to Mass has been answered...  and I cannot imagine it any other way!

13 comments:

  1. Very timely, Cam! Matthew Archibold just posted an article on tips for taking kids to Mass... http://www.ncregister.com/blog/matthew-archbold/12-tips-for-catholic-families-at-mass

    I always love seeing children at Mass. Even when they're noisy or rambunctious, I am glad they're there. You're so right - they bring so much joy to so many people! The elderly in our parish just love seeing all the children at Mass. In light of this past weekend's Gospel reading, I can only imagine Jesus is delighted to see them there as well...

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  2. Wonderful post!

    I participated in that discussion, as we had just attended Mass at the Cathedral in Baton Rouge with my little wild-man grandson (who is given to letting loose with bloodcurdling shrieks so high-pitched they tickle your eardrums.) He was welcomed by the delightful Bishop and kind parishioners alike. (It goes without saying that my daughter whisks him outside immediately if he gets loud.)

    I think the person who objected totally to little ones at Mass and felt there was no benefit was a cranky old grump. Children are the future of the Church, and we should rejoice at each and every one.

    Marie

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  3. Nice post! I've been struggling...bringing our 5th child to Mass. I have already forgotten if the other kids were as busy as this little guy at Mass. One of us usually has to step out with him and I worry at what a distraction he is to all of us and the people around us.
    I do think it's important though to establish that Mass is just what we do as a family...from a young age.
    Thanks for sharing your post!

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  4. How timely this post is considering last weeks reading was the "let the little children come to me" one. Part of our priest's homily was that children and infants are always welcome. His talk started with the fact that he was the oldest of seven and that was good prep for being a priest as he got used to the constnt noise around him in all aspects of life! LOL
    He said that parents need to do their best to keep them quiet but if they get out of control; this is why there are speakers in the vestibule so parents can walk them and not miss the Mass. And people without children were reminded to be tolerant of them.
    I was also very timely at our parish as one mom was having a very hard time with her 3 year old and felt grateful to be made welcome anyway.

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  5. We have 5 little ones (oldest is 9) and we have always attended Mass as a family. It's hard at times with toddlers, but they learn very fast how important Mass is and how they are expected to behave. I agree 100%!!!

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  6. Not bringing your children to Mass has never been a question for our family. First off, our parish families have always been small, so there's no child care option or child homilies or anything unless it's labeled a 'Children's Mass'. Has it been a struggle, Lordy Yes! Admittedly, the first two were quiet angels. The third and fourth, well, they've been a challenge. But it's mostly the older parishioners who WANT us to keep them in the pew. Even they understand the importance of keeping the little ones in the Mass as much as possible.

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  7. Sometimes we take the littles, and sometimes my husband and I attend different Masses so that one of us can be home with the kids. With four little ones, it seems like someone always has a cold and can't attend anyway! And sometimes I just need that hour of peace and prayer to myself for my own sanity. Going to Mass on my own and not having to get four little kids fed, dressed and cleaned up and out the door is a little slice of Heaven!

    As kids, we NEVER attended Mass until we were about 8 or 9. My parents raised 5 kids (four boys, that probably informed their decision!) who are all still practicing Catholics as adults.

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  8. I totally agree with you! In fact, I feel werid when I do go to Mass without my kids (even though it is so much easier!). We have 3 rambunctious boys from 15 months to 4 years old. Now that my 15 month old is in the noisey stage, we have to go to the cry room (if it weren't for him though, my older two would usually be OK in the main church). Some Masses they surprise me with out patient and well behaved they are, other Masses are... can I say hellish? Last weekend was one of those hellish ones. And of course while I was there struggling to get through the Mass with only 3 little ones, there was a woman in the back of the cry room with SEVEN children (the younger 2 looked to be a newborn and about 15 months). And she was the only adult with them. Her kids were SO good. She was totally conposed the entire Mass and her children were angels (of course, her 15 month old was nice enough to fall asleep before the homily so she really dodged the bullet there).

    Anyways... that reminds me of a time I took my 3 little guys to Mass by myself a few months ago. When I went up for Communion, the Eucharistic minister blessed my boys and when she got to me she said with emphasis, "and God bless YOU." hehe I needed it!

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  9. We have not been blessed with children yet, but our wonderful priest welcomes families with open arms.

    There was one Mass a few weeks ago when there were a lot of crying babies and in our church, the noise is amplified.

    At the end of the Mass, Father made a point to say that hearing a crying baby in a church is a beautiful thing because quite simply, it means that children actually ARE at Mass. He went on to thank all the parents with children there as understands how difficult it is for any parents to get the children ready and to Mass by 10.30 but to be assured that what they are doing is something amazing and doing a great job and always know that the doors are open for them all. It was beautiful and it is great because we are getting families coming back week after week. :)

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  10. I will add that at my last parish; the pastor was in the process of dismantling the cry room. The reasons he gave were that kids are part of the Mass; also he didn't go into detail but it was a real zoo in there; not to mention all the bits of cheerios etc all over the floor. Kids don't learn to be quiet surrounded by other noisy kids but by being in the the mainstream group.

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  11. I have to say I'm scared to bring my 10 month old to Mass or any type of church service even Protestant.

    My father is Catholic, but for various reasons my siblings & I weren't raised apart of the church and so as everyone feels the need to point out to me " I'm not a REAL Catholic." my husband and I always attended a protestant church, but something was missing for me. Finally, I guess almost two years ago now, after many conversations with my husband I got him to understand my desire to go to Mass & look into properly converting. The best part was that my father started going to Mass with me ( I could never get hubby to come along). The local church usually starts RCI classes in the fall so I was very excited to get started in those & finally be "a real Catholic."

    But that spring before classes came around I found out I was pregnant(only with getting my husband to understand my want to join the church I also was blessed to have him agree with me about NFP) and what followed was 7 months of being in bed sick or throwing up and then a rough labor and some after labor complications once my son was born. Finally that next spring I took my son to his first Mass (Easter!) & attended my first Mass in pretty much a year.

    He's ten months old now & we haven't been back. There has been many times I've wanted to, but I got pregnant again (and have been sick for the past six months again) and being a first time mom I'm trying to get the hang of things and don't have to time for RCI classes. that may sound silly, like if I wanted it bad enough I'd make time, but seriously, maybe every other mom is just better at this whole thing than I am. lord, knows I feel like that most days.

    Idk. I hate that we can't have our son baptized in the church and now we have a daughter on the way and I feel like they have to suffer just because mommy ended up having them too soon (a ridiculous line of thought I know). We've even talked about looking into an Episcopalian ceremony because that's what my husband's family is or something else with just family because I feel sadness whenever I think about how we haven't done anything yet. But having them be in the Catholic Church is the only thing the feels "right", but also feels so unattainable.

    So all of this has lead me to feel scared about going to Mass & certainly about bring my son with me if I did. I feel like everyone stares when I don't go take communion, but I can't bring myself to take it any way (like many people have told me too)when I know I'm not part of the church.

    So sorry to have dumped my heart in a comment my first time commenting on your blog. I've been a silent reader since I first started looking into Catholicism and found your blog in a google search.

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  12. I have to admit, this issue touches a nerve for me. Not because I have ever gotten remarks for the behavior or noise level of my children at Mass, but I hear of so many others who have and it aggravates.

    The bottom line is children, as baptized members of the Catholic Church (not simply just the parish) they have just as much right to attend, experience, and participate (as much as their age allows) in the Mass as ANY OTHER baptized member of the Catholic Church. Exclamation Mark! Full Stop! There is no: "but", "if", "how", "what if". None of it.

    If a child is being extra loud and unruly in Mass they should be removed, NOT because they are being a distraction (being a distraction is irrelevant to the authenticity and validity of the Sacrament - nor is necessary for anyone in the congregation to being paying attention for the bread and wine to be changed into the body and blood of Christ - Yes, the Priest may or could be distracted by the behavior/noise, but no more so then if someone in the second pew from the first suddenly had a heart-attack and rescue personnel had to come and attend to them - and yes I've seen this happen a number of times)
    They are to be removed because at that point they are no longer able to be consoled (or disciplined) in their current environment (pew, side of nave, back of nave, wherever) and in order to console or discipline the child for behavior a change of environment is necessary.

    If my child stumbles while cruising in the pew and bumps his head he's going to let out a cry. I would be more distracting trying to get up out of the pew and walk out of the Church "to console" him, knowing full well he'll be "consoled" in about a minute, then it will be to let him cry out a couple of times while gently rubbing his head and whispering soothing words in his ear. I don't remove him because he's not distracting, I don't remove him because I CAN console him from his current environment and he will calm down faster without a big "ta da!" about it.

    Sorry, Cam, to be long winded :). This is one of those subjects that some people seem to express a negative opinion on, and it is my understanding there is no opinion, there is just a fact - all baptized members of the Catholic Church have every right to be at Mass, whether they're 1 week old or 101 years old and every age and developmental ability in between.

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