Our priests tell you they’d rather have your family’s madness than not have you at all
Diaper bag, check. Bottle, check. Books for your children, check. Children are fed, check. Everyone has used the bathroom, check. Newborn’s nap will occur right when Mass starts, check. As you drive to Mass, you are feeling pretty confident you will finally be able to be present at Mass, actually listen to the homily, pray deeply during the consecration, your children won’t disturb others, and nothing will get out of control. You even asked the saints to pray for your family so Mass isn’t crazy like last week.
Then, the first reading comes and one child starts whining. You manage to put that fire out. Then, during the second reading, shoes are off, and they are somehow two pews in front of you. You start to feel the looks. Then, the Gospel comes and one child takes something away from their sibling and that child cries like their hand was cut off. The fire returns and you’re feeling the heat. Then, the homily comes, and one child is banging books on the pew. The looks become stares. Then, during the collection, a child has a dirty diaper and you are thinking, “Didn’t you just go before we left for Mass?” The fire is growing. Then, just before the consecration, your infant wakes up screaming, inconsolable. The bottle doesn’t sooth him. Bouncing him doesn’t sooth him. You have reached your breaking point. The fire has become uncontrollable. You feel like the entire church is eyeing you down. You think the priest is annoyed. Mortified, you high tail it back to the vestibule, for the second time, wondering, why do I even bother bringing my children to Mass? Is it even worth it? Why disturb others?
“I enjoy having kids at Mass, and some are quite boisterous, but the presence and activity of children is life — life in the church, the future of the church,” said Father Rodney Schwartz, pastor of St. Patrick in Pana and Sacred Heart in Oconee. “To have everything sterile and quiet, like a funeral, may be easier to say Mass, but it isn’t exciting or life giving. Plus, sometimes some of the actions and comments by the younger ones add enjoyment to family and parishioners around him/her. And, the insight into faith is amazing and more on point than my sermons.”
“If it is important to the family, then the child has to understand that it is important for that child to be there with mom and dad,” said Msgr. Leo Enlow, pastor of The Church of St. Peter in Quincy. “As far as the commotion, I usually tell parents I can speak a lot louder than the child. But if the child becomes too much of a distraction to the congregation, then it’s time to move the child to the cry room. But most of the time, parishioners are usually sympathetic as they have been there and done that in their lives. The only thing that I caution parents is when they remove the child for some type of behavior and then find them in the narthex of the church, letting the child do whatever he or she wants, then it’s apparent that the winner of this encounter was the child. And that child will continue to manipulate the parents with such a behavior when the results are that they can do whatever they want.”
“Small children are not designed to sit still and be silent for an hour at a time; many adults don’t seem to be, either,” said Father Daren Zehnle, pastor of St. Augustine in Ashland and St. Peter in Petersburg. “Children will fuss, babble, move around, and hit the pews; it’s what they do. It never bothers me when children do what children do. Sometimes they are antsy because they want to move around; there is nothing wrong with taking the child to the back of the church and pacing back and forth. Sometimes children will ask questions about what they see or hear in church; it’s perfectly fine to answer them. If someone gives you an irritated glance because your child is doing what children do, ask if they’d like to help.”
Ultimately, priests encourage parents to bring the entire family to Mass because everyone is part of the Catholic Church, we are all brothers and sisters, and no matter the distractions, they have a right to worship with everyone else. So, do the best you can, manage your troops as you’re able, but keep bringing them to Mass, because it is of the essence for their future.
“I am inspired to see parents with their small children present as it makes a valuable statement to the child as to the importance of what they do on Sundays,” said Msgr. Enlow. “Even though a child can be a distraction, sometimes I encourage parents to sit up front when they are. Oftentimes, they can’t see sitting in the back behind all the adults. They want to see what is going on and by sitting in the front, they pay closer attention. Yes, it opens it up to being disruptive, but I find that if I talk with the kids before Mass, sitting in the front, they are less disruptive. Jesus says, ‘Let the little children come to me, for such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’ The more the children become familiar, the less disruptive they are. So, let them come.”
“Being with the community gathered at the altar of the Lord also helps them slowly take in what the Catholic faith is about,” said Father Zehnle. “They see the images of Jesus and the saints; they hear the bells calling for our attention; they see the incense carrying our prayers to God; they see people pray with their bodies and hear them pray with their voices. All of this is necessary and helps form them in the faith.”
As for the rest of the faithful, priests say to remain patient, offer a lending hand to a parent who may need the help, offer words of encouragement, and even thank the parents for bringing their children to Mass. Your words and actions could make a big impact in parents bringing their children back to Mass and their future participation in our faith.