Even if it seems complicated, attending Mass when you have young ones can be done!
It’s a great witness for a family, whatever the ages of the children, to come together at Mass. It’s a way of showing that the Lord is at the heart of the family and that the parish is a family of families. But this visible sign of our communion with the Lord isn’t always easy to pull off. Everyone is a gift of God for others within the Christian community, and if children have to accommodate adults, adults must also accommodate children. Wasn’t that Jesus’ message when he said to his apostles: “Let the children come to me” (Mk 10:14)?
Aren’t we all children before the Lord?
As a priest, I really like it when there are children at Mass. I’m not shocked if they prance around singing — on the contrary. One day, in a large church after Communion, when I sat down on the presider’s bench, a little girl calmly walked half the length of the nave and devoutly came and sat down next to me. It made me think, “are we not all children before the Lord?”
Nailing little children to their seats and imposing strict silence is rarely the best method to ensure calm. Obviously, this implies a bit of indulgence on the part of the other parishioners. It saddens me when young couples tell me of the scowls or irritated sighs they receive if one of their children gets fidgety.
But there’s a balance to be had. Some little ones can be particularly hard to manage and in this case, parents shouldn’t insist on quiet behavior; otherwise, every instant of the Mass turns into an effort to keep your children occupied, making it impossible for you (and everyone else) to concentrate on the Lord. And tensions can rise on every side until a parent is forced to cross the church with a screaming child in his arms.
Great creative and remember … “this too shall pass”
I sense the worry of the parents who ask: “Is it bad to keep them away from Mass?” Certainly, our Sunday meeting with the Lord who gathers and feeds His people is very important. But it’s only obligatory for those of the age of reason, which is considered to be 7 years old. If your child is in a disruptive phase, don’t worry about bringing them to Mass until they can be better reasoned with.
In some parishes, there are Liturgies of the Word for children, where younger kids are dismissed before the readings to have their own time, led by catechists. Some parishes provide nurseries with assigned parish staff and in others, parents themselves organize groups for little ones in a separate room or in the sacristy, taking turns alternating Sundays and offering each other mutual support. Of course, there are also “family rooms” sometimes known as “cry rooms,” that can accommodate a crying or disruptive child. All of these can be good alternatives if sitting in the pew together isn’t working.
Father Alain Bandelier