For married Catholics, such as myself, seeking to live the Christian life, staying true to the teachings on sexuality and the family, our experience of the Mass expresses some tension between the Church’s teaching and her lived witness. On one hand, the Church proclaims the good of children and large families and wisely counsels the faithful to eschew contraception. On the other hand, the environment of Mass, the principal sacrament recalling Christ’s death and resurrection, is often quite hostile to children and their age-appropriate behavior.
Of course I affirm the reverence due to the Real Presence of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet at the same time, expecting toddlers and babies to remain silent and immobile for an hour is a tall order. As a result, eager-to-please parents rush out down the aisles with their upset little ones or hide in the cry room. In the case of my family, we believe that our children should be able to benefit from experiencing the Mass and learning to revere it, so we bring the kids. However, the practical result has been that either my husband or myself remain outside the nave for main duration of the Mass and that my two-year-old son squeals this protest: “Don’t like Church!” This is a problem, and I don’t think our family is alone.
The Church affirms children, but in practicality, children and their typical behavior are actually rather unwelcome in both the setting of the Mass and the attitudes of many attendees. How many times have I heard the complaints of single or older people who sigh that the sounds of my babies interrupt their prayer and solitude with God. Now, I want my brothers and sisters in Christ to be able to pray reverently, but I also want to be able to pray reverently and I want my children to learn to pray reverently too. Children learn by watching and repeating. If they don’t see us attending Mass, they won’t want to attend Mass.
I would like to see child-friendly Masses instituted in every parish at least once every Sunday because the other working solutions to this conundrum are inadequate.
- Nurseries are inadequate. While they allow the parents to attend Mass without hiring a babysitter, then the children do not benefit from approaching the Real Presence of Christ nor do they receive the opportunity of seeing their parents model Christian practice at this most holy sacrament.
- Parents taking turns at Mass is inadequate. The idea that one parent watches the kids at home while the other attends Mass then swap has the same problem as the nurseries–the children do not absorb the spiritual benefits of Mass. Further, the married couple doesn’t receive the spiritual benefits together.
- Quiet Church Bags are inadequate. Many a mom on the internet has recommend this strategy of bringing quiet books and toys that special and that the child only gets to play with at church. The reality is that nothing is quiet. Movement itself is what creates that soundwaves that make noise. So any playing inevitable generates noise. Further, I believe the presence of intentionally distracting toys voids the reverence due to Mass in ways that children’s natural and curious behavior does not. Now, books are a good idea but books don’t keep kids younger than 3 or 4 occupied for the full hour.
- “Their feet don’t hit the ground and sit up front so they can see.” Many a pious parent have trumpeted this method as the solution which keeps children quiet and instills reverence. I like the sitting up front idea, but the social pressure of marching to front with a row full of babies is enough to deter this introvert. And the idea of holding them the whole time so “the feet don’t hit the ground,” has backfired in my family’s experience. Rather than reverence, it produces a writhing, whining toddler who twists and struggles because he doesn’t understand the purpose of his confinement and disrupts the service by projecting his aforementioned cry of displeasure: “DON’T LIKE CHURCH!” We don’t want our son to hate church; if he hates church, we are failing at Christian teaching.
So what to do? I would like to request children’s Masses at least once a week with at least one on Sunday. Masses where the normal shufflings and explorations of little people are permitted and not balked at; masses where the songs and preaching and short and simple so the children can understand and partake; Masses where parents can speak quietly to their children to explain what is going on and its significance so that they can actually learn. Maybe even Masses where there is an area set aside with child-sized replicas of the sanctuary and altar so that they can interact with it and learn through modeling and replicating. At the very least, we want to be able to take our kids to Mass without worrying about disturbing someone or being frowned at when our infant frets or our little man chirps: “Applesauce!”
It may seem a remote possibility, but I would like church to be a place my children can look forward to–or least not despise.
So how to you take your children to church/what do you think of children in church?