Little ones at Mass

church pews
Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil

 

My column published in last week’s Catholic Weekly.

Everyone loves the idea of parents coming to Mass with their young children, but not everyone always enjoys having young children there, including the parents themselves.

I’ve been to Masses where I’ve broken out in a sweat from trying to keep the children relatively still and quiet because all of them had a case of the fidgets at once. Or they would take turns acting up.

At times like that it’s hard to remember why we are at Mass in the first place.

It’s easier these days. Our youngest, at almost two, loves Mass. Like, really loves it.

He sings exuberantly, including during the prayers as well as the hymns. He calls out ‘ickle-ickle-ickle-ickle’ when the bells ring at the consecration, he beams at the people sitting around us, and at random he will point to the tabernacle and cry, “Air-e-sus!” (There’s Jesus!).

In-between exclamations he’s quiet for a good while, which invariably lulls us into a sense that he’s settled, until the next time he yells out.

“Air-e-sus! Where’s Nono (Naomi, his sister)? Ah, ‘ere’s Nono!

“Nono, Air-e-sus!”

We’re grateful that he’s not crying or asking to go home, but he’s quite loud and his utterances can provoke flurries of shushing from his siblings. We’ve tried taking some quiet toys and books for him with little success.

So for the past few weeks, especially as the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins, either my husband or I have taken him out to the foyer or the crying room where he can enjoy himself without being too much of a distraction.

It’s good to have a place to go with a noisy child where you can still hear what’s taking place, but it definitely isn’t the same as sitting in the main body of the church with your family. We’re hoping this is a very temporary solution.

Most parents of young children have the same dilemma; obviously if a child is screaming his or her head off or is otherwise very distracting the thing to do is to take that long, red-faced, walk outside or to the crying room.

But when it’s a matter of a bit of noise and figeting because the Mass is longer than usual, or the children are very young, or have special needs, or all of these together, then what do you do?

Some people at Mass don’t mind or even love having little figets in the pews alongside them; others really need peace and quiet to be able to hear, concentrate, and pray. In some other countries, in Africa for instance, Mass can be exuberant and noisy and our Isaac would be very much at home worshipping there.

Our former two parishes didn’t have crying rooms, and I do prefer it that way. Our current parish does but we’ve only used it these few times recently.

We find that sitting near the front holds the younger children’s attention better. The further down the back of the church we sit the less engaged they are. Take them into the crying room and it’s party time.

We’re fortunate to usually be met with smiles from other parishioners, but I’m sure it’s been trying to sit near our family at times.

Someone sent me a link to an article this week titled Love for the Loud at Mass, written by a father of five about the challenges of bringing young children to Mass. It’s especially hard on parents who have special-needs children who simply can’t be expected to stay ‘good’ for the whole of Mass.

We would like to think that children would be absolutely welcomed at Mass, no matter what, and without the need for extended segregation from everyone else.

Certainly there are times when parents of young ones need to be more sensitive to the people around them, just as there are times when everyone else needs to remember to suffer the children.

Over all, charity should abound.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Sue Elvis says:

    Marilyn,

    I am sure parents who are distracted at Mass, because they are seeing to the needs of their children, receive extra graces. I used to think about that a lot when I wasn’t able to stay in the church for the whole of Mass. It is so easy for most people to kneel and pray and pay attention. But it’s not this way for parents, who sometimes long for some proper quiet prayer time. I used to come and go with my little ones, depending on their attention span and how noisy they were getting. It wasn’t all bad. I do have lots of lovely memories of walking around the church garden with a baby or toddler while listening to a beautiful hymn wafting out the window, before rejoining the congregation for Communion. Those days seem very distant now!

    Charity should abound… oh yes!

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  2. Thanks for sharing that very contemplative outlook Sue, it’s beautiful. I saw a scene like that the other week during a hymn at Mass. A mother walking slowly along the front of the church, past the sanctuary windows, following her toddler who was exploring the garden there. She looked peaceful!

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  3. Marc says:

    We have definitely seen the benefit of sitting on the first few pews as a helper in keeping the littler ones of my family *less* distracted, but we head to the back as needed. But they usually do very well for what ends up being a 90 min Mass plus rosary before.

    God-willing, once they’ve grownup, I will have plenty of time to contemplate the Holy Sacrifice in a more peaceful pew and offering a warm smile to rookie parents around us 🙂

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  4. Ninety minutes plus the rosary is impressive Marc.

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  5. Annemarie says:

    Hey Marilyn – as a childless person I love interacting with kids at Mass – and I don’t mind if they are a little over-exuberant at times. I really admire parents who, with dedication, bring their children faithfully to Mass when it is clearly trying at times. We have kids liturgy at my parish, which I’m sure everyone is grateful for. One thing that annoys me, however, is parents who let their kids play games on very noisy iPads throughout Mass – I’d much rather hear the playful chirps of children than the distracting chirps of Angry Birds any day.

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  6. Gosh I’ve never seen any kids with iPads at Mass. Maybe the parents have a good reason but that seems pretty sad to me.

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  7. Annemarie says:

    Yeah – I’m probably being a bit judgemental. I really do try to practice patience, but all the little whizzing sounds drives me to distraction. It does work I suppose – you don’t hear a peep out of the child.

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  8. I once had an elderly lady grab my dancing toddler on the church patio by the arm in anger to get her to stop dancing to the music! We were outside and she was just being a toddler! People leave the church when they are treated that way and it’s sad. Jesus loves these littles so much!

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    1. Wow, I imagine that would have been quite a shock. I’ve known a couple of elderly people whose behaviour or the things they say is a bit ‘off’ sometimes as well. I figure that some older people need a similar kind of acceptance from us as young children do, which can be harder for us to give because we expect them to know better! Thanks for your comment Sandra.

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