Mass is for the Family

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Every Sunday, we trot into Mass, my little family and me. We have varying degrees of success from week to week, and once in a very great while, we make it all the way through Mass. I never assumed that Mass with a toddler would be easy, but I was shocked at how sometimes it wasn’t the toddler making things difficult—it was my fellow Mass goers.

Now don’t get me wrong, this has been more the exception rather than the rule at my parish. We are blessed to have a parish that has sprung alive in the last few years. When my husband and I started attending in the weeks following our wedding, we were easily the youngest by a gap measured in decades, or even generations. The parish was quiet and a little tired feeling, but the priest was wonderful and the Church was the closest. Over the last few years, more young families have moved in, and the 9:30 Mass is a delightfully lively Mass—the undercurrent is the burbling of children rather than the scuffling of feet or the rustling of purses. Our priest has been known to say that he quite prefers the noises of children to the more adult cell phone because “the children don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re just being children, whereas adults KNOW what they’re doing when they bring a phone into Mass.”

Even within the context of a Mass well attended by the younger set, we still endeavor to “keep the peace”—more Sundays then I can count, my son has ended up in the back of the church or, when he’s having a really rough day, in the car. A well behaved day, though, does involve noise. I’m asked for tissues, and a missal (no the OTHER Jesus book Mama!), and asked what Father is doing. The newest question is “What’s going on with Mass right now?” It occurs to me that for some, the fact that we are conversing during Mass may be disrespectful, awful, and a banishing offense (I read the article—and the comments—a few weeks ago as well, you know).

For all that, I would never stop my son’s questions, just moderate their volume. And that is because, yes, we are each at Mass to worship and for the betterment of our souls, but I am also responsible for that little soul, the one at my side with the big brown eyes and the cow lick blonde hair and insatiable curiosity. Children are not born knowing the language of worship, they must be taught by their parents and fellow Catholics. At the very beginning, that comes as a function of impressing the sense of place. This takes longer for some children than others. I was a calm child; I could contentedly sit for hours without needing any direct stimulation. My son is the opposite: he needs to be involved in everything or his attention will wander. You try explaining the interior involvement in worship to a 3 year old. It’s a little above him. What isn’t above him is talking to mama, and trying to follow in the book, and looking at the stained glass and asking why Jesus has a cross and why Mary looks sad. Ultimately, I am here to get not just myself to Heaven—I am charged with shepherding that little soul through the first portion of his life and getting him to Heaven too.

Despite the fact that he is not technically required to be at Mass, I am, and it is good for him to be at Mass with both Mom and Dad. It is good that he sees that the whole family participates in the Church. He doesn’t understand the stares that we get at other Masses. We are fairly low key in our approach, and avoid many of the pitfalls that don’t appeal to anyone—no meals at Mass, no cheerios on Mary’s toes, no books that aren’t related to Mass or Catholicism. For all that, for all our efforts, on occasion the simple act of showing up with a small child is enough to engender enmity, before we have done anything.

I don’t need your stares, and condescension, and passive aggressive comments that are made and “unintentionally” heard. I need your prayers. I need all the grace that I can get, and God has made it an infinitely renewable resource for a reason. Everyone has bad days, including small children, and sometimes their parents have a bad day at the same time; and while a bad day isn’t enough to keep me away from Mass, a bad day + my son’s bad day + meanness from others = a bad day for everyone.

image: Art Phaneuf – LostArts / Shutterstock.com

Alexis Rohlfing

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Alexis Rohlfing currently lives in New Hampshire, though she’s still a California girl at heart. She graduated from Thomas More College in New Hampshire and has been working and raising a family ever since.

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  • rosie

    So true! Thanks for all you are doing the build God’s Kingdom one little soul at a time!

  • http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/ Kevin Tierney

    I go to the Latin Mass. We tend to get a person here or there talking every time during Mass. normally they are newcomers trying to figure out what is going on. At most we just try to make sure they aren’t too loud, but then we go approach them after Mass and try to help them understand it better. If we are sitting alongside them, we try to whisper it out.

    There’s a difference between trying to figure things out and being disrespectful, and sometimes people need to be reminded of that fact.

  • Ocelot of the eight

    Are you worried that they won’t be religious if they don’t get indoctrinated when they are too young to think? Wait until they are old enough to make these decisions for themselves.

  • PGMGN

    Do we really need to dredge up the debate of:

    My Kids Don’t Ruin Mass
    by Haley Stewart on October 11, 2013

    with yet another defense of kids being kids? Do what works for your family. As your family dynamic changes, so will your views and experiences. It’s really as simple as that, Alexis. Goodness sakes, let it die already.

  • Jill

    I love the latest pic of Pope Francis with the boy who stands by him, clings to him and then sits in the chair while the Pope speaks. It speaks volumes. “Let the children come to me.” Keep on, keeping on moms and dads. Your children–and mine– won’t be young for long. Form them while you can in Christ’s love and grace.

  • geni

    You are so right….it is hard enough to get the kids ready to get out, and once parents finally get to sit down in the pew, they need a little time to relax and catch their breath.
    A church without children will die in 40-50 years.

  • Thomas Richard

    Children are a beautiful addition to the celebration of the Mass – they illustrate much for us, in their innocence and in their spontaneity. They invite hope in us: hope that the Passion of Christ, being made present for us at the altar, will bring us all to the full intention of God for us all. They call us to patience – with the children, with one another – the same patience that we hope for and depend on from God, as He waits for us to grow up.

    Thank you for bringing your children to Mass. They will thank you, one day.

  • PGMGN

    Alexis, I went back and read one of your previous articles and happened upon a GEM of wisdom:

    “…I realized toward the end that my son had only had one incident in 2 hours where he needed to go to the back of the church. I realized that the chant was beautiful and that even though I couldn’t follow the Mass as closely, I could still worship. I realized that, in my concern to fit everything into a neat, tidy box labeled “Sunday Morning Mass” I was missing the point. I realized that, every so often, even I need a sharp hint, a quick jolt to the senses, as if there is a whisper in my brain that says “Be still, and know that I am God.”

    This is precisely what the supposedly nasty old folks (and many young folks) are trying to convey to you and other young families. Perhaps not in the kindest way. But by your own words, you stated it beautifully. You also stated in this previous article that you were somewhat put off – ‘mad’ – by the fact that you had unexpectedly happened upon a Tridentine Mass.
    Thank you for your honesty, Alexis. And thank you, John Keating, for responding to my earlier post even though you deleted it. You made me think. You made me look back to Alexis’ other words in the hopes of understanding her position better.
    That said, I pray that others attempt to understand the desire for tranquility that some folks crave at mass. We all have needs and our souls are all equally important, be they young or old. (That said, for what it’s worth, I fall shy of the Boomer demographic.)

    Worshipping isn’t always about following the priest word for word, but rather entering into that silent realm of calm, rational awareness. Of being – not doing. And children often do VERY well in that environment. It is also highly nourishing for the souls of young mothers who deal with the chaos of childrearing 24/7.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    The point that some still don’t seem to get is that for some “kids being kids” is a lot more challenging than others & it is sad how many people instantly condemn the parents for those kids who really do have a harder time learning how to behave properly at Mass. Yes, there are parents who are lax – just don’t assume boisterous child=bad parent.

    If that point could be successfully made, I imagine we could finally move on. Unfortunately, I know many who have endured that unChristian not-so-subtle condemnation & it does lead me to wonder how many have left the Church because of that?

  • QuoVadisAnima

    As long as it is done with a gentle friendly tone, I agree completely. Unfortunately, some people have all the tact of a bulldozer and a mom who may already be feeling self-conscious and frazzled needs to feel helped not criticized so I would urge people to handle with care – and a smile.

  • PGMGN

    QuoVadis: If scowling old people get a person to leave the Faith, then that person didn’t really have Faith at all. Everybody needs to carry their cross. Parents need to deal with the kids and the scowls. We all did at one point. Older people need to deal with young parents, learning the ropes through trial and error, just like they did.

    That said, Alexis wrote a great piece on what it was like for her and her little boy when they happened upon a QUIET Latin Mass. What she has to say there is very telling. As in quiet begets quiet.

    I can’t help but think that what she points out in that previous article is a lot of what supposedly ‘old’ folks are so snarky about. As in they miss being able to just pray in peace. That said, I would imagine that mothers and fathers lament not being able to pray at mass in peace, too. I sure did when my kids were younger.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    A lot of people reach points in their life when their faith is very fragile and the evil one comes along and scores another soul. It’s not our prerogative to shrug it off & say ‘their faith was too weak’.

    It’s difficult – the comments seem to keep coming across as each side being determined to trump the other, & I empathize with both sides of this issue as I have experienced both. It would be nice if there could instead be a mutual recognition of the validity of the points on each end of this issue’s spectrum.

  • Mark in GE

    We live in Germany (I’m in the Army) and mostly attend our local village Parish. At first we felt odd with our two small kids (then 3 and 7 – now 5 and 9) and that we were being stared at by the older Parishioners. Well, really they were staring and had scowls on their faces, but not directed at us…many older Germans were staring at us in envy and hurt because there we were with our young family every week while thier own sons and daughters were at home with their grandkids, almost never gracing the inside of the Church.
    Two years in the village and they just invited me to join the Parish Council. It’s a great place and we’re fortunate to live there. Wonderful Priest, good people, and the scowls have disolved into joyful smiles. I think we even “shamed” a couple families to come back more regularly.

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