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.