One of the biggest adjustments to becoming Catholic for my husband and me was having our kids in Mass with us the whole time. I know some churches have nurseries for little ones, and others have a special mid-Mass program for them, but in our church, kids sit with their parents the whole time.
A long time ago, we decided not to use the cry room. There's no judgment in that--we just found that our kids behaved much worse in the cry room than they did in the pews. We had to stop bringing toys for them to play with during Mass, too, because we sit on the front row and the toys ended up doing an acrobatic performance and landing in front of the altar.
The "problem" with being Catholic is that we keep adding kids to the mix. Lily, our oldest, is four and a half; Brennan turns three next month; Lucy's first birthday is Thursday, and Elizabeth will join us on the outside at the end of January. You read that right--in a few months, we will have had 4 kids in under 5 years.
I say "problem" because it really depends on your perception. I love that our priest has printed cards in the back of each pew that say,
TO THE PARENTS OF OUR YOUNG CHILDREN, MAY WE SUGGEST…
Relax! God put the wiggle in children; don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house. All are welcome! Sit toward the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what’s going on at the altar. They tire of seeing the backs of other’s heads. Quietly explain the parts of the Mass and actions of the priest, altar servers, choir etc. Sing the hymns, pray and voice the responses. Children learn liturgical behaviour by copying you. If you have to leave Mass with your child, feel free to do so, but please come back. As Jesus said “Let the children come to me.” Remember that the way we welcome children in church directly affects the way they respond to the church, to God, and to one another. Let them know that they are at home in this house of worship.
Having this said so intentionally makes us much more comfortable in letting our children learn how to participate in Mass even as they fuss, giggle, and resist resting before the Lord. It reminds me that I am welcome just the same, too.
On Saturday night, my two big kids begged to spend the night with my parents. That meant that yesterday morning, we only had Lucy, the almost-one-year-old, for 8:30 a.m. Mass. With only one kid to get ready for church, we slept until 7:30. The house was so quiet that Lucy didn't know quite what to do as she ate her breakfast. On the way to church, I found myself missing the running commentary of what we were seeing out the windows. "A picture of a squirrel! Our dentist's office! The algae pond!"
Pulling into the parking lot earlier than normal meant that we could stroll in to the sanctuary at a leisurely pace. There were no Beck kids dousing themselves with holy water at the door, water dripping into their eyes. The three of us--Zachary, Lucy, and myself--eased ourselves into our regular front pew, only taking up half of it when we usually fill the whole row. We sat Lucy between us and gave her something to hold.
No squirming almost-three-year-old boy or non-whispering four-and-a-half-year-old to deal with. To bother other people. To distract Zachary and me from the Mass.
And then Lucy started 'participating' very loudly. We love it when our kids sing or pray along when the congregation is--don't get me wrong. But Lucy is usually the quietest one, watching her brother and sister and being her cute little self. I realized in that moment that our family was out of balance.
My bigger kids bring life and joy--and balance--to our family in Mass. Yes, it is exhausting to have three young children who don't sit still for an hour during a holy Mass. But I missed telling them when to stand and sit, to listen to the words of the priest during the homily and especially the consecration. I missed Lily being a little mother to Lucy and helping me with her. I missed Brennan's recitation of the Lord's Prayer and his pure joy during the passing of the peace. I missed his little boy voice proclaiming loudly, "That's Jesus's body! That's Jesus's blood!" as Father Mark holds the bread and wine high and the bells chime. They didn't get to be blessed as they crossed their arms on their chest and be told, "Receive the Lord Jesus into your heart and soul." And while they had fun with their grandparents, I was missing what they added to the Mass for me.
I'll probably need to read this post again next week before and after an exhausting Mass with all the kids. I'll need to remind myself of these truths when I get nervous about having all 4 kids in Mass with us. But if I see you at Mass and I smile at your kids, and see you smiling at mine, I'll remember that each of us brings something irreplaceable to the gathering of God's people.