Other Husband & Wife Articles

Mass With Children
By Jason Godin

The Church encourages “active participation” at Mass, but with our two toddlers sometimes things get a little too active.

As parents in our situation know, preparation begins well before we reach the pews. Our Sunday routine can include a 2-year-old daughter running in the living room to escape the horrors of getting washed up, and a 1-year-old son screaming in the high chair for attention. As my wife rushes to dress, the children race down the hall to “help Mommy” as I chase after them with socks and shoes. At Mass, there is the constant struggle to keep the children calm, quiet and reasonably well-behaved, which sometimes involves a wrestling match. After Mass, my wife and I often have to think hard to recall the Gospel reading.

Many parents at my parish go through similar Sunday routines. Sadly, we notice that many more young families suffer through the scenario once and decide that it’s not worth the hassle, and stop going to Mass. Indeed, according to Marist College/Knights of Columbus poll, my millennial generation is “less likely to attend religious services at least once a month” than any other generation.
My wife and I buck the trend not to be different, but because of the difference the Catholic faith makes in our lives. We want to pass the faith on to our children, and regular Mass attendance is one important way to do this.

Here’s how we decided to make it happen, as a family, week after week. 

As the first teachers of the faith to our children, my wife and I realize that we must listen to what they say and do before, during, and after Mass. In the car on the way to church, my daughter almost always asks if we’re “going to God’s house.” We find this simple question a perfect opportunity to begin imparting an important lesson: the need to act with respect as a family since we’re in God’s house.

My wife and I both reinforce the need to listen respectfully during the Liturgy of the Word. When the lectors read the first and second readings, for example, we show respect as a family by sitting still and listening. When the cantor leads the congregation in song, we show respect as a family by sitting still and singing.  When the priest or deacon reads the Gospel, we show respect by standing as a family, not taking it as an opportunity to wave to our friends. And we show respect during the homily by sitting quietly so others around us can hear the priest or deacon.
Of course, keeping toddlers sitting quietly for such a long time is a challenge. When my toddler children act poorly, the cold, uninviting glares from others hurt, regardless of whether they arrive from parents or non-parents, old or young faces. Periodically, I even find myself looking up to the crucifix and asking: “as if toddler theatrics aren’t enough, now you want my wife and I to pass an offertory basket, kneel during consecration, shake hands during the sign of peace, AND go forward for Holy Communion, all while struggling with toddlers wiggling in our arms with what feels like twice as much strength as their size!”

But drawing strength from the advice of seasoned parents, I have found in the Liturgy of the Eucharist an opportunity to offer my toddlers rewards for behaving well. For example, my wife and I let my daughter place money in the collection basket. She beams when we let her walk forward “like a big girl” with her arms crossed for Holy Communion. Toward the end of Mass, we also allow my daughter to rush toward the front of the sanctuary and receive a children’s bulletin. 

Sometimes there’s a temptation to join the bulk of my generation and sit out Sunday Mass at home. After all, keeping the faith involves strength, stress and sometimes humiliation if your kids are less than saintly. (I imagine that others say, “They go to Mass and look at how their kids behave in public!”) But the benefits far exceed the struggles. We find that by simply listening to one another and to the Word of God, and by participating in the celebration of the Eucharist, we all have an active part to play, each in our own way. When all else fails, we take great comfort in the fact that Jesus asked the children to come to him, even when others would stop them.

Jason Godin teaches U.S. history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, and is a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.