One of my Facebook friends recently posted a rant about mothers who show up late to and leave early from Mass. He stated that he has more respect for people who don’t bother coming at all: “Either be all in or all out.” Others chimed in with “Amens” and further complaints about the entertainment and food that parents bring to church for their children nowadays. Having arrived 10 minutes late to Mass that morning, library tote full of Dora books slung over one shoulder and a diaper bag with emergency snacks hanging on the other, I felt at once embarrassed and defensive.
Part of me wanted to dismiss his vent outright: clearly, this was the naïve and uncompassionate perspective of someone who’s not yet a parent. He just doesn’t understand the monolithic venture that is Getting Out the Door with Little Ones, I thought to myself. After all, I had spent my entire morning trying to get to Mass on time… but two blowout diapers and a child who is absolutely determined to put her shoes on all by herself had conspired to neutralize my good intentions. Let’s see him do it any better, was my rather un-Christian reaction.
Still, his words gnawed at me, probably because I have wrestled with the conundrum of kids at church since my daughter was born two and a half years ago.
The fact is, children at Mass are distracting – to those around them and, most especially, to their parents. Prayerful reverence is not easily practiced with a fussy baby in your lap and a squirmy preschooler at your side. There have been multiple occasions in which, nerves frayed and feeling far less peaceful than I did before the start of Mass, I wonder if it was even worth it to attend.
Yet something inside me always answers “Yes!” I believe there is value in attending Mass with kids… Even when it means enduring the walk of shame up to the only open pew (at the very front of the church, naturally) during the Gospel Alleluia, or spending the entire hour shushing and chasing my two-year-old, or willing myself not to engage in a glaring war with a man who disapproves of nursing in church.
We as a family are rarely (if ever) “all in” when it comes to Mass: we are late or agitated or exhausted or impatient or poopy or hungry or a catastrophic mix of all these – but I have to believe that God appreciates our presence there despite -indeed because of - our very conspicuous deficiencies in piety. We are the Body of Christ: messy, flawed, unfocused… and beloved.
My daughters may not be able to understand or participate fully in the Eucharistic celebration, and their lack of volume/impulse control may detract from others’ ability to pray as they would prefer. Still, they are vessels of a special kind of grace, and I believe that the Mass as a whole is better, not worse, because my girls are present. Their faith cannot be anything but childlike, and so it ministers in a way no polished homily can. Once, as we shuffled in line to receive Eucharist, my daughter proclaimed loudly “Mama, there’s Jesus on the cross, and Jesus in Comoonin [Communion], and Jesus in my heart!” I know I’m not the only adult whose mind, in that moment, was called away from wandering thoughts and into reflection upon the sacred Mystery of Christ.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” I’m pretty sure He knew exactly what that implied for parents, and so on Sundays like this last one, I presume an addendum to Christ’s directive: “. . .even if they are ten minutes late and their shoes don’t match.”
Nicole Steele Wooldridge attends Mass with her daughters in the Seattle, Wash. area; she apologizes if, while doing so, her baby has recently spit up on your rosary or her two-year-old has scribbled in your prayer book. If it makes you feel any better, she probably hasn’t had a shower in a few days.