This question about children at Mass comes via e-mail:
I enjoy your blog immensely. Thank you for your hard work. And Happy year of the priest :) I have a question about children in mass. Our priest told us it would be better to leave our children at home and have my husband and I go to separate masses so we can get more out of mass.
I love going to morning mass with my little ones and now feel as if he thinks I should not be there at all with them.
Is it better to go separately?
My feeling has always been that seeing and participating as a family unit was beneficial and that waiting until they have received first communion to bring them to mass was a loss of years of worshiping (at their own level) the holy sacrifice of the mass.
Here goes! (I can smell the burning and hear the buzzing ZZZZZAP already!)
You don’t specify how old your children are, but I am guessing that none of this would have come up if they weren’t of the wiggly or difficult age.
I note that the priest said one thing and you are now feeling that he thinks something else. Take him at his word. He thinks one way would be "better". He didn’t say that your coming to Mass with children is bad.
I am sure you love going to Mass with your children. I am sure that the other daily Mass participants also love going to Mass… with your children.
Once upon a time it was not unusual for parents to go to Mass in shifts. That was certainly easier in the age before urban sprawl in ethnic neighborhoods where it was not impossible to walk to the local parish. These days, people tend to travel farther for Mass and, simply put, everyone has to go at once.
Surely we can agree that there are some places and occasions where the presence of very small children is not appropriate – no matter how great we think kids are, blah blah blah. For example, I think we will agree that two year olds are not good candidates for a recital of Schubert Lieder at the concert hall. They are not good candidates for the university lecture hall. They are not good candidates for Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.
But, though there are some overlapping characteristics, church is not quite like any of those three situations.
Next, I am not quite sure how participating as a family at Mass has its own special benefits if … if …a great deal of attention must be paid to the small children who are pretty much oblivious to what is going on anyway.
I imagine parents of children will want to chime in on that point and help us out.
Children learn – at their own level as you say – from the example of their parents and pick up subtle social cues which become part of the deep warp and weft of their worldview.
There is always an "on the other hand" in these discussions, isn’t there?
But back to an important point. The priest also suggested that you and your husband would get more out of Mass were you not to have to cope with your busy little darlings. Get that? You and your husband were the focus of Father’s concern. That is a legitimate thing to suggest, you know. And the priest was not saying that it is bad for you to be in church with your kids. He is saying that you might be able to participate better, be more actively receptive to what is going on at Mass, if your attention wasn’t so divided.
And yes, I know that perhaps Father was being subtle and was really suggesting that the kids were too noisy. But let’s stick to the story as written.
Some at this point are on the verge of saying "But Father! But Father!", with furrowed brow. "Priests are supposed to be pro-life! How can you even suggest that we shouldn’t have all our children all the time in every church! You hate kids!"
"Tisk", I reply.
I think having children at Mass is fine. It is especially nice when they are not throwing fits. "On the other hand"… just because Catholics are pro-life that doesn’t mean that everyone should always have to share the agony and ecstasy of you handling your children during Mass.
Digression: I imagine most parents are truly concerned, anxious even, that their children not bother other people in church. That must be – as I imagine – a real strain on one’s ability to focus on anything else. And, even though we know that a parent still, in a way, participates at Mass when at a certain decibel level he or she takes the little darling outside, that is hardly the best way to participate.
While I am rambling… some people who don’t have children, or haven’t had little ones for many years, might be overly touchy about their personal zones of silence. It is possible to get used to quiet to the point where noise really irritates. These folks have to get themselves into a mental place where they can be a bit more tolerant. One the other hand, it might not be the best choice not to leave when junior is turning purple from the screaming. Some couples may have a really high tolerance level to noisy children, so that they barely take notice of them… when everyone else in a two block radius are noticing little else. These people need to get themselves into a mental place where, when they go into church, they remember that they are not at home in their back yard.
Consider also this story.
A baby was howling in the front pew during the sermon and the mother started out of the church with her treasure, passing right in front of the pulpit as she headed for the door.
The priest wanted to demonstrate how open he was to noisy children at Mass, no matter how distracting they might be. Father stopped his sermon and said "Please don’t think you have to leave. The baby doesn’t bother me."
Over her shoulder the mother shot back, "You’re bothering the baby!"
Yes, it is possible that, at times, parents are not entirely aware of the effect of their little bundles of love on others in the church. I have met people who were pretty self-absorbed with their children. Therefore, it might not be the very best choice to sit in the front pew, far from the door.
A little kid noise in church isn’t going to disturb people very much – including the parents of the squeaker. But there are limits, right?
In sum, your priest is probably right. You could get more out of Mass by not having to deal with your children all the time. Still, this may not be a practical solution. If you think Father was really hinting at something else, perhaps you should ask the priest if someone complained or if he himself had a concern. Don’t wonder or imagine why he made the comment. If it wasn’t clear to you what he was saying, ask him nicely.
I will now drag my cripsy fried body to the edge of the tracks to wait for the next train to run me over with a resounding crunch.