From a readerette:
I am absolutely mortified right now! My fussy two year old wiggled out
of my arms during daily low Mass today (READ: Lots of grey hair) and
ran up into the sanctuary to the Altar during the Canon. I tried to
catch him, but he’s too quick.
I wasn’t sure what to do about getting him out of there, as I didn’t
want to offend the priest by going into the sanctuary, especially
during the Canon. I hesitated; the priest kept going while looking
down at my son. One of the altar boys knelt along the side got up and
escorted my son out of sanctuary back to me while I did the walk of
shame down the aisle with him in tow.
After Mass the priest made an announcement that those of us with
children need to keep them with us so that they are not running where
they shouldn’t be. I tried to apologize after Mass, but I was told “he
had to leave” and “wasn’t there”.
Should this ever happen again, in your priestly expertise, what should
a mother do?
Do mothers have bad dreams about this scenario? I doubt it. They have too many other things to worry about.
My response… oh well, these things happen. We smile an amused smile and get on with life.
If this were happening all the time, I might have some questions. But for a one time event… no problem. Again, if this sort of thing happened all the time, I would probably say something too.
So, … mothers may have some strategies and tips to offer.
Would a leash you eligible for a visit from a social worker?
Growing up there were three of us all at a very young age at the same time. When, for whatever reason, there was only one parent with us as opposed to both of them each of us were leashed up. They attached to our wrists. More recently they have ones that are leashes that attach to the kids as backpacks.
Whever I hear a story like this (or see it happen once in a blue moon) I always wonder just what the little one could see (that maybe we could not) that drew him (or her) up there in such a flurry……
I don’t think the priest needed to say anything, and in fact, it might just make my day if I had to pick up a little one and bring him or her back to Mom or Dad (Maybe that’s just b/c at my parish the children are not troublemakers and are there for the right reasons, and I am inclined to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in a child if he or she wanders into the sanctuary).
I never leashed my kids, and there were 7 of them in 10 yrs. I took them to church by myself as dh didn’t attend. did an occasional toddler try and succeed to escape? yes, but usually when I was busy with the next baby and my attention was distracted. The older kids helped corral the younger also.
None of mine got more then a pew or 2 away before someone got a hold of them. I don’t know about your parish, but here anyone along the aisle was always ready to lend a hand and grab a run away.
I think this was handled well. yes, it is embarrassing, but I suspect it won’t happen again.
If a child made it all the way to the altar, what called him/her? Children see and hear and accept so much more then adults do. Jesus always calls the little ones.
Maybe this is reason325476 for reinstallation of altar rails with closing doors. keeps little kids and roaving emohc’s out of the sancturary.
Had this happened whilst I was offering the Mass, I would not have said anything afterward, and I’d have given the child a smile, so as to calm the mortified parent. The altar server did the right thing. There’s no reason to get all worked up about it.
After all, that boy may have a vocation! I’m serious; it reminds me of St. Therese, I think it was, who broke the rules and ran up to the pope to seek permission to enter Carmel.
It may be the priest really had no time after, or was miffed. If I’d had time, I’d have wanted to reassure the mom, and give the little fellow a tour around the sanctuary. It’s a good thing to explore and we should encourage little ones to explore their churches (supervised, of course).
Yes, some of us with very active children do imagine this happening.
Mine have gotten several rows away, and once all the way to the front row. I hope they do understand something special is happening there, but I also worry that because they are occasionally invited up, there is no firm sense they they should not go there.
Funny how they never run to the back of the church.
I remember a little boy running into the sanctuary once during the Epistle (at a large suburban OF parish) … he ran right up to the priest and climbed onto his lap. He remained there until the responsorial psalm had ended and the priest sent him back to his mom with a smile. I think he may have been wearing red vestments at the time.
I don’t think it was necessary for the priest to say anything after Mass, it only served to make the reader feel even worse then she already did.
As a mom of 4, I sympathize. If you belong to a child-friendly parish, then it’s usually not as mortifying. To me, it’s the combination of the priest’s reaction AND the reaction of the people in the pews that make for a welcoming parish versus a hostile one. And yes, parishes CAN be hostile and unwelcoming to mothers of young children. It’s no fun being on the receiving end of those dagger stares because your child is disturbing someone. And it also isn’t very Christian to shoot a dagger stare at some poor parent who’s trying their best to manage their child’s behavior and concentrate on the Mass themselves. At my parish, people make us well aware that our kids are a nuisance to them. What ever happened to “offer it up”? This is what happens when we make the Mass all about ourselves instead of it being all about Our Lord. If we all focused on Our Lord properly, we wouldn’t have any idea about who or what is going on around us. Instead we focus on “me”; it’s too cold for me, it’s too hot for me, I’m starving, I’m bored with this long homily, I’m so sick of listening to that kid crying, and on and on…
As for priests, in general, I find that those who have some experience with children, either with nieces/nephews, or perhaps the priest helped his parents raise younger siblings himself as a child, these priests tend to have more patience and sympathy than those who expect every child to behave like a miniature adult. That is simply unrealistic, yet some expect it all the same.
Sorry for the rant. Maybe I need to find a new parish…
I think what the Mom did was perfect. Just calmly walk up and collect the child. I’m glad to see that the altar boy was on the ball too. What do you do next time? Walk up calmly and collect the child again. Most moms and dads try as hard as they can (yes I know there are some that don’t) to corral little ones, but sometimes someone will escape. I think the priest was wrong to say something to the whole church after Mass. I could see if it happened several times during Mass, at several Masses, but to single out one mom like that was just mean. Perhaps he didn’t call her by name, but if that little one was the only one that went up during Mass, who else could he be referring to?
I remember this happening once long ago and the little one was returned to mom with a gentle smile. Could be this priest thinks this mass is for ‘adults only’. Gets me to thinking maybe there’s something to be said for married priests; we have enough of them coming in through the anglican church with their wives and families, and the clergy needs to step back and let things be. Yes, could be the Holy Spirit at work there.
There was nothing maliciously done here and Father should have been around after mass. Oh well.
“My response… oh well, these things happen. We smile an amused smile and get on with life.”
Same here. Is this your eldest/only? Trust me, he will undoubtedly do things more embarrassing to the family than run to the altar at an inopportune time. ;-) As a gray-hair myself, I mostly smile inwardly from knowing that that sort of thing is waaaaay behind me now. Too bad the priest made you feel worse; even the best of kids can become an excapee.
I feel with you. When my 2nd was 6 months old (we were at a liberal parish), during the homily,we were put on the spotlight when the priest, in the middle of the homily, said something about ‘that poor family with a child who screams and interrupts him …..’ (I blanked as the spotlight was so hot). The baby had random cries (gas pain perhaps), with no warning, and we were in the middle of one of those long pews and no easy escape. The next day I emailed him, trying to explain that my child had random pains/cries, and was told I should sit in the narthax (there was no cry room). He stated he was not sorry to call attention to us.
ugh, the last time we have ever attended his Mass. In fact, in speaking with another mom who went there, she reminded me that there were few children in the church, and that she and her husband took turns going to Mass/leaving the kids with the spouse (which was one of the options offered by the priest). – another sore topic…
Children do have a way of humbling us moms.
When I was a child, my mother forgot to pick me up from CCD…Sister Helen brought me home (a 20 min drive each way)…
What God calls us to do is not easy, but if it’s His will, it is something we can and must do.
May God bless you in your sacrifices.
I always find myself more amused than anything when a child makes a break for the altar. I’ve had it happen a number of times while serving, all we do is have one of the servers collect the little rapscallion and send him back to mom or dad.
I find that one way to help prevent children from making a break for the front is to sit in the front with them. When parents with small children sit in the back the kids can’t really see what’s going on so they have a tendency to become rambunctious and bored. In my parish we encourage families with young children to sit up front so they can see everything that’s going on. It’s worked well thus far, even with the occasional runner.
I can’t blame the little one – sometimes I want to run up there too. Who wouldn’t?
What to do?
In this time of the beginning of 40 Days for Life, we (and the celebrant) should offer a prayer of thanks to God for our little children. We should be filled with joy that they are there, especially at Mass, and we should even find an occasion for joy if they sometimes get a little over eager and do what little innocent children do, including being curious and wandering off to learn for themselves. We should remember the Gospel reading from only one week ago, where Jesus says to celebrate and embrace the children, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mk 9:37)
Would we rather the children not be there, would we rather have the Mass empty of children? That is what the world would like in this post-Roe age, but in proclaiming the Good News of a Gospel of Life, the Church must see these children, rambunctious as they may be, for the precious gifts that they are. And, instead of castigating mothers, we should thank them and, in all charity, tell them to rest easy, such things happen. Would that more people were like that child and come seeking Jesus.
Every child just about does this once , so
God send this is practice for a bakers’s dozen of blessings! At least!
Oh dear! When my husband was an altar server once, my toddler made an escape to run to him. Luckily, I was able to catch him, but I suspect things would have been ok if he had made it all the way.
Just a guess, but I bet you’ve never told your child not to make a rush to the sanctuary? Personally, I try NOT to put ideas in little ones’ heads, but now that your child has had the experience, you can add that to the list of “don’ts” of attending Mass, which will probably be surprisingly helpful. I’d say it’s very likely not to happen again now that the lesson’s learned, but you never can tell.
I think you handled it perfectly.
Well, there’s all that sparkly stuff there! And bells! And it MUST be something really cool, like a hockey game on TV, or all the grown-ups wouldn’t be looking so intently…..Yes, my firstborn got into the sanctuary more than once when he was a toddler. It happens. We did make sure he got a tour of the sacristy (and told all the Latin names of the shiny stuff). Yes, it’s embarrassing, but we also wanted him to understand that church is full of special events and things and NOT the place Mom & Dad are always really grumpy. And before every Mass I say prayers to Our Lady, the kids’ Guardian Angels, and the angel of the church to help them be good.
Almost 60 years ago, one day our family dog followed my brother as he rode his bicycle to our church to serve Mass. Somehow Brownie got into the sacristy during Mass and walked out onto the altar. The aged monsignor snapped at the altar boys to “Get that damned dog off the altar!’ My brother was mortified and never let on it was his dog!
I once had my son (who three) start walking toward the ambo while I was delivering the second reading. Mom pulled him back in time.
The youngest child in this one family, as soon as she could talk, would spontaneously say “Thank you Jesus” at odd intervals during the Mass. The family have since moved to a different parish and she’s probably old enough to know when to be quiet in church, but I hope she hasn’t lost that spirit.
At that age my son would yawn loudly during the priest’s homily! I would turn beet red. This was in the days when we attended an excessively heterodox parish…This priest was quite enamored of his own jokes, as I recall. God doesn’t call the equipped. God equips the called! Now this same child is an altar server for the EF at an excellent parish with lovely priests and a great congregation. Tempus fugit.
At my parish’s daily Mass, there are five small children who may or may not be in attendance, and all five are boys. It’s nicer to think of these children as future vocations to the priesthood rather than making announcements like “Keep your children with you.”
I did have to stop going to daily Mass for a while with my first, though, because he decided it would be terrific to run out the back door and into the parking lot, over and over and over again. If a child is truly uncontrollable at daily Mass, it might not be the season of the parent’s life where s/he can attend daily Mass. It stinks not to be able to go becauase daily Mass is an amazing consolation, but sometimes it’s the season of our life to pursue a different avenue of spirituality.
We had three children. One we didn’t dare let out in public until she was 3. The other two were fine in church. The one that screamed, we took turns staying home with her. She’s my most religious, now. Once we had all three kids attending church with us, we separated them: child, parent, child, parent, child.
I always wonder what parents are thinking when I see two kids fooling around in church. Instead of correcting them a hundred times, why don’t they just sit between them?
I also wonder why parents take their kids to the children’s Mass, where the kids are taken out for the Liturgy of the Word, and the kids don’t go. I understand the kids maybe shy and don’t want to leave their parents, but don’t they see that the majority of the kids going to the Children’s Liturgy are accompanied by their parents? Why go to the children’s Mass? Do they really think it’s better for the kids to sit through a homily about the dangers of pornography?
My biggest peeve is when the kids leave to go to the bathroom. They can’t wait one minute until after the Consecration?
I’ve never seen a child run up to the sanctuary–maybe the communion rail should come back? I have heard a child’s voice ask why that man up there is dressed as a clown.
Suffer the little children?
Don’t worry too much. It happens at the Vatican (I’ve seen it on TV both in St. Peter’s and in the Sistine Chapel), so a toddler escape can happen anywhere. At the Vatican, the Swiss Guards usually catch the kids’ attention and keep them in place with a hairy eyeball and inherent coolness until they can be collected by a priest, deacon, server, or Italian security guy, but there have been a few who ran up into the action and got blessed by the Pope before being sent back.
And try not to take what the priest says too personally. Priests are people. Some priests aren’t that good with having a “parishside manner,” and they just say stuff without realizing how seriously you’ll take it, or how embarrassing it might be for you. Shrug and bear it.
Mom … what a blessing that you are attending Mass (and an EF Mass at that!) with your children!
Mine are all grown, but once, the youngest at the time escaped to the pew behind me – he wasn’t quite walking yet. Nonetheless, one moment he was standing at my knee; the next he was in the arms of the lady behind me.
Tips from a mom who’s been there:
1) Sit close to the front – the Mass holds their attention.
2) Go to daily Mass as often as possible. Once my children learned to behave at the shorter weekday Masses, Sunday wasn’t so daunting for me. For their part, Sunday Mass was fascinating – a full church, a choir, incense, Asperges, …
3) Send up a prayer to their Guardian Angel. It works!!
4) Don’t be too hard on your priest. His house is probably very, very, very quiet, and his distractions don’t likely include toddlers. :)
I don’t have children myself, but I have always thought that we need to look more charitably on the difficulties some parents of small children face. Whenever I find myself getting irritated with a child’s behavior at Mass, I try to think about times I may have embarrassed my own parents with misbehavior when I was little (and about which my mother is more than happy to remind me on occasion!). It has always seemed to me that both clergy and laity of a Church that teaches against birth control and abortion need to remember that once of the consequences of those teachings, if they are faithfully observed, is the presence of small children at Mass; and that their presence, far from disrupting some perfect “ideal”, is actually a sign of vitality and hope for the future.
i can sympathize… only for me it was a random restroom break during the homily. my youngest (i cant recall how old he was at the time) ran down the aisle and Father stopped preaching his homily to watch him as he ran down the aisle and took his seat. we were 6 rows from the front. i thought i was going to die of embarassment. i apologized after mass and Father told me it wasnt my youngest running down the aisle that was the problem, but the oldest son trying his best to catch him. nevertheless – there are no more bathroom breaks in mass for my kids until mass is over.
Oh poor mom! I think you handled it well, though. The priest shouldn’t have said anything after, it was evident you felt bad enough!
My parish has TONS of little ones, so sometimes escapes happen. It’s natural. But we also have altar rails with a gate, to prevent them from getting *too* far.
When they grow up,t hough, the embarrassment doesn’t stop; once, my brother (as an altar server) lit the Advent wreath a bit *too* well, singing some of the pine branches! A KofC member helped douse it. My family and I turned so red.
The dreaded bathroom breaks, or what my mom called “checking out the plumbing here”. I’ve been telling my grandkids to use the restroom before Mass if they need to, because I know they can manage for more than an hour or so at this point. I also used to find that trapping them in the pew by sitting at the end helped, although some little ones are good at crawling underneath quickly. There used to be a thingy you could Velcro around the adult’s wrist and link to one around the child’s wrist kind of like colorful handcuffs. I don’t know if they make them any more, but they were sure useful in parking lots! I should think this wouldn’t be on a child service’s hit list.
What a fabulous story this will make at his ordination!
(Yes, Father overreacted. Likely it had never happened to him before. ;-)
There’s a difference between parents who do not mind their children (the ones who scream loud and long, and have free run of the place), and parents who do mind their children but get caught by surprise at some of their little ones’ antics. The reader is part of the latter group. I think the priest’s mention was uncalled for, especially as the reader tried to collect her son when she recovered from her shock and figured out what to do. I’d have been a little hesitant, too, while figuring how to rein in the little guy without disrupting the Mass further. Hopefully the priest’s actions will not dissuade the reader from continuing to bring her son to Mass. Perhaps he was a having a bad day.
I have six children and we are a convert family (from baptist). The children were completely unused to any part of the church being off limits to them after the service had concluded and I had to do some running and very quick teaching after Mass had ended our first time. I do commiserate how fast little ones can go and I think your priest was probably a bit taken aback and did what he thought best at the time to correct the situation. I agree with Fr. Z- I wouldn’t worry about it if it happens once (maybe even twice) but repeated appearances of the little person at the altar at the wrong times would be another matter entirely.
Let the little ones come unto me.
I just wanted to share one very embarrassing story regarding my youngest, who is a six year old boy now. Besides the bathroom breaks, which yatzer pointed out, and the occasional laying down across the pew, this kid, when he was about 4-and-a-bit, was having one of his usual fussy Sundays at Mass. My wife was next to him, and I had my daughter between my wife and I; we always seat at the front pew, so we had a clear view of our priest and the altar… and vice-versa! I could hear my wife trying to calmly soothe him, in a very low voice, by pointing out, in brief statements, that Jesus was the, and that Jesus can hear him, and so on. Although I could hear all this, I was still vey focused on the Mass. Then, it happened (Warning! Blasphemous 4 year old talk ahead): The brat loudly says “I ha*e Jesus!” , with that little, pouty upset voice that they use when they say that they don’t like broccoli… To this date I think our pastor looks at us funny once in a while, but I am almost convinced it is just paranoia…
Back when I sang for a OF parish, they put the vocalists up front and whenever my poor husband would drag all the babies up for communion, one of them would see me singing and start howling. Thankfully now I get to sing in a choir loft. Also, I had one baby that spit their pacifier in the baptismal fount when she was baptized, and I still have a 6-year-old son who will play air organ during church if I don’t stop him. I sympathize with this mom.
I do wish that more priests realized how difficult it can be to take a gaggle of babies to church. Many times, we leave church not even feeling like we’ve been to Mass because we are concentrating so much on making sure kids behave. It is for this reason that sometimes my husband will encourage me to go to an evening Mass during the week while he watches the kids because I have a terrible time concentrating during Mass with the little ones in tow.
I used to attend daily Mass in a small and exquisite public/private chapel and once upon a time used to resent wailing or wandering children disturbing my spinsterish recollection. That reaction altered overnight when one of our best-in-the -parish young couples’ children died suddenly in a cot death.
Now I look at the children and thank God that they are alive, very much alive and I’m very thankful.
A positive recollection – a Baptism where the baptizand had a clutch of first cousins a couple of years older than himself circling around the altar during the baptismal Mass. The ancient monk celebrant didn’t turn a hair – just went straight on. No fuss, rebuke, hurt feelings or shame – just family!
I’m a shade surprised to hear of a church where the Extraordinary Form of Mass might be offered, but which does not have a solid altar rail in the path. Come to think of it though, I’m not sure if the sanctuary at the local FSSP parish has any particular barrier up there.
Honestly, I never thought much about it.
I’m inclined to agree that the server handled the situation nicely. Collect the curious little one, return to the parent, maybe offer a friendly smile to convey that it’s awkward, but there’s worse in life.
Heck, make mental note of it so that in 3-5 years, someone can be looking for the little one to start learning more about serving at Mass, or perhaps more helpfully, get him (or her) into a choir to start training in Mass music.
Youngsters as young as 4 are purportedly able to absorb quite a little. No real harm in trying….
Almost 20 years ago, when I was still a bachelor (in my 40s), I was going most mornings to my parish’s 7:45am Mass (OF) before going on to work. A couple who were friends of mine had about 5 or 6 young boys (infant up to about 2nd or 3rd grade), all of whom the mother was home-schooling. She would often bring her entire brood to daily Mass, for which I admired her. However, given the age distribution, she almost invariably had at least one young boy who was wont to praise the Lord with loud noise at inappropriate times. One particular morning, with my as-yet-unrefined bachelor reactions steaming up, I was sorely vexed, yet recognized that I needed to yield my anger and frustration over to our Lord. Suddenly, I had an inspiration. I prayed (silently), “Lord, if that boy wants to make that much noise in church, then I pray that You make him the Fulton Sheen of his generation!” Well, I don’t know whether my prayer did that much for the boy involved, but my own frustration level was quickly dampened and I was able to return to attentive prayer for the rest of the Mass.
Good catch by the altar server. One of my kids was a “runner” like that. He was a great little kid, just very smart, curious, kinetic and impulsive. It’s not your fault and it may not even be his! It’s often a biological maturity thing. It’ll eventually pass. Hang onto his shirt-tail where he can’t reach you or twist away from you! You can do it. You can even get a habit of it and do it rather surreptitiously so it doesn’t show, for quite a while at a time. I used to be able to do it and my child got used to it enough so that he didn’t yell. Silly but true.
RE the “leash.” You can use them and I have, but people feel free to say all kinds of stupid things when you do. And nowadays, who knows what kind of political nut you might attract, even though such a thing can save a kid’s life when camping or in a parking lot.
I see they still sell these things. They’re called “toddler harnesses.” They’re not uncomfortable, don’t need to be worn tight at all, and they work very well. If you decide to use one, get one that zips up the back so they can’t get themselves out. Some kids are escape artists because they’re young. And take it off when you don’t have the other end in your hand; don’t let your kid run around with the thing dangling. They are very a very effective safety measure in parking lots, campgrounds and such places, and outside they don’t get as much comment as indoors, mainly because snoopy people are less likely to notice them.
Personally, I think that parents should try to keep their little one’s with them and behaving at Mass, but if it doesn’t happen…then it doesn’t happen. I’m not a mother, so I don’t know how the lady felt when her little one went into the Sanctuary. I think that what the priest said would have been better off unspoken. Obviously we don’t want little junior in the Sanctuary. Sounds like the altar server did the appropriate thing.
I went to a DL once when I was a teenager and the little ones were allowed to sort of wander during the Liturgy. They joined the choir, venerated the Icons, stared at the Iconostasis, etc. They were very quiet and respectful (making profound bows, etc) They were not at all distracting. In fact, I only noticed because I was a NO Latin and had never experienced babies on the prowl before.
Another time, I was at my first Solemn High Mass and the little ones were allowed to wander quietly. There was someone keeping an eye on them, I think, but they were mostly allowed to do whatever. Again, they were very quiet. They genuflected if they crossed the nave for any reason. They weren’t distracting, they were just there. They were actually gathered toward the front and many of them were paying close attention to Holy Mass. Only a few were far too busy for watching the august sacrifice of the Mass unfold. Even if they were busy two year olds, they were relatively well behaved.
Honestly, I do not see why this orderly, quiet wandering cannot be the norm. These are toddlers, no older than three! I mean, surely we cannot expect babies to sit quietly for 1.5-3 hours! (Depending on the Liturgy). As long as they aren’t going to hurt themselves and they are being quiet, let them be. When they get a little bit older (say, around the age of 3-4), then it is important that they sit with mom and dad in Mass and learn how to behave. From the TLM’s I have attended, as well as the EF parishes, this seems to be the general attitude.
I have a friend who is a seminarian. We (the seminarian and I) happen to be the godparents of a very active two-year-old godson. As a general question for future visits, I asked what the seminary’s policy on wandering children was. His answer was: That’s what Altar Rails and Porters are for.
Most of the “grey-hairs” I know have children of their own, grandchildren of their own, and stories of their own, and most would not have anything but sympathy for you unless this happened often enough that your son’s adventure was obviously neglect rather than accident. After all, too many of them lament to the Lord that their children and grandchildren are not always at Mass even on Sundays, which is a source of great sadness. How wonderful to see a mother bringing her little one to daily Mass!
Frankly, I’m surprised the priest said anything at all about an isolated incident, except maybe to joke to your boy that he needs to wait just a tad longer before applying as an altar server….but hold on to that thought, young man, hold on to that thought! (As my grandmother would have said, after all, many a good priest started out as a little boy who was full of ___ and vinegar!)
Reminds me of the story my late Father in Law used to tell:
When he was at Mass, a young boy (about the age of the OP’s) was given a rosary to play with during Mass. He had been quietly playing with it, but at the quietest time during Mass as the priest was elevating the Host, the little boy grabbed the rosary by the loop, stood up and swung the crucifix around his head yelling: “HANG ON JESUS, YOU’RE GOING FOR A RIDE!!!!”
His dad picked up the boy and looking neither left or right walked with him out of the church.