From a reader…
Father, my youngest son, who is less than a year old, is frequently unruly at Mass and throws very loud and lengthy tantrums, often over small things. I (or my wife) sometimes have to stay outside for very long periods of time until he calms down. Nevertheless, we continue to pray silently as best as we can and offer our prayers and trials in union with the Mass. My question is: is there a certain point where being outside too long, or being away from the church, causes us to fail to fulfill our Sunday obligation?
I always tread carefully when any question comes up about noisy kids at Mass. It is like the proverbial “third rail”.
That said, speaking for myself, thank you from the bottom of my beady-black heart for taking Junior out. I believe that many people are honest when they say that they don’t mind some crying infants or fussing kids or even melt-down tantrums. I believe also that many people do mind these thing when they are extended no matter what they say.
So… you take Junior out. Good move.
In my opinion you are still morally present in the rites on the other side of the door. You are in heart and mind certainly still united with the action inside. You are most likely trying to guess at which point it is in the Mass. You desire to be within but for the sake of charity and practicality, you had to go out.
There are various reasons why someone might suddenly have to leave a Mass. You can, I am sure, think of a few.
Also, yes, our obligation to participate at Mass is a serious obligation. However, God does not require the impossible from us and neither does Holy Church.
If you are impeded in some way, for a good reason, from participating on a day of obligation, you are, so to speak, “dispensed” from the obligation. If there is a blizzard and it is too dangerous to go, you don’t have to fulfill the obligation. If you are sick… if there is a forest fire to fight… if you have no idea where to go to Mass when you are traveling… your obligation is relaxed. We are reasonable. If you are taking care of your child who is melting down, you are doing what you need to do.
I also remind everyone here that going to Communion at any Mass is not obligatory, even if you are in the state of grace. You are not forced to go. You are not obliged to go. If you aren’t sure about going because you only managed to be in the church for 5 minutes of the 45 minute Mass while Junior was out of control, you don’t have to go. It seems to me that if you are checking in with what is going on in church and you are doing your best to participate, you can probably go to Communion. But you don’t have to.
Also, if your child is having these melt-downs only in church, you might speak to the parish priest. Use some sacramentals judiciously.
Good luck with that child. And to all who have young children… I admire you. Parents of small children often have to deal with things that would make most priests curl up in a ball in the dark and bar the door.