“My sons playing Mass ‘against pagans’.

Children at Mass.  Ah… children at Mass.  They are simultaneously the great consolation of priests and, hopefully, the seniors of a congregation, as they can also be the woe.

Look at the average age of people at some suburban parishes, or at that church in Portland.  Then look at the average age of people at the TLM.  If, at the later, certain pews turn into universally distracting three ring circuses, at the former the quiet foreshadows the day when the last parishioner might remember to throw the main power switch and lock the door before ambling off behind a walker.

After this morning’s circus punctuated Mass, I was enthusiastically greeted by the boy “Luke” who, a few weeks back, I described as having solemnly demonstrated how to use a thurible, substituted by his pair of blue plastic binoculars on their strap.  Today he ran at me quite unliturgically with a handful of cupcake.  He is, after all, still three.

This is all a preface to a photo that encapsulates something of an aging priest’s hope for the future.   From a reader who explains:

My sons playing Mass “against pagans”.

How it doth warm the cockles of my beady-black heart.

I appreciate the serious expression as he receives the incensation from someone  in PJs.

My lumberyard memory has produced a connection with an image from the superb Life of Little Saint Placid, originally in French, the English recently reprinted by St Augustine Academy Press which has that lavishly illustrated guide to the TLM.  I gave away my English versions, but here’s the French:

I am ransacking the lumberyard of my mind, but I think it was St. Thomas Aquinas who explained that play and contemplative prayer are similar to each other, in that both activities are undertaken for their own sake, for pleasure.

“Play Mass”.  Contemplate that!

It isn’t easy being even remotely contemplative during Mass when the average age in the place is roughly 10. Then again, at the altar the priest’s main task is not so much play or contemplative prayer but play’s correlated activity, work.  Nevertheless, it is wholly holy fun, serious pleasure, when everything is clicking smoothly in a Solemn Mass, to be able to steal snatches of contemplation of the momentous liturgical works at the altar, magnalia Dei.

How delightful, however, is that play Mass “contra paganos”?

I just had a glimpse in my lumberyard mind of a scene in one of those Jurrasic Park movies, when mom or dad T-Rex gently crunches a bad guy so that junior can play Grown Up and practice the kill.  In addition to contemplation, play can have its practical side.

Pray for more priests for the future.  Perhaps even today some of them are playing Mass “contra paganos”!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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15 Responses to “My sons playing Mass ‘against pagans’.

  1. rollingrj says:

    As a reminder, Romano Guardini devoted separate chapters of “The Spirit Of The Liturgy” to both the work (The Seriousness…) and play (The Playfulness…) involved in the Mass.

    The more things change….

  2. rtattersall says:

    Mass against pagans? It was reparations and adoration against Satanists last night here in Ottawa. Our Archbishop and several priests led prayers on the steps of Notre Dame Basilica, and several hundred Catholics made the short walk to the bar where a heavily advertised “black mass” was to take place. My wife and I and one of our sons remained at the Basilica with several hundred more Catholics for Adoration. The only article I saw today in local media treated the sacrilege as a triumph in “religious freedom”. I highly doubt they understood what they were fooling around with.

  3. moosix1974 says:

    At my TLM parish, there are two sounds: Gorgeous, breathtaking chant and the shrill screams and cries of babies, toddlers, and the occasional overtired and hungry preschooler. All emanating from the back of the church that we lovingly refer as the schola nursery. [Happy are you that they are in the BACK, and not situated in the front pews.] I have been to several NO where it is virtually dead silent. Very disconcerting and depressing. Contemplation comes in the lulls, but it’s a challenge. Somehow, after a while, one begins to tune it out. It just happens. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  4. bibi1003 says:

    I prayed to St. Michael the Archangel for all of you who walked down to the bar yesterday. I also prayed for the protection of all of Ottawa. May God bless and shield you.

  5. It has to be a lot more fun to play TLM than Novus Ordo.

  6. HvonBlumenthal says:

    I am remindedof the story of Alexander, patriarch of Alexandria who overheard some boys playing at baptism on the beach below his window. He went down to investigate and found that the boy playing priest was his Athanasius, who later became his secretary and helped him draft the Niccene Creed before succeeding him as patriarch.

    On questioning the boys, he concluded that the baptism was valid, though irregular, and adminished them not to do it again.

  7. Ms. M-S says:

    Once after a TLM, a mother apologized to me for the antics of the most rambunctious member of her Holy Herd, who had been ranged in front of my husband and me. I told her to forget it: I actually wished there were fifty babies at every Mass, even screaming their heads off. The parents take them out until they quiet down and bring them back into the pews to grow into the future Church. It’s nice and quiet out in the graveyard, which in its way is the future of the “progressive” broken-off branch of the church.

  8. JonPatrick says:

    Seems to me, whenever I see pictures or videos of boys playing Mass, it is invariably the TLM that they are imitating. There must be a lesson here.

  9. knute says:

    I’m reminded of two things.

    There is first, from my chidlhood, the presentation from a priest on his calling to the priesthood. He spoke at length about how he never “played Mass” at home, and that a vocation is kind of like a bolt of lightning that strikes around the late teen / college years without any preparation or forewarning.

    The second, from my adulthood, is the sound of the crying babes at our Solemn Mass yesterday. It’s a wonderful sound, but I would encourage homilists to keep homilies on the short side (~10 minutes) and please let someone else make the announcement before Mass so they don’t become a second homily. I say this because the vast majority of baby crying comes during the homily, and starts, without fail, around the 19 minute mark.

  10. Thorfinn says:

    Ah, the improvised thurifer, something must really impress boys about that – ours uses a monster truck on a bit of yarn – good form, too.

    “In front of her, the older children were rolling their coppers about the floor while the younger ones filled their mother’s handbag with sticky sweet-papers or used the bench as an improvised trapeze. All this without the parents taking any notice whatsoever, except when the father gave the youngest a good clout for climbing up his back and landing, over his head, on the bench in front. […] All those strange folk, including the boisterous family in front of her, were not begging for peace or justice but, quite unselfconsciously, were attempting to adore. […] It took enormous courage. Judith went up to him and said: “Father, I want to become a Catholic.””

    from Judith’s Marriage, by Fr. Bryan Houghton

  11. thurifer, something must really impress boys about that

    Who doesn’t want to swing burning hot smoking coals around?

    I’ve been working with the boys (and men) on how properly to handle the thurible, which includes swinging it well when standing in readiness. This week our thurifer did a really good job. His left hand was well placed and he had a good arc going.

  12. TonyO says:

    Gorgeous, breathtaking chant and the shrill screams and cries of babies, toddlers, and the occasional overtired and hungry preschooler. All emanating from the back of the church that we lovingly refer as the schola nursery. [Happy are you that they are in the BACK, and not situated in the front pews.] I have been to several NO where it is virtually dead silent. Very disconcerting and depressing.

    I think that a certain amount of small youngsters’ noise and crying must be considered included in “right and wholesome” for a good parish. Thank goodness families with such youngsters are coming and making them into Catholics.

    But “a certain amount” implies, also, certain limits. For example, (1) if you know your kids are rambunctious, then (as Fr. Z says), sit near the back. And (2) follows: if they are being very noticeable for more than just 10 or 20 seconds, for goodness sake take them out and correct their behavior. At a minimum, deprive them of the audience they crave for the noisemaking (if they are toddlers or pre-schoolers – I am not talking about infants whose needs are more basic).

    Might I point out that one way to TEACH them to be quiet at Mass is to take them to daily Mass, and be completely prepared to step out at the first sign of nonsense so that you can correct them. It won’t be long that they get the point: be quite at Mass. I know a family with 10 kids who go to daily mass: you would think they drug the kids into stupor. Even the 1-year olds (cycling through the kids over time, that is) were quiet and peaceful, for the most part, with very limited need for Mom to leave with the noisy one. I suppose grace has a part there, not merely good upraising … but said grace is something we can ask for too.

    That said, there are kids with mental or emotional problems and there is no clear way to make them learn to be quiet. I know a family with a (severely affected) Down kid who has emotional issues. When he was 4 and 5 and 6 he was a real handful. Trying to teach him was not really going to work any time soon. But they would take him out when he was terrible, to relieve everyone else.

    And when I suggest taking out kids who are very noisy, I am not talking about the ordinary level of distraction – noticeable by the family in the pew behind you but not to the family 3 pews in front of you – that an ordinary 1-year-old goes through in a one hour Mass: squirming, some noises to get held or put down, etc. Bring along 2 different (soft!) toys that she doesn’t get to play with all week, and cycle them out one after the other to distract her. Teach her to whisper: kids can learn this by age 2 (often, at least), and though she will forget, the training may nudge her to keep her voice low anyway.

    It’s a wonderful sound, but I would encourage homilists to keep homilies on the short side (~10 minutes) and please let someone else make the announcement before Mass so they don’t become a second homily. I say this because the vast majority of baby crying comes during the homily, and starts, without fail, around the 19 minute mark.

    Sorry, Knute, but I cannot quite agree. In order for priests to teach us sufficiently, they need time to gather the premises for an effective presentation of the truth they are hammering home. This often takes more than 10, and even 15 minutes. Even up to 19 or 20 minutes, at least on occasion, should be OK. 10 minutes is far too short a period to allot. And if you have to take the little one out at 10 minutes, it matters little whether Fr. stretches the homily from 15 minutes to 18 minutes – either way you’re in back. Believe me: with my own 6, including one with ADD, I would often be there with you. It’s just something we have to accept for the greater good.

  13. iamlucky13 says:

    I might need to try some liturgical play at home with my 4 year old to see if it inspires some semblance of attention during Mass, rather than the constant struggle to keep him from getting too loud and rambunctious or fighting with his little brother.

  14. knute says:

    @TonyO: there was a Canadian priest a while back who had a great YouTube channel that went away (can’t remember his name, but he was a great homilist). He posted his daily Mass homilies on YouTube. They were always under 7 minutes and they were always great.

    My local situation is less about whether the homily should be 10 minutes or 20 and more about whether the homily should be 45 minutes (which it frequently is).

  15. baileymxd says:

    I was once burned by a woman who reprimanded me for my son’s behavior at our 7pm Missa Cantata (It was a special occasion to stay up past bedtime). We were in the back of the church, too. If Father suggests rambunctious toddlers to be in the back of the church from time to time, then surely the well behaved adults can take a few dozen steps forward and sit in the front.

    Meanwhile, said toddler loves to go to Daily Mass. Even when I cannot take him, some of our regular attendees accompany him. He likes to look at the statues and sacred art, and remind everyone that Jesus has boo boos.

    And then he thinks Father is playing peek-a-boo when he genuflects behind the altar. Kids are amazing. And you can never anticipate what they’ll discover next about the Mass.