ASK FATHER: How to participate at Mass with a fussy baby? Wherein Fr. Z lays down principles.

This is a terrific question, equally applicable to the Traditional Latin Mass, Novus Ordo, Divine Liturgy…

From a “Young TLM Dad”…


Hello Father,
Since starting to attend the TLM on a more regular basis I noticed that mine, and other missals feature a quote from St. Pius X on how to pray the mass.

The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the Altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with the eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the Altar. Further you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the Altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass.
~Pope Saint Pius X

Generally speaking, following those directives were easy to do. However, since discovering the TLM I have gotten married, and now have 3 kids under the age of 3 (pray for me) with more desired in the future.

Seeing as I don’t plan to follow the Holy Father’s anti-rabbit marriage formula; I wonder on how best to pray the mass, and to give God His due through my weekly mass attendance. Mass for my wife and I is usually spent in the back vestibule guarding one of two toddlers from causing anymore chaos or noise making, or bouncing a fussy baby who won’t be satisfied for any amount of trying.

I usually try and speed read a proper or two as I’m able during mass. I see lots of people praying the rosary. I never really understood doing that if you could follow along with the mass in a missal.

Are other devotions appropriate instead of a rosary?

Is there a best practice approach for praying the mass you could recommend for distracted parents?

Thank you for all you do.
Young TLM Dad

From the onset let us dispel the nonsense that Vatican II, as if Aphrodite emerging from the brine, introduced into the Church the concept of participation at Holy Mass that is “full, conscious and active”.  Keep in mind that the Council Fathers had an idea of participation already in the mind of the Church since Pius X.

Apart from the quote, above, in 1903 St. Pope Pius X issued a Motu Proprio called Tra le solicitudini on the renewal of sacred music. Pius X wrote, “In order that the faithful may more actively participate in the sacred liturgy, let them be once again made to sing Gregorian chant as a congregation.”  The same Pope also promoted more frequent Holy Communion.  (On both counts Pius would be disappointed in the results.)  However, at the beginning of the liturgical movement, the Roman Pontiff wanted to get people engaged, especially through singing (“cantare amantis est” – Augustine – singing is the activity of one who loves) and more frequent reception of the Eucharist.

In 1928 Pope Pius XI in his Apostolic Letter Divini cultus essentially repeated what Pius X had said.

In 1947 Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei used this phrase with essentially the same meaning.

Until the Second Vatican Council, “active participation” referred to the congregational singing of Gregorian chant, responding, etc.

This all sounds very exterior, right?  Everyone singing?

But wait, there’s more.

In the Sacred Congregation of Rites instruction De musicam sacra 22, we find, and the Council Father’s would have had this:

“c): Active participation (actuosa participatio) is perfect when ‘sacramental’ participation is included. In this way ‘the people receive the Holy Eucharist not only by spiritual desire, but also sacramentally, and thus obtain greater benefit from this most holy Sacrifice’.” This cites “Council of Trent, Sess. 22, ch. 6; cf. also Mediator Dei: AAS 39 [1947] 565: ‘It is most appropriate, as the liturgy itself prescribes, for the people to come to holy Communion after the priest has received at the altar’.”

It looks like was have come full circle with St. Pope Pius X’s projects including participation at Mass including more frequent Communion.  This is the foundation of what the Council Fathers were after.

This is very important: active participation is “perfect” in the form of reception of Holy Communion in the state of grace, an interior condition.

Going on, you all know that the Second Vatican Council’s document Sacrosanctum Concilium 14 said

“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations, which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.”  The key words are “full, conscious, and active participation.”

The Latin for “active participation” is actuosa participatioActuosa not activa.

Problem:  Council Father after Council Father during the Council itself warned in their relationes (speeches) against any interpretation of liturgical participation which would reduce participation to merely or primarily outward activity.  

If you consult the Acta Synodalia Concilii Vaticani II (Roma, 1970) you find the speeches.  Just for one example, a famous American, Francis Card. Spellman, cautioned saying “cavendum est a mera divulgatione et participatione tantum externa” which even those capable of only Latin baby talk know is a warning against mere popularization and only external participation (Cf. AS I/1, 305 and 316).  Examples can be multiplied.

And yet, those who hijacked the implementation of the conciliar liturgical reform in many – most – places turned Mass into a tragic carnival.  The ars celebrandi of priests devolved.  Now we are at a point, in these USA at least, where maybe a quarter of the people in the pews on a given Sunday (where bishops allow them) believe in the Real Presence.   Communion, pace Pius X – XI – XII, is the time when someone puts the white thing in your hand and then you sing a song… and it ain’t Adoro te devote.

In his 2007 apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI said:

“It should be made clear that the word ‘participation’ does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration. It also means ‘a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life.’ Fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the
mystery being celebrated.”

Popes of old, up to and including John XXIII, would be horrified at what is going on in our churches today.  They would be furious with bishops who made it devolve, through commission or by omission.   Those Popes would wonder if those bishops believed in the Real Presence.

As our shepherds, so our Masses, so our congregations.

We are our Rites.

It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen pretty fast, in view of history.  I won’t be cleaned up overnight, because building is always slower than demolition.

But the job that takes the longest to finish is the one that is never started.

That being the background, I circle back at last to the question.

What do I suggest?

Do your best.

It’s simple, I know, but, do your best.  Each episode of dealing with junior at Mass is going to be different.  If you know you have to go out, and you are not going to be able to see and hear what’s going on, then reach with the eyes of your mind and ears of your heart through the doors and into the sanctuary.

As Augustine says, where there is charity, there are no distances.

As Richard of St. Victor says, “Love is the eye and to love is to see.”

If you love your Mass, love your participation at Mass, love your children even as they fuss, love your fellow congregants and the priest, your loves can’t be in conflict.   For the love of all of them, take little stupor mundi out of the congregation and into … wherever.   You can still participation fully, consciously and interiorly actively (the real foundation of all participation) on the other side of the doors.

Does the Rosary help you do that?  Use the Rosary.  Does a hand missal help?  Use it.  Does just walking back and forth do it?  Do that.

Now I want to open this up to the real experts.

Moms and dads who have had to do this a zillion times.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jz says:

    Being a parent is extended training in putting away your selfishness and growing in patience. Putting away your selfishness doesn’t mean just giving up bad things. Sometimes it means giving up good things for the sake of a higher good. Active participation (properly understood) falls into this category. In fact I would argue that parents should simply expect to have their liturgical worship messed up for the entire period when they have young kids. For those who love the Mass this is a great cross – as it should be. Real struggle in this opens a lot of room for grace to intervene.

    I’ll offer just one piece of practical advice. It’s a big deal in my family that we go to Mass together, but after going a couple weeks seemingly hardly praying at Mass, my wife and I sometimes decide that tag teaming Mass at different times can be a less bad option for a few weeks. As Father said, do your best and trust in God’s grace. This period of life comes to an end faster than you think.

  2. andersonbd1 says:

    My wife and I have been going to separate Masses for 13 years so that we are mentally, spiritually, and physically present at Mass. It was one of the best decisions we’ve made. Yes, it means a better chunk of the day is spent going to Mass on Sunday, but isn’t that what Sunday is for?

    I wish there wasn’t the stigma around this that there is. People throw stuff at you like, “the family that prays together, stays together” and then offer frowny faces after they ask, “where’s [insert spouse name]?” and I respond with, “at home with the baby”.

    I’m not a zealot about this – I don’t mind a little noise here and there from kids. If parents want to bring their little kids to Mass that’s up to them, but they should take them out of the church proper when they get seriously noisy.

    Just be careful who you listen to. Aunt Tilly doesn’t speak for the whole congregation when she tells you that your noisy children sound like angels and that they actually help her pray better.

  3. Gaetano says:

    Even the Rosary sometimes requires too much attention. I’ve resorted to the Jesus Prayer using a Byzantine prayer rope. They’re also tougher to break than a Rosary.

    My other reflection is that the Holy Family must have dealt with a rambunctious toddler from time to time. I try to imagine what it would have been like for them as I’m trying to keep my two year-old entertained.

  4. Man-o-words says:

    Young TLM Dad –

    First of all, it sounds to me like you are already miles ahead in the parenting category, so I’m hesitant to even leave a comment here. However, since the advice I’m going to give isn’t originally mine, but was provided to me and was life changing, I’ll pass it along to you or any reader in the hopes that it helps.

    I’ll let the expert (Fr. Z) guide you on the participation required of the Mass, but the advice that helped me came in the form of two books. Read them, follow them, and you will realize that raising children doesn’t have to be miserable and it is hard, but not complicated. I swear that one of the most effective weapons of the population control folks – even more than contraception and abortion – is causing young parents to lose the traditional understanding of how to raise children.

    So – the two books:
    First – For you and your wife: Babywise. PLEASE read it, follow it, read the follow up books too (toddler wise, etc). The premise is pretty simple – your child was born into your world, not the other way around. It’s your job to shape your child to be successful in the world, not to adjust the world to adjust to your child’s will. If you and your wife are not currently getting “sacred” mom and dad time starting at about 7:00, this book will give it back to you.

    Second – for her: Mother Love – this is an old one, a VERY Catholic one, and it will put an exclamation point on the prior book from a Catholic perspective. It will help her understand why letting your children go out in the rain, without a raincoat (or shoes) is actually very good for them . . . Just read it, you will understand.

    The last piece of advice for you is the advice I didn’t get until I was much older – Don’t be afraid to be the man and the head of your household. Too many men these days have abrogated their responsibility. God equipped you uniquely to serve as the head – that means making the tough calls, being (lovingly) tough on your children when they misbehave. God is pretty brutal when it comes to ensuring our salvation – and we as Father’s must emulate that characteristic as well.

    Good luck! I’ll leave you with a humorous, but all-too-true quote from John Rosemond (another author to read) – “Children are born criminals.” He points out that nobody has to teach children to lie, cheat, or steal – they are naturally good at it (thanks to original sin). Your mission in life is to convert them to productive, Christian, human beings. . . .

    But it sounds to me like you are already off to a great start!

  5. Lusp says:

    I think there is a 30-year gap in my life where I wasn’t (am not) able to pay close attention to the Mass at all. Instead it’s trying to control a baby and keep an air of respectability, all from the cry room. I look at is as a season of life: they grow out of it. My wife and I used to attend different Masses with different children to try to control it, but that ruined any kind of unity in the family.

  6. bigtex says:

    I think we need a bigger cry room at our FSSP parish, babies everywhere! Which of course is a great thing to behold in this day and age of people having only 2.1 kids, so they can afford nice trips to Europe, have a humongous SUV in the driveway of their McMansion, and then brag in middle-age about their “fur babies” like they are some kind of humans…. But it can get disruptive to those trying to pray the Mass at times, just keep that in mind. I would still rather have that problem than empty pews.

  7. Pearl says:

    Okay, Andersonbd1, I do agree with Aunt Tilly here. I love to hear children at Mass (I go to the TLM) – as long as they are happy baby sounds. I agree that fussy ones should be taken out, not just to make us happier, but to make them happier, too.

    I never had 3 under 3, so this may be advice that is better for when they are a teeny bit older.

    I would, when I could, take my kids to daily Mass so that they could get used to what is expected at Mass and what was happening. Daily Mass can be a lot less stressful. Sometimes there are even a group of Aunt Tilly’s there!

    I also would bribe their guardian angels. It would sound something like, “Dear Angel of Junior. I know that the one place in all the earth that you would like to be is at Mass in front of the Blessed Sacrament. However, if Junior cannot behave, I will have to leave him home while Dad and I go to separate Masses and you won’t be able to go to Mass. Please help Junior to behave. Amen.”

    You can call me crazy, but I think it helped!

  8. Mario Bird says:

    1st Principle: God has a sense of humor, even in the liturgy.

    SCENE: An FSSP Mass somewhere in SW Florida, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost. Our 2-year-old (“Junior”) is violently and belligerently fussing at the wife, who is occupied with infant #2. I am in the schola (it may have been the sola that day). The Alleluia has been chanted, and Fr. has begun Gospel. I see the beleagured expeditionary force. The interval for intervention has arrived.

    I relieve the wife and neutralize and secure the rebel force. He resists. I withdraw to the back of the chapel. Fr. has begun the English translation of the Gospel. I alternate calming entreaties with judicious applications of paterfamilial authority apropos to the moment and person involved. Junior will have none of it. I move toward the exit. Junior’s caterwauls careen off the stone walls of the vestibule and back into the sanctuary. They increase in number and volume as Junior grasps the impending separation from mother and society. The soundproof doors close behind us, but not before I hear Fr. say, “Bind his hands and feet and cast him forth into the darkness outside, where there will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.”

    According to my wife, Fr. – known to be preternatually solemn while offering the Holy Sacrifice – is then afflicted by paroxysms of laughter.

    I can’t wait to ask our guardian angels about the precise timing, and even see a behind-the-scenes replay of this.

  9. ex seaxe says:

    Before the 1953 relaxation of the Eucharistic Fast, priests could not say Mass in the afternoon. In our parish and the neighbouring one there were not enough Masses for everyone to find space even to stand in the church. The midday Mass would always have many men standing outside with not even the sight of the (low) Mass, this was the only way they could participate, and this is what they did, week after week, sun rain or snow. The understanding was that if you could see someone who could see the altar through the open church doors, you had attended Mass.

  10. teomatteo says:

    “…The Latin for “active participation” is actuosa participatio. Actuosa not activa.”
    So the difference between the two?
    Thanks for that explanation, i think i can explain this to someone in my family or direct them to this, even better!

  11. Gaz says:

    My children are long grown up. I was once struggling with one and got up to move (the church was so full we were sitting on the floor). Monsignor saw me and boomed, “Stay where you are!” If I see challenging toddlers around me I’ll always assume they’re practicing their prayers or chant or something.

  12. JustaSinner says:

    The sounds of children are music to the Angels ears. Some of it may be off key, but I love it; means growth at Church.

  13. xraytango says:

    We have 5. Ages 7 and under. It’s definitely been a lesson in dying to myself and trying to learn patience. My wife and I take turns in and out of the cry room with the loud ones. Usually when my wife gives me the look “come take over before I murder you”. I hate missing out on the homily. I’ve abstained from communion when I felt overly angry or haven’t been able to participate. Sometimes it feels like I’m on the church grounds just to hang out with my kids. This post is actually a timely message for me. Thank you, Father.

  14. dbonneville says:

    Practice. Quiet. Time. At. Home.

    You get one or two or three, whoever is around and not napping, and you sit them down and say we are having quiet time. Say five minutes. If they fuss or talk or do what you know their version of squirming is, restart the clock. Or don’t. Do ten minutes, do fifteen where you are all sitting and that’s it. Whisper “we aren’t done with quiet time yet“.m. Make it a positive thing.

    What you can’t do is start this training at mass and expect to be good at it.

    But don’t do what one guy did last week on Father’s Day on Twitter, on a post that went viral. He complained about the priest and the people around him. He said 2 of his 3 kids we’re autistic, but proceeded to blame everyone around him for looking at him and giving the stink eye. Apparently the FSSP priest gave some kind of gentle comment about what was going on. The tweet said “I’m in tears. This is why I don’t ever want to go back to the TLM” with a kind of see I told you whiny victory lap. This was a dad. ?!?!

    Don’t be that guy.

    If you are at mass with your rambunctious kids and 2-3 of them need to stand outside in the rain with you until they agree to behave, you have already won by showing up. You have already won. If you miss 45 minutes of mass every week while your wife sits inside, you won.

    Practice quiet time at home. The only option you don’t have is being the whiny guy a few paragraphs above.

  15. Rob83 says:

    What to do somewhat depends on the nature of the congregation. There are many young ones at Sunday Mass typically, and they will often be in competition with the schola and father as the somewhat off-key chorus liberorum. Since there are so many, it’s mostly faded into background noise hardly noticeable. Ironically the more there are, the less out of place it seems.

  16. ocsousn says:

    As a priest for thirty-six years and now an assistant at a thriving parish with lots of young families I think I can hold a candle to any priest who has had to contend with screaming babies. Time and again I have pointed out to parents that “going to Mass as a family” is a nice idea but not a law of either God or man. I have always encouraged the tag team approach as a perfectly sensible and happy solution. Many couples have told me: “Father, you saved 0ur marriage. We each get a hour of peace and prayer each week.” As for toddlers who are past the terrible twos, the trick is to overcome your fear of embarrassment and bring them up front where they can see what’s going on. (Think of it from there point of view, at the back of the church surrounded by adults blocking their view in all directions. Wouldn’t you be board and cranky? ) They will find the liturgy fascinating. I have seen this time and time again. Of course they will squirm but will generally be fixated on the sanctuary where there are so many interesting things going on. When there are several children they can get to go with mommy or daddy on their own and, with no need to compete for attention, will be quite content to sit quietly and take in the show — up front of course.

  17. beelady says:

    I have a few suggestions that may be helpful.
    When our children were young, we would take them outside and get them some fresh air and exercise (at least 30 mins) before attending Mass.
    This made a world of difference in their ability to sit quietly! It was helpful for the infant’s moods too.
    I would also suggest switching to the Mass that is best suited to your children’s schedule.
    Generally, children are the most high-strung and/or fussy when they are tired or hungry. They may be happier when Mass time doesn’t conflict with their normal eating or sleeping schedule.
    If they don’t have a sleep schedule and you are interested in putting them on one, I highly recommend the book, “The no-cry sleep solution” by Elizabeth Pantley.

  18. Andrew says:

    Where I live, once in a while at a Novus Ordo Sunday Mass one can spot a child, but most Sundays there is no sign of any underage person or of a pregnant woman. Hence, the way I look at it, if someone wants to show up with a baby or a screaming toddler, we should all thank them. When my children were young I didn’t try to restrain them too much. It helps. A child needs to move. If he can’t he will get loud. Then again: each child is different: and each parent is different.

  19. stomkiewicz says:

    Father of 5 ages 7 to 14 days. The truck we found is to involve the kids. We attend an FSSP parish out in a cornfield where our family with 5 children is the average. It took a few weeks but we sit in the front row typically so that the kids can see everything. My wife and I will speak to them occasionally and point out things going on. When the congregation kneels, so do the kids with us, so they are not crawling on the pews. If all else fails, we have our go bag with books for them to look at that are specifically mass related, including a graphic novel-esq book called Know Your Mass which is especially popular.

  20. happymom says:

    We have ten children. Seven boys. Six boys in a row within seven years. It can be done! My thoughts and suggestions.
    -Read through the Mass the night before and again the morning of. This way, you will already have meditated on it somewhat before going. If you are distracted, the little bits you glean will fall on fertile soil. As your children grow, you can share this practice with them. It will help them pay attention. Speak to your children beforehand, when they are old enough, about expectations.
    -When they are very little, it’s mostly damage control. My husband spent many, many Masses at the back of the church. A good strategy, when you have more, is to separate the noisy ones. Maybe each parent holds a baby and keeps a child on each end.
    -I encourage you to attend Mass as a family. You will never know the graces raining down through your struggles! After decades in the trenches, I’ve learned that many, many people I DON’T EVEN KNOW have prayed for my family, for my children. Many families have had more children, due to our witness.
    -Get those boys serving as soon as they can. When six or seven of our boys are serving at the altar, it makes many weep. Best of all, we have two seminarians, so far. I’m certain it is due to the many prayers of those unknown parishioners while we were juggling monkeys!

  21. mysticalrose says:

    Our pastor continually reminds us that a parent of a young child is dispensed from the obligation. He also suggest the tag team approach. But these are times when the graces of the Mass are most needed, or so it seems to me, so it is hard to stay home. And the thing about the tag team approach — we go to a TLM parish where almost no one lives nearby. It makes sense in an age when you walked to your parish (as I did when I was young), but not when you drive a distance.

  22. TRW says:

    This comment isn’t necessarily for the original questioner. Three kids under three is a game-changer. However, one thing that I have learned with our children is to never let the little ones walk into the church. From the time they can first walk, I will carry them from the car seat to the pew. In the pew
    they just sit on my lap or I hold them. The whole time. No wandering, no climbing. If they get a taste of freedom walking in, they will want to walk everywhere and then they end up resenting the fact that I’m limiting their freedom. It makes a huge difference. For some reason, if they walk in, they want to run around and explore. They never seem to relent if they get that initial taste of freedom. If I carry them in, they seem to just think to themselves ” Oh, this is the place where I have to sit in Dad’s lap”. It can be tiring, especially as they get bigger. There are times we’ve had to take them out of Mass, but generally they just go through short phases where they are ornery( at certain developmental stages). By the age of three/ four they’ll sit…with some supervision. Bribes also help. If they do a good job they get treats after mass. If they are really naughty, I’ve had to take them out to the parking lot and they get buckled in their car seat. I stand outside the van and let them know they did a poor job. For them to be wiggly in Mass is to be expected. If the noise gets to be distracting for others, I take them out. Sometimes I’ll be somewhere outside the nave when the consecration takes place. Many times I’ll just kneel wherever I am, child in my arms. I at least feel like I’m doing what I can to participate, even if only bodily.

  23. mo7 says:

    Mom of 7 here now all young adults. There were lots of Sundays when I felt I hadn’t been to Mass though we all 9 went together each starting from birth. Every Sunday and holy day. [We were NO in those days, but are now TLM]. What did we accomplish? Our kids knew that Mass attendance was and is non-negotiable, even during family camping trips, they packed church clothes. At some point we began to do the readings together on Saturday night. I think it helped the kids when the reading sounded familiar come Sunday morning. We also talked about Father’s homily on the car ride home. When they misbehaved, and with 7 in 10 years they sure did, i would quietly point out the ‘big kids’ who were sooo well behaved with a note of praise in my tone.
    Nowadays, all 7 still go to Mass. By end of 2022, 3 will be married in the church. My 1st grandchild was baptised in trad rite. 1 is in seminary. That’s what was accomplished. All the glory to God. So hang in there Dad, these are the best years: exciting yet challenging. BTW, your children are learning great life skills: Sitting quietly and listening, being respectful and more.

  24. daughteroflight says:

    Got three under the age of four. Fourth on the way. Mass is chaotic, though the oldest is finally getting the hang of being quiet. Secunda is two, and she likes to scream when she’s mad. Or bored. Or curious. Or… existing? I’m usually in the back.

    Depending on the day, and whether Secunda or Tertia are crying loudly enough to warrant being completely outside the building, I am generally able to catch snatches of the action. Having a good understanding of the general purpose of each movement of the Mass is very helpful, and can help focus your mind on the Mass, even if you aren’t catching the particulars. The Mass is too rich to take in all at once anyway – sometimes the general drama is more spiritually nourishing than the Collect, but other times I just really needed to meditate on the psalm. The Church presents a huge banquet – you’ll still come away full even if you’re snatching at platters while they come in from the kitchen.

    Worst case scenario, everyone is melting, I’m lucky if I’m still inside the building within earshot to know when it’s time for communion. In those cases (if I’m not uncharitably fuming at or about a child), I try to recall the chaos of Jesus’ march to Calvary, and I walk with Him while pacing with the infant. We parents are suffering. It’s a small suffering, all said and done, but it’s still humiliating, infuriating, and frustrating. Uniting that suffering to Our Lord’s, which is being re-presented on the altar somewhere in the air-conditioned building from which we’ve been driven, is truly the most authentic participation in the Mass, since it is a fulfillment of our duty of the priestly worship of the baptized.

  25. pbnelson says:

    Only a few years ago I had four kids under age five in mass with Mom cantoring. We sat up front where there was more to “action” to distract them. Nowadays my youngest just has to be reminded to sit still and stop whispering to me. This time will pass all too soon. At our TLM there must be half a dozen infants under 6 months. Countless toddlers. No such thing as a cry room. The pews, full of Moms and Dads and teens and toddlers, make for just about the most beautiful scene on God’s earth. Honestly, every time I hear fussy babies at mass, and that’s several times every mass, all I think is, “Praise God for these blessings! and praise their wonderful parents for bringing them here.” You have to have a kid in total meltdown, just crashed his head into the pew, 30 seconds of silent air intake before the scream, full-throated, non-stop, repeated, continual, ear-piercing shrieks before I start to think, “you might wanna get that kid outta here.” It’s been my experience that parents are a lot more self-conscious than they need to be. And if you think about it, that’s a form of pride, wanting to be known as parents whose kids are nice and quiet, not wanting to be judged as lousy Catholics who can’t keep the volume down. My advice is to ignore that feeling; forget about what people are thinking because they probably aren’t judging you anyway, and even if they are it’s just a nice opportunity for a little penance to cut some time off purgatory. So offer it up to Jesus. And God bless you! p.s. as Taylor Marshall says, “If your parish ain’t cryin’, it’s dyin’.”

  26. monstrance says:

    Very true – just attended NO Mass the last 2 weeks on the road.
    Low attendance, and not ONE young person.

  27. Kathleen10 says:

    What great anecdotes to share, thank you everybody. For those of us no longer in the heat of battle, it’s a reminder. It’s hard when Junior is melting down and you feel like his caterwauls are causing others to seethe, but they generally aren’t. It’s a sign our future is in the building, praise God. We all need to rejoice when the babies cry (on their way out) because that means we are blessed with young families. It’s like the babies are in a union though, they all agree to cry during the consecration, weird. Sometimes babies compete, as Father gets louder, so do they. Maybe I’m wrong on this, it won’t be the first time, but I really do feel that if someone could not be in the building but is even sitting in their car so as to be close to the Holy Mass, God sees that little sacrifice and that act of love.
    It is a short window in time. Too fast it closes. Maybe parents aren’t always at Mass and able to be recollected or hear one single thing said, but they brought their child to God that day, and helped acclimate that precious child a little bit more to the sights and sounds of the most important aspect of their lives, the Mass. The children will remember going and eye-rolling teenagers turn into young adults who start to brag about how they “always went to Mass”, and it becomes important to them as a memory and they brag about it to friends. Hopefully they continue it and someday you can remember those days as they whisk your noisy grandchild out. You will not believe how fast that day comes.
    That being said I always thought having special “quiet toys” available only during Mass was a good idea. This may not help babies but generally does the toddlers and older kiddies. These are the days of your and their lives parents, enjoy them. You don’t know how many wish they could go back and fight that battle again.

  28. Fr. Kelly says:

    A bit of encouragement from a woman who raised 14 children (my mother):

    3 is the hardest. They outnumber you.
    By the time the 4th comes along, the oldest is beginning to be able to help with the younger ones. It only gets better from there.

    Don’t let these things discourage you from bringing them to church. How can they learn how to behave in church if they are not there?

    Teething, etc aside, a little bit of noise from an active child should remind us all that God wants us to go on…

  29. Dan says:

    I can relate with the original question here. We have had 9 children and the first three came as Irish triplets so I have been in these exact shoes.
    I agree with it is best to not let them down if you can help it. Hold them and hold their arms. The problem is, the difference between two children and three is astronomical. They outnumber you now and you can’t hold them all!
    If they get fussy take them out. For many years my “active participation” was pacing back and forth with young children in the narthex of the church.
    I know that there are many people who will now suggest the sit up front so the kids can watch the show strategy. With very small children, especially if you have multiples I find this to be bad advice. Sit in the back near an exit our of respect for the rest of the faithful trying to participate in Mass so you don’t have to walk out with three crying children through the whole church in the middle of Mass.

    I find it interesting that one of the reasons the Catechism lists as a serious enough reason to be released from your Sunday obligation is the “care of infants.” With small children your participation at Mass might not be exactly what you expect but God will work through your participation in the hall with a crying Kid (I am not sure why most modern churches got rid of cry rooms. they are the best although I think they should be reserved for women so they can nurse if necessary)

    The lessons you teach your children about the sacredness of the space and your respect for the Mass will not be lost on them as they grow.

    The good news for you is it seems that right around three years of age is when children get the magic ability to sit through Mass so there is light at the end of the tunnel. Depending on when your next child comes. I pray that you have have another twenty years of struggling with small children at Mass. Thank you for your openness to life.

  30. prayfatima says:

    People often compliment me on the good behavior of my kids at Mass. It’s interesting, because I don’t know what it is specifically that gets them to be good. We definitely expect good behavior and we tell them before Mass what will happen if they are too loud and what will happen if they are good. Too loud/distracting, they get scooped up quietly, usually by Dad (they probably want Mommy to take them out, so Dad it is!) and taken to the back/outside the church/to the van, depending on their level of fuss. The tot can’t come back in until he is ready to be good. Good behavior at Mass earns the young ones a donut or something else they really want, this is discussed before Mass and we remind them during Mass about that donut, telling them to face forward and watch the Mass or else no donut! I try to ignore the minimal fussing and let them move around to a point, removing them from the pew only if I see their behavior getting to a certain level of unacceptable. Being in the church is a privilege and it requires good behavior, and we make sure they know that. We try to sit near the end of the pew so the exit itself isn’t super distracting. We have sat up front and gone to weekday Masses and I believe both of those things have helped our kids learn to behave properly at Mass, the more practice the better. An important thing for us is they need to face forward (unless it’s a baby looking over our shoulder). No staring at the people behind us. Look forward at the altar, watch what is going on. We also teach them to kneel and stand when we do, whenever they’re able. We don’t really do cry rooms unless it’s a place where we walk around to when the child has been taken out of the pew. I try to make it exciting to go to Mass, they get dressed up and it’s a nice family outing. We teach them the important parts of the Mass, especially the elevation of the Host when the bells ring, we whisper to them, “that’s Jesus! say ‘my Lord and my God!’” Another big thing that helps a ton is, make sure they aren’t super overtired, hungry or feeling unwell when you take them to Mass. Kids can’t be expected to behave well at all when they are tired/hungry/feeling unwell. When trying to teach kids how to behave, I can’t hold a missal and follow the Mass that way, so I just watch the Mass, try to think about God, and try to say small interior prayers from my heart here and there especially at the important parts.

  31. ML says:

    I sometimes wish the choir could be carried out when it gets too noisome and disruptive. As for children sometimes their cries are the best homily.

    I generally think it a bad idea for parents to go to mass separately as a matter of habit.

    Sitting in the front pews as others have suggested may seem counterintuitive however it is also a custom my intelligent wife (mother of 10) adopted and has worked well for us.

    Mothers of infants should not be afraid to nurse their children during mass (modestly of course).

    Also “Active participation” , as Fr Z points out really has nothing to do with whether one is distracted by the sounds of a crying child. There is another very good explanation here:

    “…The difference between participation in the liturgy that can be called activa and participation that can be labeled actuosa rests in the presence in the soul of the baptismal character, the seal that grants one the right to participate”

    As to the original question:

    ” I wonder on how best to pray the mass, and to give God His due through my weekly mass attendance. Mass for my wife and I is usually spent in the back vestibule guarding one of two toddlers from causing anymore chaos or noise making, or bouncing a fussy baby who won’t be satisfied for any amount of trying.”

    I would recommend of course to continue doing your best in keeping your children calm by implementing some of the practical tips found in the comments however I would also respond that it is by virtue of your baptism that both you and your children are able to have Active participation. Even the infant can have this, though not perfected, since the infant will not receive Holy Communion.

    As for Giving God his due? You are caring for His children and bringing them to the Sacrament of Eternal Life.

  32. Cincinnati Priest 2 says:

    As a priest of many years, my 2cents’ worth (Novus Ordo Masses):

    * I love having children at Mass, but leave it up to parents whether want to “tag team” or come as a family. As noted, there is no shame in tag-teaming.
    * ocousn and others: I am a little contrarian on the “just sit up front” solution to fussy children which I hear pitched often. First of all, practically speaking, there are only a few seats up front, so this can’t work for many.
    * Second, in most churches, if the children do become fussy, the closer they are to the altar, the more distracting it is for the priest. Depending on the acoustics, in the average church, a very fussy child barely in the middle of the nave, will barely be noticed by me while I am saying Mass, but become quite distracting if just a few feet away in the front pew.
    * Every priest is different, but for me, the most distracting times are while preaching the homily (makes it easy to lose train of thought) and during the Eucharistic prayer where more intense focus is needed. Please be considerate not only of fellow Mass-goers but the priest celebrant.
    * As noted by other post-ers, it is not the noise per se that children make that is distracting (easy to tune out, and happy sounds are actually delightful anyway). Rather it is the very loud crying or screaming, particularly of infants that can be distracting.
    * Please remember that those who are not parents of young children (including priests) have not built up or have lost the “tune out” mechanisms that parents of young children build of necessity. While many of my young-parent friends tell me they barely notice their child wailing, it is very hard for others to concentrate on the Mass while it is going on.
    * Please exercise good judgment and charity. If the wailing is a few seconds, no big deal. If it is continuous, especially during the homily or Eucharistic prayer, please consider taking the child out of earshot temporarily.
    * Finally, thank you for being generous and open to new life and raising the children in the faith.

  33. One quick comment from a single Catholic: Those common, crying babies at TLM’s today will be the priests of what hopefully will be a stronger Church in 30 years. I try not to let them bother me. They have to start somewhere.

  34. bookworm says:

    I second everything said here, especially by Cincinnati Priest 2, with a few additions of my own. I have one child who is autistic; she was a bit squirmy in her toddler years but otherwise I’ve had few issues with taking her to Mass (she still attends with me at age 25).

    IIRC, children are not obligated to attend Mass until they reach the age of reason, so parents are free to either leave them at home or bring them along prior to that age. My own parents, born and raised pre-Vatican II, did not start taking me or my older brother to Mass (they attended separate Masses at our parish) until we were about 5 or 6 years old. Also, the choice to leave the kids at home or bring them along does NOT have to be set in stone, it can be decided on a week-by-week basis depending on whether you, your spouse or the kids are up to it.

  35. robtbrown says:

    Although many new US churches have a cry room, I don’t mind babies crying. It’s what a baby does. On the other hand, the grey-headed “youth” band drowning all with noise is another matter.

    Once in a while I attend a nearby parish featuring such talent: drums, electric bass and guitar, and a piano. My solution happened because I remembered my silicon ear plugs from lap swimming. So I have sat there wearing a mask and ear plugs. I only need Groucho Marx glasses, nose and mustache to complete the disguise.

    A few years ago at a parish in my hometown toward the end of mass a child was not crying but screaming–and would not stop. The ushers probably should have asked the parents to take the child to the vestibule. Wondering why they didn’t, a thought began to creep into my mind: The ushers must be do-nothing cowards. Before the thought was finished, however, I noticed that one was a man I knewwho was a Medal of Honor recipient. (He did btw die a few days ago.)

  36. TheDude05 says:

    I was looking at pictures from a friend who is Orthodox when they were having Divine Liturgy and I noticed that 1. They didn’t have pews so the adults were all standing and 2. The kids were off in groups at the parent’s feet quietly doing their kid thing. It makes me wonder if this isn’t the best solution as I think the sitting still is what causes the loudness.

  37. jflare29 says:

    “If your parish ain’t cryin’, it’s dyin’.”
    Taylor Marshall has made many worthy comments. ..This is not one of them. These sorts of pithy comments did well to encourage people in the 80s; we thought we were a new generation, so we could try something different. ..I’ve learned the hard way how such intents create many troubles.
    Many tips offered here strike me as excellent: Quiet time outside Mass, holding children to keep their attention, parents “tag-teaming” to Mass, removing unruly ones to vestibule. These are good. I’m surprised I haven’t seen mention of illustrated children’s religious books, especially of Bible stories. Such keep little ones occupied, while providing rudiments of faith. Or, I’ve also seen parents distract little ones with animal crackers or something equally small. Little ones may suck on these and be quite content.
    However, we expect Mass quiet with good cause. I’m a single man. I am not an ADD/ADHD victim, yet I still have challenges, if different from parents. I routinely use a missal; my mind will wander thither and yon if I don’t. I can typically pray the prayers, roughly the same time as the priest; very helpful. Yet …as noted by a priest earlier, Junior can be a problem. I understand little ones prone to being fussy. I also understand I’m not in Mass to listen to Junior’s babbles and howls. …I assure you, I hear plenty of howling by adults during the week. Junior (probably) won’t be as morally daft as Def Leppard or Dr Dre, yet those are mostly muted apartment walls. I can’t (safely) mute Junior the same way. I truly do prefer parents remove Junior to the vestibule. Soon.
    Then too, your parish choir will likely appreciate your consideration. Palestrina, Victoria, Wagner, Franck, Beethoven, Mozart–I LOVE his Te Deum! All provide fabulous spiritual food. When Junior chooses to howl from 15 feet down, yet only 5 feet ahead, …makes it tough to sustain that food. It can be done, sure. Yet like the choice between driving a car down a bumpy road vs driving on smooth concrete, you like to avoid quasi-needless complications when you can.
    I do, very much, prefer the alternatives others have provided.

  38. SnapDad says:

    As a parent of several young children, here’s what works for us:

    1. Sit front and center. Let the kids see what’s going on and smell the incense. Staring at someone else’s head gets boring.

    2. Use the time for catechesis – “See, now it looks like bread but it’s really Jesus!”

    3. There are good missals for children with pictures and summaries of the Gospel readings; have religious books and milk / water so you can distract them if they get worked up or make noise. Be on guard – something about the silence during the Consecration makes them want to shout.

    4. Avoid the family room unless there’s a severe meltdown, sickness, etc. They don’t get to leave Mass if they act up. Sometimes you can just pick them up and walk down and up the aisle to change their focus and shift behavior.

    5. Sit a little apart so they can move a little if needed. Let them sit, stand, use your lap, whatever helps them take in what’s going on around us.

    It’s not always easy. Going back after being forced to just watch live streams was an adjustment.

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