This could quite possibly be one of the cutest videos on the internet, as well as the goal of every Catholic parent of young children. Don’t we all wish our children could perform the Mass as beautifully as Isaiah does?
Right now, it’s just a struggle to get my family to Mass, let alone learn all the words to the prayers! No matter how early I wake up or how many outfits I carefully lay out the night before it seems that something will inevitably slow us down. It doesn’t get any easier by the time we arrive at Mass (usually just beating the priest approaching the altar) and shuffle (as quietly as four boys under ten and a toddler can shuffle ) into our pew.
Seating arrangement is vital to our success and always requires some shifting before we can all sit. Didn’t we just go through all of this last Sunday? Why do we need the reminders to sit still, kneel, and be quiet Every. Single. Week? However, we’ve also had our share of Sundays in which everyone was so attentive and well behaved that other parishioners made a point to comment on how well behaved our children were during Mass. Those are the best days – the days that I cling to on the most difficult days.
Comedian Tim Hawkins said, “Whoever wrote the song ‘Easy like Sunday morning’ didn’t take kids to church on a regular basis.” I completely agree. There is nothing easy about it.
But, we know that few things in this life are easy. God wants our children in His house and it is our responsibility as parents to get them there even when it is difficult for us. Though we may not hear a word of the Gospel and may feel as if we have just participated in a wrestling match rather than sitting quietly in a Church pew, God is pleased at our willingness to sacrifice our own comfort in order to bring our children to worship Him. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way that can make going to Mass a little more doable for your family. I’m not promising this will result in children like Isaiah, but it might help you get through a Mass or two.
1. Prioritize – Going to Mass should never be an option for you or your children (unless someone is sick or there are other extreme circumstances). Children thrive on routine. From a young age, it is important to teach them by example that going to Mass on Sundays is just what your family does. They will come to expect this as a part of their week and hopefully will one day look forward to attending Mass.
2. Remember your goal. – Is your goal to have well-behaved kids or those that love Christ? We aren’t just training our kids to be able to sit quiet and still for an hour. That shouldn’t be our goal. Our real goal is to cultivate a love for God, His Son, and His Church. Keeping this goal in mind can help us keep our cool and remain calm when the kids are not exactly behaving like angels. If we get angry and upset with them, they will associate going to Mass with Mom and Dad being upset. If we calmly redirect them, they will learn the beauty of our faith.
3. Expect bad days and leave room for grace. – Just as we have days when things are a little off and we lose our patience (or temper), our children have days when they can’t behave their best. This is an opportunity to bestow God’s grace over them.
4. Plan & Prepare – It is crucial to prepare for Mass beforehand in both practical and spiritual ways. Explain to your children the expected behavior for Mass and the reasons why we need to obey the rules. My children have an easier time understanding that we need to be quiet because other people are praying and listening to God than just a command to not to speak or move. As my children have gotten older, we ask them to tell us what the rules are as we drive to Mass. It is a reminder to them and an instruction to the younger kids. Reading the readings and discussing prior to Sunday is a good discipline for both you and your children. This will really help the kids to pay more attention to Mass because they will have a better understanding of what is being said. If you have to leave with a crying baby or take a trip to the restroom with a potty training toddler, having previously read the readings will allow you to stay focused when you return.
5. Practice – Part of preparing is practicing. Just as little Isaac in the video was “playing” Mass, my children have found great joy in this activity. We don’t have all the fancy supplies, but a nice wine glass and special plate can substitute. This will not only help the kids to learn the parts of the Mass, but also allows for practice sitting, standing, kneeling and being quiet.
6. Pray on the way. – On our way to Mass, we always say a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help our children grow in their love for God and to have self-control during Mass.
7. Dress for the occasion. – Taking the time to help the kids look nice will help to teach them the importance of going to Mass. It’s not just another play date or a trip to the park, we are going to God’s house and Jesus is there waiting for us. We want to look our best for Him. Children seem to grasp the importance of this and express it in their respectful behavior. More on dressing for Mass can be found in the post here.
8. Bring supplies. – There are differences of opinion on this one and I have to say that our supplies have changed based on the personality of each of my children. Some of my kids can respectfully munch on cheerios and it helps them to keep quiet during Mass, others have found the need to throw those same cheerios at other parishioners. Your supply bag depends on the personality and needs of your children. We have a firm rule that after age two there are no snacks allowed. For babies and toddlers cheerios, baby food pouches, and the occasional sucker can help worn out parents sit in Mass and pray. We also bring three “holy” books. The older boys are able to follow along in a children’s missal or the Magnifikid. (I have included a list of our three current books at the end of this post.)
9. Participate and explain the Mass. – Kids love to join in singing and praying the prayers they know (this is part of the practice). Help them to not just be observers and bystanders, but to actually take part in the celebration of the Mass. Whisper to them what is going on during the most important parts, “Now this is when the bread becomes Jesus! Watch and pray that Jesus would be in you too.” They will start to look forward to those special times in which you bring them close to you and share the faith in a simple way.
10. Stay out of the cry room unless you or your baby is crying. – Have you ever been to a cry room in which the parents want to have a full conversation with you during Mass or school-age children are running around playing? It has been my personal experience that being behind that glass window is not conducive to a holy and reverent environment. My children typically behave worse when we are in the cry room. They pick up the behaviour of the other children and adults, they don’t sing the songs, and they get easily distracted. Reserve the cry room for times when your baby is truly crying, your spouse is not with you, or you have simply had such an awful morning that you yourself may end up in tears.
11. Follow Up – When you leave Mass or later during the week, take time to talk about the readings, the homily and the children’s behaviour. Help them learn how to apply what was taught at Mass to their own lives. Revisit with them ways their behaviour could have been different or commend them for a job well done.
Remember in all of this that it is only for a brief season of our lives that our children will need these rules and structures in place. As the saying goes, “the days are long, but the years are short” and this time will be over before you know it. Take the time to soak in the innocent and pure faith of your children. Observe their awe and wonder at the Lord and His marvelous works. Perhaps, it will be your children that teach you the most important lessons of our faith.
“…children cry, they are noisy, they don’t stop moving. But it really irritates me when I see a child crying in church and someone says they must go out. God’s voice is in a child’s tears: they must never be kicked out of church.” – Pope Francis
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