In our parish foyer’s collection of magazines, envelopes, handouts, and holy cards, there’s a pamphlet called “How to take young children to Mass.” A lot of the tips inside are helpful. But, more than the advice it gives, I’m glad the pamphlet is there to make it clear to parents that their kids are welcome at our parish. But, recently, I realized there was something missing from it.
When Haley was out of town a few weekends ago and I had to take the kids to Mass by myself, I was convinced it would be a disaster. These days, Gwen is very “vocal” in Mass so we usually have to take her out by the end of the homily. And our two older children are sometimes… “active.” But there was nothing for it but to give it our best shot. We left the house at 8am. Which is exactly when Mass starts. Oops. Most of us were wearing shoes and I’d say 80% of our buttons were fastened correctly. But, hey, one dad and three mostly dressed children only five minutes late? I’ll take it.
And they behaved admirably. No joke. I mean, people definitely knew we were there. And I had to take the baby to the back of the church once. But, when I did, the other two mostly stayed in the right place. They sang the Our Father with reckless abandon (which is, of course, the only theologically correct way to sing this prayer). Gwen tried to leap into several people’s arms during the passing of the peace (which is, of course, how we all ought to pass the peace). Lucy shouted several times, “JESUS IS HERE” (which, of course, we would probably all shout several times during Mass if we really thought about what was going on). I had to referee a few scuffles, I had to shush, I had to wrestle. But, all in all, it was fine.
Actually, it was more than fine. It was joyful. Since I was by myself, I couldn’t constantly question myself, “Is this one child being too loud? Should I take her out now?” Because, well, I couldn’t. I was stuck there. I still kept my kids as quiet and attentive as I could, but I mostly just focused on being there with them and helping them appreciate the liturgy. And it was wonderful! To be clear, I’m definitely glad to have my wife back with us at Mass. It’s a lot easier when we’re together. But, in the future, I still want to try to focus on that joy. The joy of being together at Mass. What a gift. Ever since Pope Francis released his encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, I’ve tried to focus on that phrase, “the joy of the Gospel.” Because that joy should always fill our lives, even in stressful situations.
So, that’s what the little pamphlet ought to add. Sure, you should try to get clothes on all your kids. And do your best to help them sit quietly. Take them out when it’s called for. But don’t let any of this make you forget the joy that ought to saturate our time at Mass. You’ve been invited to the feast of the Lamb. And, here, we’re all children. Rejoice!
Update: Since I wrote this post, we’ve gone to Mass a few times in different settings. A couple of those times were DISASTERS and I sort of forgot about joy. Oops. Coulda used a helpful pamphlet.