Here’s the Thing About Kids at Mass
South Bend, Indiana is a Catholic town, and we attend a parish full of young professionals who have growing families. Our Sunday morning 10 a.m. Mass sounds like a zoo. I say that in the best possible way because it’s a beautiful ruckus—if you’re ready for it. If you’re looking for a quiet, contemplative experience of the Eucharist, you’re better off at the 8 a.m. liturgy.
There are no quiet moments in the church at the 10 a.m. Mass. Every so often, a toddler escapes and makes a break for the sanctuary. Our priests have grown accustomed to preaching over squealing voices. The kids who are dismissed for a children’s Liturgy of the Word return to the assembly like a herd of puppies.
The last few weeks, we’ve been surrounded by parents who have spent a considerable portion of the liturgy wrestling with their children. Several times, both parents have had to leave with a fussy child in tow at the same time, leaving behind an empty pew full of winter coats and diaper bag detritus. At such times, I know the parents are weighing the cost of the effort to be at Mass at all. I know mom is looking at dad in the entryway with desperation in her eyes as they both try to keep a grip on a thrashing child and their sanity. They could be sleeping in, they’re thinking. Or pretending to sleep in.
Every Sunday, the vestibule transforms into a refugee camp of parents and restless children living in liturgical exile. I get it. I’ve been there, too. It’s hard to get up early to wrangle small kids into uncomfortable clothes and figure out a nice way to put them in a submission hold in front of a hundred holy people.
But we need you there.
You remind us that the Gospel is meant to be lived in homes and neighborhoods, not just in a church building. You remind us that waking in the middle of the night to change diapers, using dessert as leverage for the consuming of asparagus, brushing hair, folding socks, and buying science fair display boards are all corporal works of mercy.
So, if you are a parent of a small child, relax. Don’t sweat the noise or the Twister game your kid thinks they are playing during the psalm. Give us a little credit—we are adults. We know how to focus. If we want holy silence, we’ll visit the church when it’s empty. We are there to approach the Lord in community, and you’re an indispensable, vital part of that. And what’s more, so is your child.
And most of us have been in the same shoes. You are probably inspiring prayers of thanksgiving in 40% of the congregation. (If you are one of those giving thanks, take a moment after dismissal and thank a parent for coming with their loud, sniffling kid. The encouragement will mean more than you know.)
I remember Sundays when I was only able to scrap together enough attention for about 30 seconds of an hour-long liturgy. I remember leaving Mass more exhausted than when I arrived. I remember wondering if my kids would ever grow older. Or even just go to sleep—like, ever. And guess what? They did—and all too soon. It’s a phase, a season of life. Blink and it’s over. Hang in there. Don’t give up. Keep at it.
A new season will come. We are in the phase now where our kids are altar servers and readers, but just because they can sit still doesn’t mean we’re an image of the Holy Family. I still throw elbows to nudge them out of a daydream. I am still waiting for them to wake up to the miracle transpiring on the altar. We want them to be saints. Right now they are kids.
Beyond the attention our kids give or don’t give a homily, or whether or not I can enter into contemplative prayer after receiving Holy Communion, it forms us to anchor our week around Sunday Mass. It’s who we are, it’s what we do.
We learned to play the long game here. The short game is won by staying at home, hands down. Pancakes at home on Sunday morning contribute more immediately to family harmony than gag orders in a pew—it’s not even close. But the long game is more important. Attending Mass every Sunday as a family teaches our kids about a commitment that they learn in their bones. And if we seek faithfulness outside of the church building, they’ll come to understand that our lives don’t make sense without what happens inside the church building: the Eucharist. That’s how I learned it. That’s how faith is passed on.
Mass doesn’t make us perfect, nor do we have to be perfect at Mass—it’s not about us at all, in fact. It’s about the Body of Christ, and joining that body once a week moves us towards generosity and thanksgiving.
When we go to Mass ready to give instead of looking to get, we encounter that body. When we bring our whole messy lives in tow, kicking and screaming, and offer it up along with bread and wine, we’ll find that the Lord receives those gifts, blesses them, and then gives them back to us transformed so that they feed us.
For practical tips in preparing for and praying during Mass with your kids, check out How to Take Young Children to Mass, another article by Josh and Stacey.