The Challenge of Sunday Mass
With small children, Mass can sometimes seem less than heaven and more like purgatory.
We’ve had to rescale our expectations for our participation at Mass since Simon and Lucy were born. It takes two parents to be with them in the pew, so we’ve had to let other folks in the parish help with serving as lectors and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, ministries that we both enjoy filling.
We’ve even had to scale back our expectations for our own experience at Mass. I recall finding transcendence and peace at Mass during college. I recall feeling immersed in an ocean of believers who bring their lives to God through this same prayer—faithful from every continent and age.
In the early years, we simply tried to make it through a homily without a tantrum. There were Sundays where Stacey or I missed more than half of Mass pacing with kids outside or in the vestibule as they screamed and kicked. Our role at Mass was primarily about modeling and teaching our kids how to enter this experience.
There will come a time when I can experience Mass for the prayer it offers me. And I have the chance to attend daily Mass once or twice a week on campus where we work. For now, though, our job is to train our children for this important work, and we are seeing some progress.
We always try to sit in the front row so that the kids can see. If all they could see was the backs and behinds of other adults, how could we expect them to engage Mass? I’d be bored, too! We don’t bring books or snacks or crayons—we need them to learn how to be still and enter this experience, not simply get through it without whining.
When the kids were just learning to talk, it was fun to ask them to point to candles and the tabernacle and the priest. Simon and Lucy are now older, so we can engage them by asking them to share their voices with everyone in the songs and responses. We help them say a prayer after they’ve received a blessing at Communion. When there are baptisms, we walk to the font so they can see the water splashing and smell the chrism. On holy days, when incense is used, we help them watch it rise like our prayers to God. The bells that are rung at the elevation are fun to point out, especially when Oscar is the altar server ringing them. Our Catholic tradition is brimming with prayer that appeals to our senses, and these symbols are a huge asset to us as we form our kids in this Catholic way of life.
In the middle of all that, if I can catch a sentence or two of the homily or Eucharistic prayer that feeds me, I’m grateful. One thing we do with Oscar helps with that—we ask him to read the readings for Mass on the drive to the church. It helps us to hear the readings before-hand—it opens our ears to make connections.
Lately, it has been gestures that have been feeding me more than words. For example, I’ve been subsisting for weeks on watching the priest pour the wine into chalices. I identify with that gesture—it visualizes how it feels to me to pour out my life for my family.
I’ve always been struck by the preparation of the gifts—it is a beautiful exchange. As a congregation, we offer the gifts of our lives in the bread and wine. Those gifts are received by the Church—they are taken and blessed, broken and poured—then given back to us transformed into the presence of Christ. God feeds us with our very lives when we freely offer them in gratitude.
It reminds me that in family life, I have also been taken, blessed and broken. When 8:00 p.m. rolls around, and the kids are squeaky clean and tucked into bed, and the house is finally quiet, and Stacey and I each take a deep breath, I recollect myself and see my day given back to me transformed by gratitude.
It is not transcendent contemplation—actually, it often feels like the opposite—but it is enough to feed me now.