Why Young Children Belong at Mass

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for my parish newsletter about why we must offer encouragement — not sideways glances — to parents who bring their young children to Mass. Overall, the response was positive, but one reader sent me a letter suggesting I leave my kids at home so I could “more fully receive Christ.” It was charitable enough, but the point was clear: Children are sweet, but they don’t belong in church.
This wasn’t the first time (and I suspect it won’t be the last) I’ve been scolded for encouraging our children’s presence at Mass. Last summer I was pegged as a breastfeeding heretic after I wrote a column about nursing discreetly in church. What I foolishly assumed was an innocuous article about a mother’s love for her Church and her children resulted in a barrage of comments — some of them laced with vitriol directed not only at “immodest nursing mothers” but at children attending Mass in general. I discovered a litany of complaints about crying babies (who should exhibit more self control and not need to be fed during Mass), antsy toddlers, and young children’s “sin” of causing distraction.
These comments baffled me. So did the woman who recently shot nasty looks at my brood during Mass. I smiled at her when I caught her gaping, but she continued to scowl at my older children (four and two), who were doing nothing more than quietly flipping through religious books. (Just imagine the scandal if I’d dared to nurse my seven-week-old!)
Then there was the time we sat down next to a woman who caught sight of us and sighed loudly, glared at my two-year-old daughter, and snapped, “Just keep her quiet” — before the child had even uttered a peep.
At this point, you might think that I’m one of those overindulgent mothers who lets her little hellions scale the pews and leave a trail of crushed Cheerios in their wake. Not so. If my kids are being disruptive, we retreat, and I don’t permit noshing during Mass (nursing babies are an exception). However, I don’t consider an occasional happy squeal or my preschooler’s off-key singing as a reason to surrender.
If we are truly a pro-life people, then how can we not welcome children — the future of the Church — at Mass? What follows are five more reasons why I believe children of all ages belong in the pews right along with us.
1. Allowing kids to go AWOL from Mass undermines the parents’ duty to begin faith education in the child’s earliest years (Catechism 2226). Not only will it be a lot tougher to teach an older child who has rarely been to Mass to behave, leaving kids at home sends the message that Mass is not for children. Regular attendance at Mass is a must to help them recognize the sacredness of the Eucharist and to value their faith.
Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI urges parents to make Sunday Mass a family affair. “Parents are called to make their children discover the value and importance of the response to Christ’s invitation, who calls the whole Christian family to Sunday Mass,” the pope said to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on June 13, 2005. Note he said the whole Christian family, not just those old enough to behave or to receive the Eucharist.
Jesus invites all of us to His table — and He extended a special invitation to children, saying, “Let the little children come to me.”
2. Bringing children to Mass helps nurture their inner life. Early lessons make lasting impressions, child development experts tell us. Good parents recognize the importance of nurturing their children physically and emotionally during their formative years. But if we fail to nurture their spiritual self as well, then we are not attending to the whole child. While we can teach about the Faith within the walls of our domestic church, being in the presence of Christ and those who love Him is what really awakens the spiritual self.
Moreover, you might be surprised by what a small child gets out of Mass. My four-year-old recently asked me if what I ate and drank was really the Body and Blood of Christ. Thankfully, before I had a chance to respond (I wasn’t quite prepared to start explaining), my daughter said, “It is. I know it is.” Where knowledge is lacking, wisdom often runs deep. Children too are capable of receiving God’s graces.
3. Regularly attending Mass helps children find their true home. While my children are constantly with me at this age, I know I won’t always be there to guide them. But God will never leave their side. Their real home is with God in His Church, but they will only learn to recognize it as home if I bring them to Mass from an early age. We cannot open the door to the Church at Baptism, only to slam it in their face until they’re deemed mature enough to be a part of the Body of Christ.
4. We are all one body.God longs for His whole family to gather around the table. In the breaking of the bread, we proclaim that we are one in God. Mass unites people from all walks of life and connects us with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no room for intolerance at the table of the Lord.
5. Mass isn’t about me. It isn’t about you, either. Unlike our Protestant brothers and sisters, who often segregate the children from the adults to facilitate a more inspiring worship experience, Catholics go to Mass to give thanks and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Everything we do during the celebration is in remembrance of Him.
While it’s ideal to enjoy an uplifting and distraction-free Mass, we should be focusing on the fact that Jesus shed His Precious Blood for all of us — the nursing babies, the fidgety toddlers, the disabled, the young, the old, even the teenage girl with the low-cut top (who’s likely as much of a distraction as any whiny three-year-old).
We might wish it weren’t so, but the Body of Christ isn’t always a pretty sight. None of us is worthy to be in the presence of Christ, but He shows up anyway. Not only should we show up, too, but we should welcome everyone — young or old, big or small — who has come to the Lord’s Supper.

Kate Wicker


Kate Wicker is a wife, mom of three little ones, and author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body. Prior to becoming a mom, she worked on the editorial staff of a regional parenting publication. Currently, Kate serves as a senior writer and health columnist for Faith & Family. Kate has written for a variety of regional and national media.

  • Gabriel Austin

    One of the Jesuit martyrs [in the days when Jesuits cheerfully faced martyrdom] is recorded as “having thoughts swirling in his head like children in an Italian church”.

    Often enough the children are more interesting than the sermon.

  • Zoe

    Right on, Kate.

    There seems to be two viewpoints on this: liturgy is not for children, and liturgy is for the whole family. If the latter, there can be sensitivity on all sides so that children are welcomed and still everybody can hear and participate in the Mass reasonably well.

    I took my four year-old niece to Mass recently and she was more attentive and interested and present than most adults seem to be. That’s because, from the very beginning, she and her siblings have learned they belong in church and they know what’s going on there.

  • MJS

    I thought at Mass we were all united as the Body of Christ. I don’t glare at the old lady who tells everyone how she bought these shoes at K-Mart and loudly criticizes the seating choices of other parishioners. No one suggests we ban the older man who is on a pretty loud oxygen machine. I have never sent mean notes to the lady who like to turn and talk to other people after Communion, who then gets up and leaves before the final blessing. All the imperfect people (yes, myself included) are part of the body of Christ, and they are welcomed at Mass. Children who are learning what we do at Mass should be welcomed also.
    Thank you, Kate.

  • Austin

    A lot of parishes have a children’s Mass where adults who do not appreciate children at Mass can avoid. I also have seen “Crying Rooms” or booths where families with young children can stay without disrupting the proceedings.

  • Justin in Ohio

    Thanks for the article. As the father of a 3 year old and a 10 month old, we often debate each week whether to take them to Mass or have their grandmother watch them (she attends a different parish and Mass at a different time).

    I will be discussing this with my wife and we will be making more of an effort to get them to Mass, even when we’d rather pawn them off for an hour and a half.

    Speaking of young children picking up on things and perceiving things at Mass…my 3 year old little girl saw a large metal goblet in our dining room china cabinet recently and remarked that it was just like the thing the man (who she identifies as “God”…I’ve tried to explain who the priest is, but with no success as of yet) holds at Church.

    It has to be a good thing for a 3 year old to be picking up on the fact that the chalice (and the wine contained and transformed within it) is central to the Mass we attend each week.

  • Paul

    Kate, this is so great. I am reading Familiaris Consortio right now. Although the document does not go deep in this very issue, taken all together though, JPII sure does not come off as saying to keep the kids at home either.

    The domestic church meets the Liturgy. There is no better worship to give then a FAMILY doing so together. You cannot teach kids how to do church if they are not accustomed to what goes on. They need to encounter the reverance. I have a little one who is 3 and she knows that when we enter the building something important is going on. Did she come to underastand this because we told her at home. No. We have been taking her to church since she was a couple weeks old.


  • Maggie

    When I was slowly coming into the Catholic Church, I found it odd – but also beautiful – that children of all ages were integrated into the Body of Christ at Mass.

    Growing up Protestant, we children were sequestered at Childrens’ Church during the service with games, movies, hip music, and dramatic Bible stories (none of which are bad, mind you) until usually 7th grade. But by the time I and I my peers were in 7th grade and returned to the grown up church, we wished we could escape the borning sermon, old fashioned music, and stiff people. Our solution? Volunteer to babysit the little ones! We could “go to church” and keep our parents happy and not have to worry about the “boring” aspects. Until college, I rarely actually “went to church” on Sunday.

    Kids belong in Mass with their families for all the reasons Eve outlines. If they understand even at a young age that everyone comes to Mass together for a very special reason, maybe they’ll be less likely to think of it as boring when they’re older, and also understand that the Church is one Body, not splintered into age brackets.

    (this is part of why I’m suspicious of LifeTeen Masses for teenagers…. if teens need a “special” Mass with guitar music and such, what’s going to happen when they enter the real world at a “normal” parish that doesn’t have LifeTeen? Will they still want to go to Mass? I don’t know.)

  • MikeS

    It’s amazing what children can learn at a young age. My wife takes our 17 month old daughter to mass every day. For a while they often went to the cry room due to excessive “joyful noises,” but the practice seems to have gotten somewhere. For several straight weekends, we’ve gotten to spend the whole Sunday mass in the pew instead of the narthax or cry room.

    However little or much our children may understand of the mass, if we believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we must believe that there are benefits to the children being in His presence at mass.

  • Roberta Young

    It sounds like your children are well-behaved. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. I have switched to a different Mass because of the noise that a family with young children make at our church. It’s a 5 pm Saturday mass, and the mother usually brings snacks for the kids. Invariably potato chips in those metallic packages that make a racket when you tear them open, and everytime you put your hand inside. The kids talk non-stop, asking questions which the Mother seems to feel obligated to answer. It’s not that the questions have to do with what’s happening at Mass, I wouldn’t mind that so much. They are about anything and everything. In fact I think the kids do it, because they don’t want their mother’s attention to be on anything but them. You would have to be there to see how bad it is. You can’t hear any of the readings or the sermon. And it doesn’t matter where you sit, the sound carries everywhere. I heard one of the children ask why their grandmother wasn’t sitting with them anymore. She answered that she wanted to sing in the choir. But there was no choir there (it’s at the Sunay morning mass). Clearly even their grandmother had had enough. I keep wanting to give this woman a slip of paper with “Supernanny” on it. She couldn’t benefit from watching the show. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind children being at mass. I’ve seen other children who were well behaved, but these ones are the worst I’ve ever seen. I pity the poor priest.

  • Cory Fisher

    I attend the 7AM daily Mass. My 3yr old son woke one morning as I was preparing to leave, and asked me where I was going. I explained to him that I was going to mass, instantly he insisted that he was going with me. I had one upset boy when I told him that he wouldn’t be able to come with me today because it was time to leave, and he wasn’t yet out of his pj’s. I told him that he could accompany me when ever he wanted as long as he told me the night before, so we could have his cloths set out.

    The next day he was again up bright and early, this time he would be going with dad. I didn’t know what to expect, he always has his older brother and sister, dad, mom and baby sister with him on Sunday mornings.

    He was the best little man! I was one proud dad, he even joined me kneeing and sang ever-so softly. The response from my fellow early birds was amazing! It is a decidedly older crowd, and there wasn’t one “look” or “frown”. In fact it was quite the opposite, all of the older ladies came up to him after Mass and told him what a good little boy he was. He grinned from ear to ear all day long.

    He has attended morning Mass with me several times since then, and has always been very well behaved. I cherish this special Father-Son time, and wouldn’t trade it for anything!

    Thanks for the good article.
    God Bless,

  • mlizzy

    Nice job, Kate. If people are disturbed by “the little ones,” they could ask the priest next time they are at confession, just how they might be able to be more patient when parents bring their young ones to Mass.

    Me personally? Nothing thrills me more than a family (mom and dad) at Mass with their children, especially when the parents handle disruptions lovingly. It’s a beautiful testament to/for life.

  • Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

    I loved this article, Kate. I have written on this subject myself. You cover it throroughly, brilliantly, and with your sweet Kate Wicker wit! [smiley=wink]

    I have always said, “Jesus has told us, ‘Bring the children to me….'”

    God bless you and please keep these wonderful articles coming, Kate!


  • Marjorie Campbell

    It sounds like your children are well-behaved. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. I have switched to a different Mass because of the noise that a family with young children make at our church.

    I think Ms. Young raises a very valid point. If all the people attending Mass (young and old) were as courteous as Kate Wicker and her family, the issue of who should be at which Mass when would be a no-brainer. It’s the tough cases, like the one Ms. Young mentions, that challenge us. I want to say to Ms. Young, “please find a gently, loving way to let that mother know that her children’s distractions are your distractions, too.” I want to say this to Ms. Young, but I ashamed to. I changed Masses once myself, not because of chomping, wiggling little ones but because of hocking, hacking old ones. The elders arrived at Mass in a courtesy bus – loads of people helped them in and out and welcomed them. It all seemed so loving and nice until the body noises started. One older man in particular, with some sort of serious respiratory condition, had to hack and clear his throat and spit regularly throughout Mass. I felt dreadful for him, dreadful for my kids (who kept whispering “Mom, is he dying?”) … but at a complete loss what to do … except change Masses. So maybe someone out there can help Ms. Young and me and tell us, “Is changing Masses the best option?”

  • j cabaniss

    One of the reasons most children aren’t attentive at Mass is they can’t see what is going on. My daughter and her family, who live out of state, get to Mass early enough to get a seat in the front row; for the most part, my grandson, who is 4, is mesmerized. (That doesn’t seem to work for his little brother, who is 2, but I would imagine that soon enough he will do the same.)

  • Jennifer

    Outstanding! You are spot-on in saying that we cannot claim to be Pro-Life without welcoming the new young life in our church!
    I know young children can be noisy and squirmy…you simply cannot expect a two-year old to sit still! But the presence of our children with us in worship is one of the things that makes the Catholic church beautiful. We value life and we value children and we value the family.

    I would encourage those who are put off by a family’s young children to offer up the distraction to the Lord and be thankful that family is in church at all. It’s not easy for moms to get the little ones and herself dressed and out the door on time for mass! I would rather have that family present in church (even if they are a little noisy) than staying home and missing out on Jesus for fear of being glared at by those around them.

    I have also breastfed every one of my kids in church, and I’m thankful I never received a complaint from anyone. There is no reason at all to object to a mother nursing a baby in church. Every woman I know nurses very discreetly in public.

    Thanks, Kate, for this fantastic article. It’s a real shame you’ve been the recipient of so many nasty looks and rude comments. Hopefully those folks will read your article and have a change of heart. Let the little children come!

  • dymphna

    I think Protestants do a much better jobs with their kids that we do. My parents were Baptists and I don’t remember DARING to do some of the things I see kids doing during Mass. The service went on for hours and somehow I got through without racing up and down the pews, eating or screaming.

  • le pelerin

    Some kids can be “contained” in church and some do a diservice to other peoples’ reason to be there. If people cannot hear the readings because kids are crying, it uncharitable to have kids there. In our parish accoustics are not great. If you get 10 kids crying, you’re not going to hear anything and leave in frustration. What’s the point. I love to see families with well behaved kids but many are not like that. Parents need to have concern about other people’s feelings. Sometimes a nursery or Sunday school is best for certain kids.

  • Ruth Ann

    I have seen every scenario mentioned in the previous comments. I do believe that children who come to Mass need to have enough self control to sit reasonably still, rarely talk, and when necessary to do so in a whisper; not eat, not run to the bathroom, etc. For the youngest–infants and toddlers, when they cry or become disruptive, a parent needs to take that child outside until the problem has dissipated. I have seen this done by conscientious parents.

    My own parents had a great idea that they used with me. When I was little and they went to Church I wanted to go with them, but Dad said, “No, you aren’t old enough, yet.” I stayed home with Grandma and watched my parents get into the car and go to Church. I longed for the day I would be “old enough.”

    When I was six I was allowed to go to my aunt’s wedding. I was the youngest child allowed to go. I made sure I behaved. Soon after that I began to accompany my parents to church on Sundays, and I did pick up quickly what it was all about. I’m not sure, but I think that approach was commonly practiced in the 1950s.

  • Susan

    One of the reasons most children aren’t attentive at Mass is they can’t see what is going on. My daughter and her family, who live out of state, get to Mass early enough to get a seat in the front row; for the most part, my grandson, who is 4, is mesmerized. (That doesn’t seem to work for his little brother, who is 2, but I would imagine that soon enough he will do the same.)

    Oh I very much agree. At first I would sit over to the side or in the back with my son, who is now 18-months-old, but he was likely to run around and want to play a lot then. Now I sit in the front with him so he can see what’s happening, and he is generally very well behaved. I do think a lot of that is that I take him to daily Mass at times (I really should do so more often), so he’s gotten used to being at Mass and what goes on there.

  • Michelle Reitemeyer

    As my soldier-husband gets ready to leave for a 6 month deployment, I am not excited about taking all my kids to Mass alone. Frequently, we alternate Masses to avoid taking the 20 month old who is just too rambunctious for my personal taste. Our church vestibule is under renovation, so it’s either in the Mass or outside (no in between). There is no way I can avoid taking her unless we all miss Mass (or unless I find a babysitter every single weekend). I have three children who are too old to miss Mass (over the age of 7), and I myself deperately need those graces. I just hope that my fellow parishoners will be understanding and realize that I am suffering more than they are (since I have to suffer every week, and they only have to suffer if they catch me at the same Mass).

  • Beth Miller

    I appreciate this article, especially point no.5. I know so many people who go to Mass but due to their own focus and attentional issues are easily upset by noise, other’s dress, who is leaving early, who showed up late…etc. I have to admit, however, that for awhile I was leaving my son at home b/c it was too stressful for me to “watch him” and listen and participate in the mass. I was either outside, in the cry room, or sweating in the pew from trying to be one step ahead of him. He is getting better with intermittent attendance. He is getting old enough to understand how to behave as he approaches his 3rd birthday. My 4 year old is finally able to attend the entire Mass! Thanks for your helpful article.

  • Tracy

    I agree whole heartedly with you Kate. We have 6 young kids (10 and under)who all attend mass with us. There are times I have been so distracted myself, blushing and sweating as I hurry down the aisle trying to get to the narthex or outside before the small wimper becomes a full out cry. We try to be very conscientious of the children’s behavior. In fact, I have told my kids over and over that one of the reasons for good behavior in mass is out of love and respect for other people’s experience at mass, not because I am just a mean mommy.

    Thankfully, the older children know exactly what is expected of them in mass. (not that they always follow, but still) We have tried to find a balance between unrealistic expectations of perfection and an ‘anything goes at least we are here’ mentality. I mean I want my kids to be well behaved at mass, but I don’t want them scared and traumatized by a boring, repetitious hour of torture smilies/smiley.gif. So, no snacks or excessive squirming and whining but we do bring our kids Magnifikids and allow whispered questions that pertain to the mass.

    However, I do think folks have legitimate concerns about familes who let their kids run wild during mass. Kate is not saying that is O.K. at all. Rather, we should be unconditionally welcoming to the imperfect Body of Christ and lead by patient example and genuine, kind offers of help.

    It wouldn’t hurt to give families the benefit of the doubt also. You could be behind that woman who posted about attending mass with her kids while her husband is deployed! You could be behind a family where one parent is not Catholic and is strugling to raise their kids in the Church without much support. It could be a family that is new to the faith and honestly has no idea how to contain the kids. It could be a family where they child has a disability or something that keeps them from age appropriate behavior. I know some of these scenarios might seem far fetched, but the point is you really don’t know their situation.

    Even if you think you do know, resist the temptation to judge them harshly. Change your seat, try a different mass time, or get to know the family! Because when we begin to judge who is worthy to attend mass and who is better off just staying at home, the issue is not them and their behavior at all, it is the smallness and hardness of our own hearts.

  • Ann

    Great article. I wish I could stick this in the bulletin this week.

    We have a Children’s Mass, where the kids go out for the Liturgy of the Word (which I don’t agree with but that’s another story). I find that it is much more relaxing to go to that mass with my littles because it’s the Children’s Mass.

    I find parishes with a large Latino population are much more open and welcoming when it comes to children in Mass.

  • Chere

    I have 5 children, now all grown, and 6 siblings and our family tradition has always been that everyone goes to Mass on Sunday. I agree with Kate that children need to be present at the Mass to grow to love the traditions of our faith. As children, we often played “church” and, though none in our family had a religious vocation, we have a friend whose son started “saying Mass” at home when he was 4 years old. Now he’s six and can say many of the prayers recited at Mass and has a better understanding of many of the parts of the Mass than most adults!

    It’s not always easy to concentrate on the Mass with children present, but then, it’s not easy when I’m playing the music for the Mass either! We adults also need to learn to block out distractions to focus on God, who is the reason we attend Mass.

  • colleen

    Jesus said to bring the children to Him. What do some of these people think? Bring the children to Him only when they (the complainers)aren’t there? Or bring them to Jesus only when the children are being perfect?
    Are we adults perfect? If only perfect people went to church, church would be empty.
    Excellent article. I am an empty nester now. I brought my two boys to Mass every week from the time they were born. The only way children know how to behave in church is by going to church every week.
    I also sat in the front row so they could see everything going on. It also was a way of keeping them quiet because they just knew Father was watching them!
    They were well behaved because they were used to going to church and they knew what was expected of them. We rarely had to remove them.
    As for crying rooms, they are awful and we stopped going in them. It is like a circus. Parents can’t hear, children do not learn in there. My church does not have a crying room and it is better this way.
    My boys are adults now. My youngest son is an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. I asked them why they didn’t rebel against church like lots of young adults do. My oldest replied – this has been our life since we can remember. It is what we know.
    God bless.

  • Ann

    I also wonder if the occasional kid noise bothers the parents more than the other people.

    I know some Sundays I’m sweating bullets by the time I get out of Mass because I’ve been trying to corral them for an hour and not bother anyone. But everyone else looks fine [smiley=happy]

  • Catholic Femina

    I have frequently felt self-conscious of my children (3yrs. & 9 mths.) in mass. They make little sounds and everyone is constantly staring. I had the occassion recently to attend a Spanish mass in our parish, and to my suprise there were lots of children. Not loud and disruptive, but used to sitting in mass. After mass I approached one of the mothers about all the children in mass, and she informed me that in the latin culture children always attend mass with their parents and the people are used to the baby noises so they don’t turn and star sharply at you. The children made little noises and occassionally got a little disruptive. The parents handled the situation and the whole church did not turn to watch the people leave with their kids.
    I really believe that is our American culture. My husband and I take our children everywhere, and we constantly get comments about how smart our children are and how well behaved. My children are not angels and do need repremanding, but they learn from my husband and myself rather than from other children. They model their behaviour after us and we enjoy having them with us. At mass, at the grocery store, and out to eat in restaurants.

  • Catholic Femina
  • Jen

    I agree with the comments about kids being able to pick up on things at Mass — more than we’d often expect. Of course, it helps tremendously if parents talk with their kids at home about what Mass is, but even without that, it’s still amazing what they seem to understand.

    My four-year-old nephew’s favorite game is to play priest. He started this at the age of two, when his mother caught him solemnly elevating his bowl of Cheerio’s and sippy cup at the breakfast table, muttering quietly to himself.

    My friend’s two-year-old eagerly hops up in line for Communion behind his siblings; if he finds them a bit slow in filing out, he’ll physically push them, saying, “Go! Go! Jzz-zz! [Jesus]”

    Doubtless, these kids are getting a much better home education in their faith than many (perhaps most), but to me these are amazing examples of the spiritual potential in young ones.

  • Cory Fisher

    By George, I think that Catholic Femina has hit something that cuts to the heart of the matter. It’s our culture, how we view children, I believe that this underlines everything that we have been discussing. Our American culture, and this DOES include us Catholics, has for over forty years declared war on children and family life. It started in the 60’s with the sexual revolution, birth control, ect. and it accelerated to a full blown war with Roe vs Wade and the legalization of abortion. No wonder people, including we Catholics, are so intolerant of children, for over forty years we have become comfortable with the idea that they are a burden, noisey, interupt my experience, eat to loud, climb on pews, run down the isles, cry, laugh, love, LIVE!(insert any adjective or idea that equals turning towards self) This is what the Pope’s have been trying to tell us. Go and read the Encyclical Letters Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI and Evangelium Vitae by Pope John Paul II with this thought in mind. We are meant to be the leavener of culture, we are meant to shape culture not be shaped by it. We are meant to witness to Truth. It gives a whole new spin to being pro-life. This would be a very interesting topic for a future paper. (hint, hint)

    In the Love of Christ,
    Cory Fisher

  • Michael Hebert

    The best reason to have children at Mass was expressed to me by a priest many years ago. He said, “While children may be physically immature, their souls are fully formed. A child’s soul needs Jesus just as much as an adult’s.”

    When Jesus spoke about how people can only get into heaven if they have the faith of a child, this was exactly what he meant.

    I have young children, and sometimes have to remind myself that while they are emotionally immature, in many ways their virtues far surpass mine.

  • Roberta Young

    Like I say, you’d have to be at my church to understand what I’m talking about with this particular family. I love children by the way. But I do like to hear the readings and the sermon. Back when I was an agnostic attending Mass once a year at Christmas, I would have daydreamed my way through Mass. In fact I would have found the children’s behaviour a welcome respite from having the listen to any of the Mass. But these days I actually want to hear the Word of God, and it simply isn’t possible. I suppose I could bring my Bible and read the passages, even if I can’t hear them, but I certainly won’t hear the sermon. And honestly, I think part of this problem has to do with teaching children to respect others. The baby boomers, and I’m speaking as one of them, have brought up children to believe that they are the centre of the universe, and their freedom of expression comes first in every situation. Manners are old-fashioned I suppose. My parents brought me and my three siblings to Mass when I was young, and she had four kids under the age of six! But we were taught to behave.

  • Amy @ Tiny Blessings

    I’m the mother of a 6 year-old and a 2 year-old… and my husband is not Catholic and does not attend mass with us. He also works Sundays and is not available to watch the kids during mass time.

    Every week I have to choose one of two things– either the people staring at every noise my kids make in the main church,which leads to me feeling upset and not absorbing much of the mass, or, sitting with the loud and unruly kids that parents let run wild in the “cry room”. There are several families that sit in the cry room every week and allow their kids, who are around 8-9, to talk and eat snacks throughout mass… it drives me crazy, because how am I supposed to make mine pay attention with that going on?

    I’ll confess, some weeks I skip mass altogether rather than deal with those things. I know that’s a bad choice, but really, sometimes I feel I’m better off finding some quiet time at home than spending an hour in church and coming out frustrated & upset. Yes, I know, I know… [smiley=sad]

    So while I absolutely agree that children belong in mass with their families, just remember that the actual process of making that happen isn’t always easy!

  • Marjorie Campbell

    For those with young readers and pre-readers, have you discovered Magnifikid? http://tinyurl.com/nemzzt My sons loved their Magnifikids even into 5th grade. They often read the kid-friendly text during the homilies.

  • MJS

    I am really glad to see all these comments from people who are trying to teach their children to respect our Lord and the other people at Mass.
    Our parish priest has been asked (by parents!) if we can have a cry room, and his reply is that those are really not liturgically appropriate and that the Holy Father is trying to encourage families to attend Mass together. Now I wish I had asked him where exactly he has seen that.
    Also, I have been glared when attending the school Mass (where there were 800 children) at our parish, so apparently, announcing that this Mass will always be attended by children doesn’t fix the problem either; people still expect my 2 year old to stop talking about Jesus.
    Perhaps a homily on Mass behavior or a notice in the bulletin from time to time would do everyone some good? (PS – Snacks in loud wrappers drive me bonkers too.)

  • Sarah

    Amy, my heart goes out to you, especially living as you apparently do, in a child-unfriendly part of the country and having to put up with rude stares, and with your husband unavailable to help you. I just want to urge you not to skip Mass. Even if you don’t seem to be getting anything out of it, God appreciates the love and loyalty you show by being there under very difficult circumstances. When people give you those critical stares, you can think of Christ being mocked when he was crowned with thorns. I’m sure that he will bless you abundantly for your sacrifice in ways that might not be readily apparent.

  • Deirdre Mundy

    Sometimes an option MIGHT be switching parishes–Our town has 3 parishes–one is super-unfriendly to kids–the design of the church means that every squeak, coo, or giggle echoes into the equivelent of a tantrum-scream… there’s no way to take kids to Mass there.

    The other two parishes are more child friendly. Ours doesn’t have a cry room, mostly because Father doesn’t like families to be segregated, and large families are celebrated and welcomed. (The old woman staring at your kids all through church is likely to come up afterwards and tell you how precious they are and how she wished more people had families.)

    I think a lot of the comments above betray the anti-child bias a lot of Catholics have picked up from the larger culture.

    You can’t expect a three year old to behave as well as an 8 year old. You can’t expect a 10 month old to spend Mass still and silent unless he’s asleep.

    My dad (one of the child-haters, incidently) always crows about how when WE were young, he and my mom didn’t take us to Mass. You know what? Of my 4 siblings, I’m the only one still Catholic, or even Christian (The others are all agnostic or atheists).

    I think it’s unrealistic for Catholics to be angry when Mass isn’t dead silent. There will always be a child who laughs, an old man with a hacking cough, or a mentally-disabled person who’s out of beat. All these people are still God’s children and deserve to be there too.

    If you want an hour with the Lord in solitude and silence, sign up for an hour at an adoration chapel. Mass is where the people of God, with all of our weaknesses, COME TOGETHER TO WORSHIP AS ONE.

  • JD Brooks

    We also struggle with young ones at Mass, and the glares or snide comments do not help. Unfortunately this is something that only the Priest can truly combat, as it speaks to the culture of the particular parish. You mentioned that we are “pro-life” people, as Catholics, but sadly this is not true. While we may talk about the sanctity of human life as a community, and we may hear it in Mass and from the Vatican, the majority (yes majority) of American Catholics actually vote for pro-abortionists for the highest political offices in the land! Pres. Obama won the Catholic vote, as did John Kerry in 2004, so this idea of Catholics being a great pro-life community does not stand up to even the simplest analysis. I am Catholic because I am pro-life, and I vote and act accordingly. I, with my 5 children, do not sneer at others for having little ones, and instead offer support when possible. I, with my pro-life views, do not vote for those who favor abortion as a means of vote-buying (people like to deflect responsibility, and politicians like to enable them to do so in exchange for votes). Catholics need to get past the era of JFK, and their incessant ties to the Democratic party, because they are nothing but moral relativists.

    The Catholic community needs to come to grips with the fact that everything we say for 2,000 years will not match what we do every 2 to 4 years. One of the great things about our faith is that we acknowledge evil’s existence. We know that it exists, and we actually try to do something about it. If someone would run the numbers, you would probably see that each election cycle, a vote for a pro-abortion candidate actually results in many more deaths of innocent children. While you can hide behind the curtain of your voting booth here on earth, you cannot hide from your final judgment.

    To those who give snide comments, such as “keep the child quiet,” just go somewhere else. You are not truly a Catholic because you don’t appreciate life to its fullest. You are selfish, and you attend Mass for yourself. This is true of many people in many religions (they tend to go to church or Mass “just in case” or so they can “get to heaven.”) As you pointed out in this article (quite correctly), Mass isn’t about us. It’s about Him.

  • Dan

    I have thought much on this subject lately. I was attending Mass at one parish and I know what you mean. Many children, but not most, just could not keep still. When a FSSP chapel opened I began going there and was really struck by how quiet and well behaved all the children are considering that the ratio of children to adults is much higher. I had the belief before that children were just naturally full of energy and rambunctous and the only way to calm them down was to give them something to grab their attention. Also if they were in a quiet environment they would start squirming and acting up. It is more probable that a child’s behavior may be based to a certain extant on the child’s immediate environment. The Mass I was attending was chaotic to say the least. When you first walked in you were assaulted by a loud drone of talking with people walking around everyware, while others were trying to pray. The people’s behavior before, during and after Mass was never consistent with each other. At the chapel, when you first walk in it is quiet. Everyone is kneeling and praying until the priest enters. The whole Mass is quiet. One can barely hear the priest. The children are perfectly calm, no climbing on or under the pews. No having to bribe them with toys or books or something to eat. At this point I must say that I am a man and single. So I have no children to which to claim experience. I would be interested in hearing others opinions on this.
    And also, I am not commenting on one Mass being better than another; just on the causation of environment on behavior.

  • Sheila

    I agree children should be at mass. We always took our children when they were small but always took them out if they fussed. Yes, I did nurse my children at mass discreetly. I doubt anyone ever noticed. Leave the cherrios at home! and the toys that scratch the pews or make noise. We always allowed our kids to read religious picture books during mass. If your child is talking or crying please take them out until they are quiet. I do feel it disrupts the mass when children are fussing and crying loudly and no one is able to hear the sermon.
    Thanks for your great article.

  • wellnow

    1. My observation over the years has been that children who attend Mass frequently are generally well-behaved. I do remember my Mother talking to us before Mass and reviewing what she expected out of us. We would ‘practice Mass’ before going. We would frequently talk about the readings or the sermon at Sunday dinner. It helped us to pay attention, if for no other reason than to be the child who could answer the most questions posed by our parents. Sibling rivalry, it can be your friend.
    2. My sisters would at times ask the Grandparents or an Aunt and Uncle to have one of their children sit with them. Sitting between 2 loving, but responsible adults tended to have a calming effect on a little one going through a naughty spell. Unfortunately, many people don’t have this luxury. But if you are lucky enough to live close to extended family, ask for help!
    3. The adults around the children are frequently a distraction to the children. The adults like to play with the kids and get them to do something funny.
    4. I try to be patient with children in church as so many of them come from upset circumstances. They go from one house to another with their little backpacks containing a toothbrush and a change of clothes as they move between parents and other caregivers. The kids have so many different expectations of them that it is not surprising that they don’t know how to behave in church. One parent takes them to church, the other one doesn’t. And then the step-parents have another whole set of expectations. In general they act in church like the do everywhere else, unstructured, undisciplined, unruly, inattentive, disruptive and inconsiderate. No one is paying the attention required to give them the love and care needed.
    5. People who have chronic, severe problems with their kids need to look at what is going on at home. Children who are simply being their age are not the problem. Incompetent parents are a problem. One of the parishioners at my old parish let her children draw with crayons on the wooden pews. (She never cleaned up after them.) After observing this for a number of weeks, I finally asked her why she allowed this. “I feel that it is important that they be allowed to express themselves.” Well. I doubt that her children will have happy lives or that they will remain in the church.

  • Danny

    I had 2 children and when they bgan to cry and/or scream, I went to the cry room in mass. There are 3 families who let their kids go crazy but they never show any respect for those others by using the cry room ! It is tough to hear the priest or his homily or concentrate on the mass if the kids are screaming. Use the cry room people !!!!

  • Sally

    If you want an hour with the Lord in solitude and silence, sign up for an hour at an adoration chapel. Mass is where the people of God, with all of our weaknesses, COME TOGETHER TO WORSHIP AS ONE.
    Written by Deirdre Mundy

    First this bit by Deirdre–I hear too many of the folks who complain about kids at Mass saying that they want silence to contemplate the Lord. If that is truly so, than the place for that is at Adoration. If your parish has an Adoration Chapel–go there. If not, just come to the church at adore Our Lord hidden in the Tabernacle.

    The second idea was from wellnow who said that misbehaving children usually misbehave everywhere. The solution isn’t really for the parents to leave them at home during Mass, the solution is for the parents to learn how to lovingly discipline and teach their children manners. When my children were babies and preschoolers, our church held regular parenting classes as an extension of the preschool. The worst offenders might not attend, but possibly if the classes were offered in conjenction with Baptism preparation, the parents might pick up at least a few pointers!

  • Deirdre Mundy

    As I said, our church doesn’t have a cry room. But I’ve tried a few when we’re on vacation, and I have to say that the cryroom is NOT a valid solution if you’re trying to punish your misbehaving child and make them ready to sit and behave for the rest of Mass.

    The cry-rooms are usually pure chaos. Kids playing with toys, kids picnicking, kids climbing and jumping and screaming and dancing and spinning and…oh my! If I took my misbehaving toddler in there, he’d NEVER want to go back…it’s like a circus!

    I usually go for the lobby instead. We kneel, and I make him sit motionless on my lap. For some reason, after a few minutes of this, standing on a kneeler and watching Father suddenly seems like a treat! =) Plus, the kids hate to miss the collection and the sign of peace, so I take those away from them if they can’t behave.

    But cry rooms are NOT really a valid option if you’re trying to teach your child proper behavior…. It’s like saying, “You’re behaving badly, so I’m punishing you by making you spend the rest of Mass at the playground!”

    We’ve also found that the donut-bribe is a big help. The kids who behave get donuts after church, the bad ones get to watch their siblings eat donuts. One week of that, and you’d be amazed at the behavior improvement! (I’d like them to behave just out of pure love for Christ, but unfortunately, reminding them that they’re with Jesus tends to lead to estatic shouts rather than good inside behavior. =) )

    Luckily, my church IS very tolerant. One day my then-toddler actually paid attention at the consecration. And then she yelled, ‘Hey everyone! That bread’s turning into Jesus! And Jesus is God! That’s GOD up there!!!!!!!!’ After church, several people came up and thanked her for the catechism lesson.

  • Kate

    Great article, Kate! I’d go so far as to say, not only should children be welcome at Mass, but I do believe it’s the parents’ responsibility to bring their children to Mass (within reason, according to their circumstances). The Catechism says parents have the “Grave responsibility to give good example to their children” (2223) and the “Responsibility and privilege” to “initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church” (2225).

    Funny enough, it’s the fact that I agree so wholeheartedly with you that children should be brought to Mass that causes me to disagree somewhat with your injunction against “noshing” at Mass. You said “I’m [not] one of those overindulgent mothers who lets her little hellions scale the pews and leave a trail of crushed Cheerios in their wake … I don’t permit noshing during Mass (nursing babies are an exception).”

    I am also not an overindulgent mother, but rather one who’s always taken seriously what I see as our responsibility to bring our children to Mass. I brought them to daily Mass with me nearly every day until our third was born last summer (our two-year-old is particularly challenging! and with a newborn, I found it just too much), and I recently started trying to get back into it again. I quickly found that if I was to bring my children to Mass with me, and not let them run around the back or climb all over the pews, and not having enough hands to make sure everyone was sitting nicely and quietly at the same time, I’d better have some sort of provision with me.

    I think when Cheerios are done properly, then they’re fine. We don’t, for example, let the children have a free-for-all, where they grab handfuls of Cheerios and stuff their faces, or fling them at our fellow Mass-goers, or throw them on the floor and stomp all over them. Rather, the two younger children are allowed to have one Cheerio at a time, given to them by either my husband or myself. If any drop on the floor, we pick them up as soon as we notice, and save them to throw away later. At the end of Mass, we check our area, to be sure we haven’t forgotten any. I bring them in a simple plastic bag which may rustle a little when it’s first open, but once open, it stays open on the pew next to my husband and I, and there isn’t incessant rustling during Mass. The two younger children are also allowed a small cup of juice.

    My children are some of the best behaved children at Mass, either during the week or on Sundays. While we do get glared at occasionally, it’s only very occasionally, and by parishioners known to be cranky in general. More often than not, my husband and I are complimented on how well our children behave. While this may or may not be due to the fact that we allow them to have Cheerios, I do think our experience is evidence that Cheerios are not entirely bad.

    Otherwise, great job! I actually find it shocking that there are people who think children shouldn’t be welcome at Mass. I understand that adults want to concentrate — I want to concentrate! — and every effort should be made on the part of the parents to instill in their children the need for good behavior, but not at the expense of little ones being in the very presence of Jesus.

  • Largebill

    Fully concur that children should be in attendance. However, I also want to be able to hear Father during Mass. I understand that kids will be kids, but parents should also be parents. If you let the kids bring toys and other junk into Mass you can’t be too surprised if they don’t take it seriously. As far as the breast feeding goes, NOPE not appropriate for Mass. You should have some idea when you are going to Mass the church doesn’t just give ya a fifteen minute notice. Feed the child before Mass. My mother was able to raise 9 kids without feeding any in Mass and none of us dared misbehave in church. We might get away with making a commotion at a store, but knew Mass was important to our parents and knew not to play around.

  • Lenetta @ Nettacow

    I am blessed that our tiny parish is very welcoming to small children and the noises they make – they understand that kids are the future of our church! (especially ours – there are about 40-50 people that regularly attend, I think.) We don’t have a cry room, but I have ducked in the room in the back where the vestiments are kept in an emergency. We don’t even have much of a narthex – there’s a small room that’s about four steps across and then you’re in church!

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I linked to this post in my weekly link roundup. Thanks!

  • Steve

    Do you really believe not bringing disruptive children to Mass is undermining the parents’ duty to teach the faith at the earliest moments? In fact, an argument could be made that forcing young children to be still for an hour is more detrimental to their faith development. Just as you wouldn’t feed an infant table food, some children simply may not be ready to take in the source and summit of the whole Christian life.

    “Everything we do during the celebration is in remembrance of Him.” If you really believe that, how do you remember Him while doing damage control with a noisy child? Isn’t it better to participate in Mass reverently than to have a child disrupt you, your family, or your neighbors? Or is just showing up for Mass enough in your book? What’s better, one reverent prayer or many just rattled off?

  • Joanna

    As many other before me, I am surprised that there are some who feel children NEED to stay home, or in the cry room.

    I am the oldest of 15 children. We all attended Mass from the moment of birth, we didn’t have a “waiting period” before hand. When the baby or toddler wouldn’t stop crying or being obviously disruptive, one of my parents would take him/her to the back and when the baby calmed down, they returned to the pew. Everyone we went to church with loved and welcomed the children, but they also had lots of kids as well, so they could understand and sympathize.

    I am 23 and married now. I have two daughters, 2 years and 11 months, and am expecting again. My girls have both gone to Mass with us since birth; again, no “waiting period,” and we receive multiple compliments each week at how well behaved they are. Our 11 m/o gets her beloved blanket, but we do not bring coloring books or food and juice to Mass. My husband is military and works rotating shift work, so we don’t go to the same parish twice in a month due to his schedule and the various Mass schedules in town. When we attend the parishes that don’t have “Children’s Missal” we bring “My Picture Missal” by St. Joseph Picture Books for our two year old. But, she is usually more interested in “reading” from our missal and the church’s hymnal because she wants to be like us. We have had only a handful of situations where one of us, like my family did, took the baby/then baby out until she calmed down. The only times we’ve experienced misbehavior, recently, from our 2 y/o is when the kids next to us, in front of us, or even behind us, make faces and play with her. It is very hard to get her “in order” when she knows a funny face or reaction is just a “look” away.

    I think alot of kids misbehave because they have options. If they know that when they make just enough noise that the food will come out, they’re going to do it. And, every parent knows that a snack needs a drink, so that comes out too. Then, when those run out, and Mass still isn’t over, they can make just enough more rucus and out come the crayons. But, when the only response to excess or unnecessary noise, and crying that is inconsolable, is a trip to the back/side/out/wherever until the issue is resolved, they’ll soon have a change of heart. But, the going to the back/side/out/wherever isn’t to get down and “run it off” but to remain sitting still in mom’s/dad’s arms and quieting down.

    A few months ago, we sat behind a family who had a 7 year old daughter and a 5 year old son. They fidgeted, played, talked, ate snacks, colored pictures, etc. When Mass was over, the mom turned around and told me she was so impressed that our girls, so much younger than her two, were well behaved and QUIET. She said that she never could have gotten her two to do that, especially without food and fun, and that she and her husband just started coming back to mass again because the kids were finally a little more ready. I think I was just as surprised that her children at 5 and 7 didn’t know how to sit quietly for an hour. I believea parent can make their kids behave, for the most part, just like they can make them eat, dress, etc.

    It is a shame that children under 3 years aren’t embraced as beautiful ways to raise your mind to God in Mass, but labeled as a nuisance and should be “outlawed” from the main church or from Mass all together. Kids will be kids. And, until the day they really start to understand that there is more to Mass than standing, sitting, singing, kneeling, and lots of quiet/listening time, there will be bouts of scrambling, crying, and maybe even some talking. “Let the children come” God LOVES the little ones, if you don’t see them as beautiful as He does, pray for understanding and ask the scrambling mother/father if you can lend a hand smilies/wink.gif

    I have saved to my computer some documentation I read online somewhere that is similar to this very thing. Unfortunately, I didn’t type where I found it or even who said it when I saved it, but I’m going to share it anyway…

    “There should be no separate space for children. Children are an integral part of the assembly and we cannot exclude them easily. If we exclude children because they might make a noise or two, then we can also exclude other people simply because they might bother us. The occasional crying baby reminds the whole assembly of who they are. This is a part of being a Catholic assembly. Every baptized person is welcome.

    Obviously, there has to be a way to deal with real disturbances, but the way is not through automatic exclusion. In many modern churches there is a “nice” cry room for babies. Every family who comes in with a baby is sent there, automatically excluding them from the assembly. Ultimately we must choose to be Catholic or not, to exclude people or welcome them.”

  • Anne

    Great article, Kate! Just wanted to add that like us (or like me at least!) children are creatures of routine. The Mass routine you establish with your kids determines how they think about the Mass and act during it.

    This is absolutely not a negation of the fact that all kids are different as are all developmental stages.

    In general, though, setting clear and consistent boundaries and expecting your kids to meet your high standards does shape behavior. Not an easy task, but it does pay off.

  • Mary

    This topic (among others) always seems to devolve into an “I’m 100% right and you’re 100% wrong” argument among Catholics. I think it’s beautiful to see families in church with all different ages of children. Many of my friends bring their kids to Mass from the time they’re newborns, and it’s wonderful. I don’t bring my little ones to Mass until they’re ready to sit still and be (reasonably) quiet, which usually ends up being between ages 3 & 4. My two older sons are extremely reverent at Mass, my 4 year old feels like a very big boy because he’s now old enough to go to Mass (it’s a privilege!), and my 2 year old can’t wait for the day when he can go too (we try off and on, and he’s not ready yet). This works for our family and for other good faithful families that I know. The other way works for other good faithful families. This is one of those places where we get to use our best judgment, people. There’s no clear-cut right or wrong. I agree that we should be welcoming and supportive of the families who are bringing their kids, whatever their ages, and giving dirty looks to anyone at Mass is always uncharitable. But let’s not fall into the trap of feeling like we need to defend our decisions by holding in contempt those who choose another course of action.

  • Melanie B

    In the past three years of being a mother I have been constantly surprised at what my young children have been capable of getting out of the Mass. My 3 year old and 15 month old are constantly surprising me by their little acts that show they are moved to pray and participate in the Mass. Of course we take them out as soon as they cry or make loud disturbances but because I take time to help them participate in Mass that doesn’t happen all the time.

    Part of it is consistently giving them guidance and spending time praying at home so they get used to sitting still and spending time with God. Part of it is helping to direct their attention and teach them so they aren’t bored and restless. From the time they are babies I try to make a point of dipping their hands in holy water and helping them to make the sign of the cross. I try to help them make it whenever I do. Children are very physical and this is the kind of prayer they really get. As they get older, I direct their attention to the altar at the consecration, saying, “Look, Jesus is here!” and pointing. This works! They often smile and clap and wave and point. They do get it. (Of course many days they also ignore it. But I persist even when I don’t get a reaction because I know children learn through repetition.)

    As soon as they are physically able, I help them to genuflect in front of the tabernacle and explain they are “saying hi to Jesus” or “saying bye to Jesus”. Now I tell my 3 year old that she is kneeling before Jesus in the tabernacle. Really, I use the proper language and she gets it.

    I got some coloring books and picture books about the mass and read them frequently and recite some of the Mass prayers so they are familiar with the creed and the Gloria, the Lamb of God and the Holy, Holy, Holy. My 3 year old daughter knows much of these prayers by heart now and has been able to make the sign of the cross and recite the Our Father and Hail Mary for almost a year now because we say them with her every day. Children learn by repetition. Once a week isn’t enough, they need to practice Mass behaviors much more frequently. They need to pray daily and they will start to get it.

    We practice kneeling down to say prayers in the living room and so it’s not a foreign concept to her. We also sit near the front where they can see the altar, which is very important. On the few occasions where we arrive late to a crowded mass or can’t sit near the front because of First Communions etc I notice much more fussiness and “bad” behavior.

    I also have introduced them to our parish priests and we pray for our priests every night so they aren’t confused about who that man is or what is going on. Instead, when the 3 year old starts to wander off, I can gently redirect her to, “look at Father R.”

    I don’t bring toys or food. Babies can play with a plastic rosary or flip through a board book about the Mass or saints. I want them to learn that Mass is not a time for play but prayer.

    I know every kid is different, but I urge you to try and see if you can’t engage them more in the Mass before deciding you need to leave your kids home because they won’t behave. Perhaps they just need to be helped to participate more.

  • Hess Family

    I must respectfully disagree with the conclusion Ms. Wicker draws here — that it is even possible to focus on anything going on in the Mass when there are constant, loud distractions at every turn. Perhaps many people can, but some people are simply unable.

    This is one area in which Protestants actually got a couple of things right, to wit: 1) Well-behaved children of any age are welcome; and 2) Showing respect for the people around one is not optional. It is mandatory.

    As an aside, I wonder if any parent of young children ever went into the confessional saying, “Father, I was so busy/tired/distracted/hungry/angry last Sunday that I let my kids run rampant during Mass. How might I show more charity to those around me?”

  • Rachel

    I’m not sure if my mom made this up or heard/read it somewhere, but growing up she told me that mothers of needy (aka disruptive) children get more graces when they have to focus on them instead of the mass. To me, that makes so much sense. Us mothers don’t want to go sit in a cry room or the vestibule. We don’t want our children crying at all, let alone at mass. But in my eyes, it’s at those moments that the Blessed Mother looks at us and gets us oodles of extra grace in order to deal with the issue.

    I’ve only got a 7 week old, but she was baptized the first Sunday of her life and hasn’t missed mass yet. It’s difficult when she’s fussy or needs to eat (I’m not going to wake up a sleeping baby just to feed her prior to mass), but I just try my best to focus on the mass while also fulfilling my vocation.

    It also helps that the cry room at our parish is very friendly. It’s a small room that also serves as a face to face confessional that has a huge window so you can see into the church. It used to have toys and books, but a few years back we went down to books only. The only thing I could ask for would be a chair with armrests for when I need to nurse.

  • Sarah

    [was commonly practiced in the 1950s.”

    I personally don’t think it should be the norm to leave kids of any age home from Mass, but I do know that on occasion, my husband and I take advantage of my parent’s visits to have more meditative Mass than we usually have with our 3 very young ones. However, it should be pointed out that many, if not most people these days do not have family near them who are willing or able to watch their kids on Sunday morning, don’t have 2 cars, or simply want Mass to be a family affair, which it should be. As I said, we have 3. My oldest, who is almost 4, would be perfectly behaved if I took her by herself. My baby would be fine and is fine almost always. my 2.5 year old son is very very unhappy about keeping still, but loves going to Church. The enthusiasm about it being a special time is there, but he is very active. He is bad, I do not deny it. But we have to struggle through this rough patch if we want him to be one of those great kids who will read a prayer book or look at pictures and not try and run away during Mass. We do our utmost to not be disturbing, but this is how we form our young people, by keeping at it. I apologise for the meantime while he is rowdy but give him another 9 months or so and he will be almost as good as his sister. Have patience, people.

  • Irene

    I was at a mass once when my children were 2 & 3. On one particular Sunday while we were at a neighboring parish, after communion, my daughter told me she had to “go potty” (in a normal tone of voice). The usher came back and told me she was being disruptive and I needed to go to the cry room. I was appalled and angry! Our children are well behaved and I have taught them to always face Jesus, sit, stand and kneel. I went to the cry room and then left mass because I was so upset. I never dreamed that I would be treated that way. Needless to say, I never went back.

    I carried this pain around with me for months. A short time later, we moved to another town and joined a different parish. The usher asked me why I went to the cry room because children belong in the church like everyone else. Don was God’s messenger! I needed to hear His loving voice!

  • Deirdre Mundy

    I’d also like to make one more point about the idea that “If your kids can’t behave, leave them home!”

    When you have children under 4, you have good weeks and bad weeks. Some weeks your two year old will be angelic–he’ll pay attention, quietly name the statues and staions (“Uh-oh, Jesus fall down go boom!”) and try to sing along.

    Other weeks he’ll kick and cry, you’ll spend the whole Mass in the lobby, and he’ll wail when you go in for communion.

    The problem for a parent is that often you have NO IDEA what sort of week it will be until you are actually IN church. And the good weeks make the bad weeks worth it! (Today my 20-month old shook hands like a gentleman with the old couple behind us. He recognized the Apostle John in a stained glass window. He was quiet during the Eucharistic prayer and sang along. (Did have to take him out during the homily b/c he kept pinching his older sister, but after a trip to the holy water font and a prayer card, he was willing to behave…)

    Learning to behave in Mass is a PROCESS. And even being in church helps catachize a toddler, at least if your church has statues and pictures and stained glass…… If you personally cannot concentrate when there are toddlers in front of you, consider sitting in the front row! Then there won’t be any distracting people between you and the Lord!

  • Esther Paris

    Any one who glares at kids and/or their parents, or coughing elders, or poor people in threadbare clothes, or … at Church need to re-read “Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis!

    If you’re letting someone else’s behavior or clothing or cough or shoes or departure time or bathroom habits separate you from the Lord, there is something wrong with YOU!

    Esther Paris in RI
    whose four kids have gone to Mass since they were days old.
    Parish Mass, Cathedral Mass, daily Mass, Shrine Mass, Mass on vacation in strange cities, etc.

  • Mary F.

    [smiley=wink]I love this article.I was a young mother with my preschooler at Mass many years ago, when a woman behind me scolded me for allowing my daughter to make noise in church. I took my child outside and spanked her. I will always regret that. I never did that again. Indeed, I stayed away from Mass for a long time. I needed the approval of others at church, not their nasty comments about my child’s noise. As I stated, I was young and my marriage was not made in heaven. I was there because I needed God.
    We need to remember that Mass is for us all, and no one is excluded. Please ask God to help parents at church with their children. They want to hear the priest too. And they need God’s grace just as much as people without children do. Maybe more. We must be generous and kind to everyone, especially at Mass. Each little child is loved by Jesus. We must do the same.

  • Caroline Blain

    I can

  • Elaine Northern

    Suppose you were to take a very important exam- one so important your 4 years of study and your occupation would depend on the passing of this exam. Suppose that there were 20 people taking such an exam and 10 participants brought their crying babies,pre school children. How well could the average person CONCENTRATE on their exam.

    Isn’t Jesus worth so much more?

    At St. Mary’s the noise level is so high that one can barely hear the parts fo the Mass.

    When the Hebrew people were to celebrate Passover THE CHILDREN ASK THEIR PARENTS – they say- WHY IS THIS NIGHT LIKE NO OTHER NIGHT- Hebrew children ask the same question today fo their parents.

    Can I ask you a question? What would you say? Then I would ask you what then separates Mass from the ordinary pre-school life of crying babies/toddlers crawling, walking, eating food, drinking, playing with toys-all during MASS?

    Do you relly think that by just taking your pre-school children to Mass with you and not being able to control their NORMAL behavior is going to ensure that they will grow up Chistian.

    We are a Catholic family that worships together – but some balance must be made here.

    Ask your self the question next time you are at Mass and you experience the normal baby/pre school behaviors- ask what the Hebrew children asked of theiri Parents on that first Passover-

    I’d like to know the answer.

    When Children learn from the start that this place is not like other places we go- this place is different, in this place we are different- then, THEN your children will learn that MAss is no ordinary happening-event-it is our Christian, Catholic life one that is differnt, sacred and valued.

  • Christina Martin

    “If we are truly a pro-life people, then how can we not welcome children — the future of the Church — at Mass?”
    You said a mouthful here. Amen, amen!

    When we baptize children as infants… we are saying that our children are a part of this covenant with Christ. Can we, then, remove them from His worship? Besides, Mass isn’t sacred because we concentrate well… or because of anything we can do. It is sacred because Christ comes to us and is present to us in the Eucharist. If we think it is our own concentration that makes it special, then we’re really egoistically missing the point.

    Finally, I would point out that my parish has a lot of young families, and quite a few larger than average families… and the one thing that is obvious to everyone in our small community is that those children who have been attending since infancy are always better behaved than those who have not.

    Sure, if a child misbehaves or needs a diaper you take them out… but whenever possible, the child is better off learning how to behave. And no child ever learned well how to behave in a setting while being excluded from that setting.

  • Chris S.

    Thank you for this needed discussion topic, and to all of you for such insight. I have experienced most of what you have, on both sides.

    It reminds me of something that happened about 20 years ago. I had to travel to New York for our son to have surgery at a children’s hospital. When he was getting better, I took him to Mass. A nearby dad had his toddler who started to fuss. Believe me, it was barely noticeable. The church had no vestibule or crying room, just outdoors, so he left. The priest stopped Mass until he was outside, and then said something about being glad he left because Mass is for adults! I guess my maternal emotions were in overdrive having just spent so much time around sick children, because I stood up, looked at the priest and said, “Well I guess we’re not welcome here either!” and left, too. I saw the man outside and we walked away together. He said his wife was home sick and he had taken the baby to church with him to give her a break. He also told me that was their pastor. When I got home I followed up with a letter to the pastor, explaining why I had left, that Jesus said let the children come to Me, and suggesting that he should spend time with some of the suffering children and families at the nearby hospital. He wrote me back and said it wasn’t him!

    I share that to point out that we never know what families are going through. We must love the children and appreciate them as the blessing they are, even if their parents are not doing their job.

    So many good ideas and comments here. God bless you all. May Jesus Christ be praised!

  • Jamie

    We are a family of six, three boys, ages 2, 4 and 5 and a girl, age 1. Our parish has two cry rooms, which we have been a fixture in for the past 3 or so years. We go to the second mass of the day, which is the family mass. Many Sundays we dread going to mass because of the behavior of our children. Part of the problem is that the cry rooms are a bit of a free for all. Its tough to get a two year old to stop doing something when another child is doing the exact think we are trying to stop. Its rare that we can hear mass in the cry room and over the years the families that we knew have moved into the main church and the new families do not come across as being very friendly. A year ago, all the kids in the cry room shared snacks and toys and we chatted a bit with the parents before and after mass.

    This past Sunday, we decided to venture out into the main church and we arrived early and sat one row from the front. We had a talk with them before hand about behavior and other than being a little fidgety, they did great. Our daughter was chatty and fussy through most of mass, but we used as a gauge, if we could hear mass over her, she wasn

  • Genevieve

    Thank you for your article. I agree 100% with everything you have said and with much of the great advice offered in the comments.
    We have 5 children, aged 13 down to about to be born. We’ve always brought them to Mass from their earliest infancy and led music as well (in fact, with our second child labour began just before Saturday morning Mass, he was born that day and we were able to sing at Sunday evening Mass). It hasn’t always been easy (although it was easier when musicians were allowed to use the choir loft), but we’ve never had a major problem.
    I would say that the biggest factors in raising children who have good behaviour are the grace they received from being with the family at Mass, praying together as a family, enabling the children to see that faith is important to both parents (not always possible for everyone I know, but the supportive presence of a non-believing parent can be such a gift to their spouse), attending Mass during the week and the good example of older siblings (subsequent children are always easier to train).
    Jamie, it is so sad that the priest made such a comment to your wife when you had been trying so hard to do the right thing for your family and fellow parishioners (and I believe you did). Only the two of you can make the decision about where you should go to Mass now, after prayer and reflection, but I could offer a couple of suggestions.
    Dan made an excellent observation that the reverent behaviour of adults in the Church rubs off on the children. Don’t feel that you should only attend a Family Mass. You might find the children behave better at another Mass. Weekday Mass is excellent training for the children – being shorter, less crowded and with less distractions. It’s a great time to spiritually refuel and get to know more of the older parishioners who are usually very charitable and willing to help. For example, on one occasion I attended weekday Mass with my children plus my 2 wiggly young nephews who were unused to being there. They quickly settled down with the assistance of an older couple who came and sat with us to pen them in the pew and help them with the prayers and gestures of the Mass. In subsequent weeks I had never had a problem with the boys and they looked forward to being there.
    I pray that you will find some other supportive families to help strengthen you in your faith and resolve to share that with your children. If there is a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in your area, that could help your children develop their understanding of their faith, the liturgical year and the Mass (for 3-12 year olds) plus their ability to quietly absorb the Presence of the Lord.
    May God bless you and keep you.

  • Robert Okraszewski

    When my two daughters were still very young we also took them to mass from the very beginning.
    We got the same looks every so often when they became a bit boisterous but for the most part our two were very attentive.
    My wife did once get an anonomous phone call to keep her kids at home which upset her and I.
    So I took pen in hand and wrote the following and left copies in the back of church with the bulletins.

    Why I Belong in Church

    My mom and dad they bring me here
    Because that’s were I ought to be

    I know I talk instead of sing
    And play instead of pray

    Which causes folks to call my mom
    And say at home I ought to stay

    And tho I know I am quite small
    And at times can barely crawl

    When it comes to all the rest of you
    I’m the closest to God of all.