We haven’t always had great success attending Mass as a family. Lately John and I go to separate Masses, and Leo goes with one of us. We let him pick which one. Two weeks ago his stuffed friend became a priest and celebrated Mass quietly in the pew.
At 4 1/2, Leo is definitely old enough that he is taking something away from the experience and understands why we’re there. It’s harder for Daniel, who is two years younger.
Yesterday, though, John and I decided we would all go together. Some recent Sundays when we have tried this, we have regretted it—such as the Sunday a few weeks ago during the Consecration when Daniel started fake coughing and announced loudly that he was choking. “Kheh, kheh! I doking, Mama! Doking!”
Yesterday we wouldn’t have earned a 10.0—John put us closer to an 8.0—but for the first time all four of us managed to stay in the pew for the entire Mass. No one needed to be taken out to calm or quiet down. We brought some books and some coloring pages, and we sat near the front so the boys could see. And the boys had been well-rested and fed. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than a few months ago.
To remind myself what a great experience we had, I decided to jot down the reasons I’m happy we went to Mass as a family of four:
- Ears were opened. During the first reading, Leo turned to me and whispered a phrase he had just heard. “Be kind to one another,” he said. It was worth repeating—and it reminded me that we weren’t just trying to get through Mass quietly, but actually take something away from it.
- Hi, Jesus! At one point when Daniel was squirming and really wanting to stretch his legs, I whispered, “Hey, look at what the priest is doing,” and he stopped and looked. Then his gaze went up to the large crucifix hanging over the altar. “Hi, Jesus,” he said.
- Gather us in. Our priest, Fr. Gene Nickol, was greeting families as they walked into the church this morning. I love that they got to see him before, during, and after Mass. Most Sundays Leo—who is not a huggy child with strangers—gives the priest a hug after Mass. Our boys seem to have a healthy affection and respect for these men shepherding the congregation.
- We weathered the storm together. As we were singing “How Can I Keep from Singing?” during the offertory, I couldn’t help but glance over at John on the refrain, “No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging,” and he grinned back at me. Maybe I shouldn’t feel as if we’re clinging to a precipice while attending Mass with our children, but I still find it stressful. But we made it through—together.
- How can we keep from singing? Daniel is a very vocal child. My parents and I took both boys to a holy hour during the Fortnight for Freedom, and my father was trying to hush him at one point—before I gently pointed out that Daniel was actually saying the last line of the Hail Mary. He was just saying it more loudly and less clearly than anyone else in the chapel. Yesterday Daniel sang even when he didn’t know the words. At the end of Mass a woman came up and complimented the boys on their singing, gestured toward the far back of the church, and said, “I could hear you from way back there!” Yes. Yes, I bet you could. Even if you’re reading this blog in China, you could probably hear Daniel singing yesterday. And I was proud of him for singing and wanting to participate.
- God bless the kind people who sat near us. At the kiss of peace, both boys were in handshaking mode—a rarity—and Daniel didn’t get to shake the hand of a woman who was more than a few steps away from our pew. The Mass moved forward and he started to get upset. This woman realized why Daniel was grumbling—and trying to sneak out of the pew—and extended a hand. That was most gracious of her, and it made Daniel’s day.
- John and I didn’t miss Mass. One of my main concerns with taking the children is not whether we distract the rest of the congregation—which is a big enough worry—but whether John and I get to participate fully in Mass. Yesterday John and I not only got to hear the homily—but the same homily. When we go to separate Masses, we enjoy comparing notes on the different homilies we hear, but we liked being there to hear Fr. Gene’s message, which spoke specifically to families. He told us the Eucharist gives us the strength to be the kind of people God calls us to be. And that reminded me that we have to be patient and help our children get through Mass and see it as a beautiful time, and not a time when they are constantly corrected.
- Attending Mass is sweet. We had promised the boys a trip to the playground if they were quiet during Mass, and they earned the trip. Then on the way out the new youth ministry table was offering lollipops. The idea of a lollipop before noon makes me feel a little queasy, but the boys were happy. I do want them to see going to Mass as a positive experience, and to want to go.
What will we do next week? I’m not sure. But this week we celebrated a small success.
How was your Mass experience this week? And if the most stressful moments I experience each week are while I’m trying to keep my boys still and quiet during Mass, how can we keep from singing?