Any Catholic parent knows that attending Mass with Tiny People Under the Age of 20 is heroic in and of itself. First, there’s the struggle to get out the door without breaking 70% of the Ten Commandments. Then, the oh-so-pleasant ride to Mass, made memorable by the people who are still upset about the ritual of getting ready, and those who aren’t still raving are downright sullen. Of course, Dad taking the turn into the parking lot on two wheels and almost hitting old Mrs. Reilly with the car doesn’t help the mood much, either. And then, the fun begins! Race to the door! Bathe in the holy water! Stop pulling your sister’s sweater off! Race to the pew! Genuflect towards Jesus, not the exit sign! For goodness’ sake, GET IN THE PEW ALREADY! Sit! Kneel! Stand! Stop chewing on your hair! No, you can’t go up and talk to Father on the altar right now! If you ask me if we’re getting donuts after Mass ONE MORE TIME… GET BACK IN THE PEW! You should’ve went before we left home! Why do you have a stuffed snake?! WHERE DID YOU HIDE THAT THING?! No, it’s not time to go home! Three more songs! And so on. Sound familiar?
Truth be told, in this season of life, making it to Mass really is a big deal.
Sometimes Most of the time, it can feel like a Herculean task, and the Devil seizes this moment of realization to whisper “Why are you here? This is too hard. You’d be better off just staying home today. You can go next week. Or next month. Or next year.” I know these thoughts; I know this temptation; I know what happens when you give in. It starts out “just this once,” and before you know it, you’ve missed Mass several weeks, or months, in a row. We talk ourselves out of going to Mass, which is the “source and summit” of our faith, the greatest conduit of grace that we have been given – at a time when we are emotionally and physically exhausted, and need that grace all the more! Or maybe you are determined to attend Mass, but you wonder afterwards, after all the distractions and toddler wrangling, if it even really counted as attendance. You were physically present, but not so much mentally. There have been so many times I have sunk into the passenger seat on the ride home wondering what the heck the readings were about, whether or not I actually heard the Consecration, and who was the celebrant again? We’ve all heard the advice that “you get out of Mass what you bring to it,” but how does that work when all the forces of Kiddiedom are working overtime to keep you thoroughly distracted?
First and foremost, remember that as a parent, your primary task is to help your children get to Heaven. Such a huge part of that God-given task is giving them the proper foundation on which to build their relationship with the Lord. The first, and best, step in this direction is attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every Sunday. Consistently being present at Mass, week after week, is vital to their faith formation. How can we convince our children that Jesus is Truly Present in the Eucharist if we are not putting Mass ahead of all of our other priorities and commitments? So, cut yourself some slack and know that just by walking through the door, you are reinforcing everything you’re already teaching them. You are painstakingly laying a foundation, brick by brick, Mass by Mass.
Believe it or not, many kids are bored during Mass because they have no idea what’s going on. They can’t see because they’re surrounded by tall people, and the whole thing is pretty confusing. One of the things we’ve found to be very helpful is to explain each and every part of the Mass to them, in real-time. On more than one occasion, I’ve channeled my inner Bob Costas and given a running commentary on the Mystery unfolding before us.
*In a hushed, Bob Costas melodramatic tone*
ME: “And now, Father Troy will lift up the Chalice. He will pray. He will say ‘This Is My Blood.’ And the wine will turn into Jesus. Jesus will be here. [dramatic pause] [ringing bells]
*In a slightly louder, animated Bob Costas excited tone*
ME: “And now, JESUS IS HERE! YAY JESUS!”
You get the idea. We’ve thought of little things to keep them engaged – we give them each a dollar to put in the collection basket; they can flip through and “help” us find the correct page in the hymnal; they can “help” raise and lower the kneeler. These little things add up, keep them busy, and momentarily distract them from their shenangians.
So what about us, the parents? How do we [try to] stay engaged? What can we bring to Mass? There have been many suggestions I’ve heard over the years that can help mitigate the distractions for us as parents, and the wonderful Father McTeigue of Ave Maria University has some great ideas here for arriving prepared for Mass and being an active listener during the homily. Prior to Mass, he suggests reading the Scriptures ahead of time. He writes:
“But surely just about anyone can get a subscription to Magnificat magazine where all the Scripture readings of the month’s Masses are found, along with fine commentary. Surely, we can take at least some time during the week to read prayerfully the Scriptures for the upcoming Mass. Surely we all can resolve to approach the proclaimed Word of God at Mass with a sense of expectation.”
Reading the selections ahead of time, perhaps a few days before or in the bathroom that morning, can help focus our minds and hearts before we even cross the threshold of our church. Besides the Magnificat, there are numerous blog posts, homilies, and commentaries in print and podcast formats online each Sunday. My favorites are: reflections by Fr. Cedric Pisegna and his Passionist colleagues; reflections by the wonderful community of women over at Blessed Is She; Scott Hahn’s weekly commentary on the Sunday readings; the USCCB, which has commentaries on readings every day of the year; and Fr. Robert Barron‘s and Fr. Larry Richards’ weekly homilies, which are also available as podcasts. In our family, we try to make it a point to listen to praise and worship music or Gregorian chant on the way to and from Mass, to help “set the tone.” [Actually, I do it so that I don’t walk into Mass with something like T. Swizzle’s “Shake It Off” running through my head during the second reading, yafeel?] We can also silently pray little aspirations during Mass when we find our attention wandering. “Mother Mary, help me to focus on your Son while I corral mine” is a favorite. Or just “Jesus, I love You!”
When all else fails, and I just feel so tired, so defeated, and so drained, it’s all I can do to just stare at the Crucifix above the altar. Sometimes, that’s all I can give. And you know what? It’s the image of All that Christ Gave. Looking longingly, lovingly at Him is enough. He knows. He loves you, and He loves that wiggly little saint-in-the-making in your arms. You’re doing a great job, mama.
Give me your feedback below! I’d love your suggestions and ideas for preparing our hearts and minds BEFORE heading into Mass.