Inspiring Families to Become Like the Holy Family (Part 4 of 6)

by Jen Arnold  |  01/22/2023  |  Gospel Meditation

This week’s topic can be, at times, a touchy subject for people on both sides of the equation, however, please bear with me to the conclusion so that we all might gain a little perspective. Children, particularly infants and toddlers, can often be disruptive at Mass by nature of their youth. With five children myself, I have had many experiences over the years with everything from people asking me not to bring my little ones to Mass, to people encouraging me along, and even complete strangers offering to hold my babies to give me a hand.

I was at one Mass where the priest actually stopped preaching his homily until a young mother quieted her baby, which, needless to say, was quite awkward. So, how are we to deal with children at Mass and the distractions they may bring to each of us?

Let’s start with Scripture. You are probably familiar with the scene from Matthew 19:13-14. Children were being brought to Jesus, but His disciples rebuked the people who were bringing them to Him, as if it were not the time and place for children. Jesus’ response to them was very direct. He said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” They were told, under no uncertain terms, to never stop children from coming to Him, because they are an example to the adults of the childlike simplicity required to get to heaven. Beyond that reason, children have as much right as anyone to have direct access to Jesus. In the context of the Mass or Adoration, Jesus is physically present in the Blessed Sacrament and, therefore, children should not be hindered from being in His presence.

Then, in Matthew 14 and John 6, we read the accounts of Jesus feeding the 5,000 by multiplying the loaves and fishes. Many theologians and Bible scholars have taught that the number 5,000 referred only to the men, as women and children were not counted, and that there were actually many more present at the event. I find it difficult to believe that there was an area roped off for families with children of certain ages to confine themselves, which is one of the reasons St. Gabriel doesn’t have a “cry room”. This means that children of all ages and stages were dispersed throughout the crowd gathered to hear Jesus preach. Mothers would have had nursing infants with them. Curious toddlers, unable to sit still, would have been present. There was probably even more than one cranky teenager in the crowd. This scene very much resembles what our Mass looks like today. From the Church’s perspective, when a child is baptized, the parents and godparents make a promise before God and the community to raise the child in the Faith. There are many aspects to doing that, but it most definitely includes bringing them to Mass every Sunday. The Catechism says, “Parents should 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,” (CCC #225). “The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents,” (CCC #2226).

Now, none of this is to say that children should just be able to run amok in Mass while everyone else just deals with it. It is perfectly reasonable to head back to the narthex with a toddler who is crying or cannot sit still so you can still participate in Mass, while giving her a little more freedom to move. However, when we are not supportive of parents bringing their children to Mass, or worse, discouraging, we make it very challenging for them to do what Jesus and the Church are instructing them to do and what they promised to do at their child’s Baptism. Also, young parents are often more lacking in experience and confidence than older generations, so a little bit of support and kind words can go a long way in building them up. Essentially, no matter where anyone falls on the spectrum of what has been described here, Mass will be made better if everyone practices compassion, empathy, and patience – virtues that Jesus teaches us to practice anyway.