The Contraceptive Sanctuary: Why you SHOULD Bring Baby to Church

Deacon Greg and Calah Alexander are having an animated discussion with several readers who are taking issue with parents who bring babies to Church.

Here is an example of the tone of the questions to which they are responding:

“When I read these posts from parents of young children who say they need God’s grace and that is why they bring their young children to Mass, I consider that to be selfish. We ALL need to look out for one another. It is NOT “all about me” as so many in this generation believe. I come from a different time, as I said in my previous posts, when folks were much more respectful and wouldn’t think of keeping, or even bringing a young child to Mass. “

Since my wife and I actually have a chapter on taking your kids to Church in Parenting with Grace, I thought I’d weigh in with a few points.

1.  As far as Catholics are concerned, babies are not merely tolerated.  They have a right to be in Church.  IF YOU ARE BAPTIZED, YOU BELONG.  PERIOD.  END OF STORY.

2.  As a matter of Catholic social teaching, it is the duty of every Catholic to support the mission of the family to raise godly children.  Failure to do so is a serious offense against both charity and the dignity of the family.  If you have ever scowled at a parent of a crying baby at Church. I recommend you confess your hardened heart.  “Whatever you do to the least…” (Mt 25:40).

3.  While I respect the intention behind it, a parent who leaves a child at home “until they are old enough” is being unjust regarding the child’s religious education.  Education begins unconsciously before it begins consciously.  Your baby or toddler needs to be given the opportunity to learn the rhythm, sights, sounds, and smells of the Mass before he is conscious enough to understand the Mass.  Robbing a child of the sensory education makes catechesis that much harder later on.  Spirituality is primarily a sensory call (from God) that leads to a transformative response.  Robbing a child of that early sensual experience of God and His Church is a very serious impediment to future catechesis and spiritual development.

4.  As Calah rightly points out, there is a difference between a fussing baby and a screaming baby.  As a matter of courtesy to the other worshippers, parents should always remove a child who is being loud and cannot be consoled after about a minute or so.  That noted, everyone else around the family with a fussy child has an obligation to either put on an understanding, sympathetic smile or pretend you don’t notice and trust the parent will handle it.  As Jesus said, to the apostles who were pushing the kids away, “get over your bad selves.”    As a Church, we do not believe in contraception and we certainly should not be promoting contraceptive sanctuaries.

5.  Some tips for moms and dads.

-This is counterintuitive, but sit in the front.  Kids behave better when they can look at what’s going on instead of some other parishioner’s butt (which is, afterall what’s on their eye-level).

-Don’t ever just sit in the cry-room from the start.  Although I understand, and support, their intended use, in practice, most cry rooms are from the devil.  It’s like Lord of the Flies Sunday School in there.  Go in only for as long as you need to, if you need, then go back to your pew.  You and your child will get more out of the experience

-If you have to remove your child from the sanctuary, hold him the entire time you are in the cry room or the back of the church.  DO NOT under any circumstances let him down.  If you take the child out and put him down and play with him (or, God forbid, let him run around) you will teach him–through simple Pavlovian conditioning–that he NEEDS to cry to get the fun times that happen when he forces you to leave the sanctuary.   Let your child have a minimal amount of freedom of movement if he allows you to stay the pew, but none if he makes you leave the sanctuary.  If a little one is really that out of control, he isn’t able to get himself back online anyway (remember our discussion about the myth of self-soothing).  If he makes you leave, by all means be loving, sympathetic, compassionate, and affectionat, but DO NOT PUT THE KID DOWN.  When he’s quiet, return to the pew.

-By all means, for children under, say, 4-ish, bring some quiet, soft, preferably religiously-themed toy-like things.  Keep them in a special “going to Mass bag”  that the child doesn’t get to see unless you are in church.  That will keep these activities special.  Regarldess, try to put these things away before the consecration.  At the elevation, point to the host and whisper something like, “look at the miracle!  Look at Jesus. Say, “I love you Jesus!”

-Don’t do mass in shifts.  The Mass is for families.  When parents say they aren’t “getting anything out of Mass” when they bring small children they are missing the point.  What you get out of Mass when you have small children is the joy of passing your faith on to them.   That’s what you signed up for when you became a Catholic parent.  Yes, it can be tough, and yes, you may certainly do other things to get your spiritual needs met, but Sunday mass is for your family.  Go as a family.

For more ideas, check out Parenting with Grace.


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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit

  • Preshen

    Dr. Popcak: Since you quoted my comment here in your blog post, I feel I need to respond. I raised four children. They are all grown now and are faithful Catholics. They never left the faith. They each married a Catholic and are raising their children as Catholics the way I raised them and the way my parents raised me. I think that shows my perseverance in teaching them about God and the Catholic Church. We did not take my toddlers and babies to Mass. We educated them every hour of every day by example at home throughout their childhood years. We taught them how to pray, how to be respectful, and how to behave at Mass. When we then took them to Mass, it was like an honor for them to be there. They did not fuss about going. Taking babies to Mass does not guarantee that they will remain Catholic their through their young adult years. I have seen it through my work in parishes. I believe educating a child throughout their lives will keep them Catholic, and it worked for me.

    • Dr. Greg

      Clearly you did a lot of great things that you have cause to be proud of. Leaving your babies at home wasn’t one of them That it worked for you isn’t relevant. That’s like saying, “Hey, I smoked and my kids didn’t get lung cancer or pick up the habit.” Or. “Hey, not smoking is no guarantee your kids won’t start.” Both things may be true, but they are both irrelevant. Obviously you’re a good and faithful parent. This is just one area that you might have done better in. We all have those. The best parents admit it. Thanks for writing in. I hope you’ll be a regular reader. Dr.P.

      • Joseph Mazzara

        Dr. Greg, that’s incredibly insulting. Taking kids to Mass with you on Sunday is not an article of Faith, it is a matter of prudence. You are extracting a general principle from your own particular life experiences. You are using an anecdote about what was prudent for your situation, applying it to all other cases, and then making what amounts to a savage ad hominem by paralleling not bringing kids to mass with them to parents who smoke around their children. You’d think a Doctor who directs something called the “Pastoral Institute” would be a) more professional, and b) more respectful that while certainly not everything is relative, prudence is a virtue that nontheless applies to particular situations.

        • Rachel

          Aren’t ALL Catholics to attend mass every Sunday, barring illness? As baptized Catholics, does that not include children of ALL ages? So thus, isn’t it a matter of faith?

          • Joseph Mazzara


            No. ALL Catholics are no more required to attend Mass ever Sunday than are ALL Catholics required to confess their sins every Sunday. What you are referring to are the precepts of the Church. Not all precepts are binding at all times to everyone. For example, children are not required to fast or abstain on the days of fasting and abstinence. Those who have not reached the age of reason don’t participate in the sacrament of confession. I would argue that while it is commendable and often appropriate, it is not necessary until a child is preparing for first holy communion that they attend Sunday Mass. That doesn’t excuse a parent from teaching their kids about the Faith, how to pray, etc. All that means is that the Mass is used to catechize those children who are old enough to be catechized by it, and that you catechize your younger children as you see fit since you are the primary educators of your children and know what’s best for them.

          • wineinthewater

            Unfortunately – actually, fortunately, you are wrong. Canon 1246 requires attendance of all the faithful. The obligations to abstain, confess, etc. that you give are all couched with specific qualifiers based on age, ability, health, use of reason, etc. However, the obligation to be at mass has none of those qualifications, only an exception only for grave reasons such as illness or care of a child. And quite frankly, “other people are annoyed by kids” and “keeping my kids behaved is too challenging” are not grave reasons. I can see where a child might have developmental or severe behavioral issues where mass cannot even be attempted from time to time, and there are probably other extraordinary circumstances that could be envisioned, but “keep your kids at home until age” X is contrary to canon law.

      • Preshen

        With all due respect Dr. Popcak, what you offer is a matter of opinion. It worked for me and it is relevant for me. Yes, there are ways we could all do better. For you to say “This is just one area that you might have done better in” is a bit presumptuous on your part since you do not know me.

        Secondly, I believe you copied my quote directly from Calah Alexander’s Blog. That quote, which is accurate, is also part of 4 lengthy comments I made on both her blog and on Deacon Greg Kandra’s Blog. Those comments give a much bigger picture of my background, my beliefs, and my thoughts on this matter. I would invite you and all of your readers here to visit those blogs and check out my entire comments for a better understanding of my position. Thank you for all you do to promote the Catholic Church.

      • Juana

        I think it is relevant that it worked for her and her kids…examples of what worked should be taken into consideration. Real life examples that contradict one’s position must be considered, even if they may not prove one wrong. Perhaps a little evidence-based research is a good idea. To wit: If in the past it was typical not to take babies to Mass, and more people stayed Catholic, this is evidence that should be considered….even if it might only prove that taking them or not taking them is not a deal-breaker. This woman’s experience should make us curious.

        Anyway, my question is this: Let’s say one brings little kids to Mass but rather than having them sit as quietly as they can, one has them playing with various toys and–God forbid–EATING–it seems to me that we might be training them to treat the Church like their living room. Which is how many teenagers in parishes now do…and even adults, for that matter. Just a thought. I”m not saying they shouldn’t have a little doll or something to hang onto, but a pile of various toys, books, and sippy cups?

        That said, I don’t have any problem with people bringing babies and youngsters to Mass. I don’t mind at all hearing little cooing sounds from babies at Mass because it means young families are there who, unlike so many young people, actually care to come to Mass!! I do have a problem with parents who do nothing about their rowdy little ones. And who let kids eat in the Church, which is utterly inappropriate IMO.

        • Dr. Greg

          Did I recommend ANY of the things you’re worried about? Nope. I totally agree with your concerns. Thanks for your comment. Dr. Greg

    • Joanne

      Hi, Preshen: My parents did the same (Mass in shifts or a babysitter for special days when both parents wanted to be there with the older ones) and I’m grateful for their example of humility and respect for the Mass and for others. The Church in her wisdom teaches that children are of course not obligated to assist in the Mass before the age of reason. I’m not saying that infants and small children should NEVER be at Mass, and I’m pretty good at focusing on the Eucharist despite all the distractions, so I’m not even particularly bothered by kids at Mass. But anyone who would act as though you or my parents were remiss in not taking your very small children to Mass is showing some pretty breathtaking arrogance. I’m from a heavily Catholic town and many of my peers at least still go to Mass. I’m one of the few though who actually seems to take the Church’s teachings, including the unpopular ones, seriously. And I can tell from conversations with my Catholic-raised peers that I’m much better versed in what the Church teaches and why than most. So it doesn’t seem to me that my parents’ consideration for others has “impeded” my catechesis.

      I dislike this topic because quite frankly I don’t really like what it reveals in many cases about my fellow Catholics. Why are Catholic bloggers even bringing this topic up, btw? I think it would be showing better judgment to focus on the things that unite us at a time when our Church is under attack from so many directions.

      • Dr. Greg

        It never occurred to me that anyone would find this controversial. How else does one teach children about mass without, you know, bringing them to mass? Too funny.

        • Preshen

          Thank you Joanne for your comment. I appreciate it.

          Dr Popcak: To say ” How else does one teach children about mass without, you know, bringing them to mass? Too funny”. That is a pompous response. As I have said in other comments, my children are all grown now and are married to Catholic spouses. They all have children of their own and are raising them in the Catholic Faith, just like I did for them and my parents did for me. Also, my children never left the Catholic Church. They each were involved in the Catholic Church throughout their teen and college years. I think I did a great job and have proof of it. I would be curious to hear from some of those like yourself, who are raising children now, in about 20 years to see how it all turned out and if indeed you are right. If you are, then I will congratulate you on a job well done.

          Controversial might be a bit strong of a word, but this whole discussion is trivial compared to all the events of our world in the past week. Many people lost loved ones, families are suffering because of terrorism and fires. Floods devastated the midwest. Earthquakes rocked China and Iran. We should now stop this discussion. I am through commenting myself, and I will pray a Rosary for our world which is in so desperate need of it. That is what I am going to do. Won’t you join me?

          • Widdershins

            I don’t think it’s trivial at all. We are all here as part of our journey to get to Heaven. What we do to get there is the most important thing in the world. It all begins with the family, so things concerning the family are incredibly important. By all means, pray for all the tragedies, pray for the things you have no control over, pray for your children, pray for yourself. That is part of our spiritual life. But don’t dismiss anything pertaining to the family, the Church and ultimately to our final destination as trivial.

          • wineinthewater

            It sounds like you did a great job. I would say that you did the wrong thing for the right reasons. Your obvious high regard for the sanctity of the mass was the reason you left them home. It seems to me that the strong faith behind that act had a far greater positive impact on your kids than any negative impact from years of missing out on being in the presence of Jesus and His Church.

            Your experience is relevant .. to a p0int. Your experience does not trump the teachings of the Church. The Sunday obligation clearly applies to all the faithful, regardless of are. Catholic teaching about the obligations of parents to bring their children up in the faith includes the obligation to bring them to mass. While there are certainly circumstances that might call for a child to just stay home, leaving small children at home as a general rule is to disregard Catholic teaching and even Catholic law.

            I have not been a parent for as long as you, but I have learned what I believe to be a very important tenet of parenting: just because it worked for you does not make it right.

        • Guest

          Of course it’s controversial and that was obvious from the other posts you link to so I think that’s a little disingenous.

          There is nothing wrong (and I think it’s a wise choice) to wait to bring children to Church until they can understand at least a little of what’s going on and the special nature of Church. I did not go to Church until I was 4 years old and I can tell you that I still remember it as one of the most important milestones of my life – no less significant in my memory than First Holy Communion. I would not have dreamed of misbehaving in Church because I understood Whose presence I was in in a very special way not found anywhere else. I knew Jesus loved me even at home but Church was a rite of passage.

          My parents prepped me for it at home and I needed to show that I understood what Church was about and what was expected of me. I was so motivated to show I was ‘big’ enough to sit quietly and so proud when I mastered it. My older siblings all helped and they reinforced and celebrated my accomplishment and a huge deal was made of going to Mass the first time. It was just good life training besides and the lessons my parents taught me about earning and respecting priviledges was never lost on me.

        • Christie Martin @ Garden of Holiness

          Our second child is on the Autism spectrum. When at the age of two he couldn’t figure out how to behave in Mass, we responded with more Mass, not less. We figured he needed more practice than he could get by going only once a week. We budgeted the gas expense and took our family to Daily Mass for an entire year. We had four kids at the time and we picked four Parishes in order not to burden any particular set of Daily Mass goers. Autism is tough but our town’s Daily Mass attendees are tougher. They were awesomely supportive and understanding. I love our diocese because they loved us first!

    • Wendi Seichter

      My husband and I always take our daughter to mass with us. It is a special and sacred time for our family to share together. We also teach our daughter about the mass and Jesus as she often has questions about the stations of the cross etc. The baby room should only be used as necessary. Our church does have a playroom with a babysitter for the young kids; however, we chose to always have our daughter with us. Many churches do not have this type of set up so if we would not have been able to take her to church with us, we would have had to find a babysitter.

  • Leticia Velasquez

    Thank you Dr Greg! I have a discussion with my husband about our 11 year old daughter with Down syndrome, she can fuss like a much younger child, but ONLY when she is looking at other parishioners, a-hem, backsides, not when she can see the sanctuary. Then she sits in awestruck silence. . . most days. Sometimes you have to make a mad dash to the vestibule with her in tow. But its a risk worth making. At seven, Christina eagerly anticipated her First Holy Communion. This would never have happened if we left this often challenging child at home.

  • Beccolina

    It occurred to me once, when I was tempted to do shifts (possibly without my son, who was a very loud, fussy, hard to calm down toddler) that the Church requires the Sunday Obligation EVERY Sunday, but we are only, at minimum, required to received the Eucharist once a year (obviously not ideal). There is something there for those who do not receive the Eucharist, even the babies, toddlers, preschoolers, etc.

  • Diane

    It would help if the ends of the pews were reserved for EM’s, the handicapped and people with small children. I have actually seen someone remain seated, while a handicapped person, or a couple carrying a toddler had to struggle past them.

    • Naomi Kietzke Young

      What a great idea! And let me tell you from experience, the shiny fiddly bits of wheelchairs, walkers, and such are a quieting aid for some young children. I’d gladly hold a little one on my lap to give a mom a break — but I’m sequestered in the “handicapped parking,” and I can’t help.

    • Lindsey

      At the churches around here (we frequent 2) it is absolutely the norm for people to stake out end seats and then keep them, no matter what. In a way, I kind of understand the stubbornness, because if I were ever to get to Mass with my 4 children (whom I take to Mass by myself) early enough to get a good end seat, I would love to take it and keep it. But as it is, we usually get there about 10 minutes before Mass starts, and the available seats up in the front sections are only in the middle of the pews, not on the ends. My kids and I routinely have to climb over people to get to our seats. I say, “Excuse me,” but I try not to feel guilty about the awkwardness of the climbing over, since they are the ones who set up that situation. I’d say a good portion of the time, it’s a middle-aged couple. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and tell myself, “maybe they get claustrophobic.” But I as a parent will probably have more likelihood of needing to get up and leave Mass with a child who needs to go to the bathroom, so an end seat would be really nice once in a while.

  • Allison H.

    Thank you!

  • Melanie B

    re #3. I was kind of irritated by this talking point in the original questioner’s statement. Why the focus on Mass as catechesis in the first place? Isn’t the child able to have a relationship with God now and not just in the future? In that case, doesn’t bringing an infant into the presence of Christ now allow them to have a present experience of that relationship? I’m convinced that even infants and toddlers can appreciate Christ present at Mass. Not intellectually, perhaps. But still. Before she could even speak my oldest daughter used to fuss if I walked past our neighborhood church without pausing to pray. It seemed clear to me that she longed for God, she delighted to be in His house. It’s not only about getting children used to Mass for some future experience they will have of God. It’s about their faith life here and now. Right now, your child has a relationship with God, no matter how old he is. Bring him to his father’s house so he can bask in the glory of the presence of God who is with us.

    • Dr. Greg

      I kinda thought that’s exactly what I said with the whole point about education being unconscious before its conscious. At any rate, I don’t disagree with your comment in the least. Thanks for taking the time to write. Great points! Come back often. Dr.Greg

      • Guest

        “Before she could even speak my oldest daughter used to fuss if I walked past our neighborhood church without pausing to pray. It seemed clear to me that she longed for God, she delighted to be in His house.”

        Dr. Greg, not sure why you would reinforce this romantic notion since you are so adamant about developmental stages elsewhere. Isn’t this just pattern recognition? A normal, pre-verbal child isn’t going to have reached the developmental stage necessary to have an understanding of God and relationship and Church.

      • Lisa

        I have read all the blogs about this topic and I would like to weigh in as a mother of three ages 7, 3, and 4months. We have taken our children to Mass for a long time, but it wasn’t always that way. We did not take our oldest every Sunday until she was two. We were far from the Faith, and so were our children. Thank God we changed! We most certainly receive graces, guidance, comfort, compassion, healing, mercy, and forgiveness every time we enter the Church.

        In a world that is so harsh, combative, and violent toward our Catholic faith, we should be welcomed with open arms into a safe place where we can gather strength to soldier on. So many young Catholic families are not in the pews or living a lifestyle in accordance with Church teachings. It is HARD, and sometimes you feel so alone to be the ones still having children (without scheduling a sterilization) or contracepting. I need to be at Mass with my whole family, so that we can keep fighting.
        With all due respect, times have changed, and it a different world to be raising a family in.
        You need us because there are many who have taken your advice and are not bringing their families to Mass. Look around your Church and see how few young, big families there e.

        My husband and I feel it is our responsibility as parents to give our kids the best shot a getting to Heaven as possible. We need encouragement, not to be told we are doing something wrong…six a week the world tells me that anyways.

        • Ella

          Lisa, May the Lord bless you and keep you. Don’t let prideful and selfish people keep your little ones from the Lord. I have 6 children (26-3) and they have always gone to church with us and were taught to behave properly there (not perfectly, but very good most of the time). We have great priests here who are openly pro-life and who love and welcome children to Mass. I choose to base my decisions on what is right by the Bible and the Catechism and they strongly encourage both having children and Mass attendance. If someone is hell-bent on avoiding children, they can attend the local episcopal church, they won’t find any there at all (except maybe a visiting grandchild every now and again). My SIL almost stopped attending Mass at all after her twins were born because nasty people made her feel unwelcome as soon as she walked in the door with her little blessings. Do what is right and know that Christ welcomes you and all your little ones and will commend your faithfulness. “But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.” Matt 19:14 “It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Lk 17:2

    • Katherine

      This is part of the argument the Eastern Churches make for infant communion. Why excommunicate the baptized who has no sin and who will grow in his relationship with Christ the more you bring him.

      As a father takes his sick son to the doctor and gives him the medicine to restore him back to health, so the parent presents the infant before the Physician of souls at baptism and each Sunday at before the alter.

      I also think infant communion gives the child a greater sense of participation in the liturgy. My two and three year olds sing, make the sign of the cross, and know how to receive communion. This is why I always encourage parents to bring their kids (East or West). You never know at what age things “click” for them. My kids love Sundays, because we get to go see Jesus (it is also what makes bedtime on Saturday night the easiest – kids who go to sleep get to go see Jesus in the morning).

      • Dr. Greg

        I truly respect the Eastern view on this. We could learn something from our Byzantine brothers and sisters on this point. Dr.Greg.

    • Kate

      True. After all, there is no guarantee that any particular child will make it to their first communion (yeah, that’s a depressing thought, but it’s a reality – none of us knows what life holds in store). Not only do we need to raise our children with one eye on their future, but we also need to bring them before the Lord frequently now – for their good and for our own.

  • Maggie

    THANK YOU for writing this. I’m not a parent, but I LOVE seeing parents taking their young children to Mass. I think it is great to see babies at Mass; the only problem I have with it is purely MY fault–namely, I find their cuteness distracting :) Of course when they are shrieking one should take them out, but honestly, if people can’t put up with a baby fussing a little bit once in a while, then how can they stand normal life? No one has a right to total control of what they hear, at Mass or elsewhere.

    On a slightly different (but related) note, I read a comment (on another blog) once which was complaining about large families arriving late to Mass and how it made her so mad to see them coming in late, and they should stop because it was a near occasion of sin for others. I’m the oldest of six and this person simply did not understand that sometimes things come up. You think everyone’s ready but it turns out that the eight-year-old can’t find any shoes.

  • Pingback: The Sound of Crying Babies at Mass…()

  • Kara

    Why would you ever want to pass up the opportunity for your child to be in the true, real presence of Jesus? They can’t get that at home.

  • gradchica

    Thanks, Dr. Greg, I completely agree. I have 2 boys, 3.5 and 1.5, with baby #3 to make his/her appearance in the fall. The boys have always come to Sunday Mass with us, and when he hears that it is Sunday, our 3 yo exclaims, “Yay! We go to church on Sunday!” He knows we go there to see Jesus, and at this Sunday’s 1st communion, we got to explain to him that one day he would be able to receive Jesus too. How much he “gets” is anyone’s guess, but he knows the major prayers, tons of Bible stories/lessons, and knows that when he grows up he can be, in his words, “A husband, a priest, or a bishop!” He reads his Bible story books, but he’s starting to spend more time just sitting and listening/watching, which lets us whisper a few descriptions/explanations of what is going on to engage him more actively. Younger son is a bit wigglier, but he likes to mimic his older brother and kneel next to him and babble as the older one says his prayers. I can only hope their positive attitude toward attending Mass continues as they get older! One gentleman at our parish actually told us how thrilled he was to see the boys with us each week, saying it was a positive example for others to see a happy, loving family with smiling, well-behaved–most of the time!–children there each week.

    • Edward Hara

      Perhaps the reason that babies cry in church is because they cannot receive Jesus, Who is the source of eternal life.

      That would make me cry, too!

    • Erin Manning

      Gradchica, true story: when my oldest was 18 months old I would tell her on Friday mornings that it was Friday, and she would nod and mutter, “Friday. No meat.” :) Small children pick up on these things, and Mass is no exception at all!

  • Sarah in MI

    Some of us seem to always have a baby or toddler (praise God!). Should a family of, say, 8 kids spaced 2 years apart never attend Mass together as a family for 16 years? Ridiculous. Mass isn’t just about Me&Jesus. We encounter Him in and through His Body, the Church.

    • Margaret

      Seriously!!! I’m expecting #10 right now by the grace of God. The eldest is 19. The thought of the family never going to Mass together, as a family, for the entire period of my children growing up is insane.

      • Margaret

        Oh, and we’ve “road-tested” all of Dr. Greg’s advice over the years. It is entirely sound. We’ve found a sturdy set of Rosary beads, ideally in one of the nasty-yet-durable leatherette cases with a zipper, to hold most toddlers’ interests for 1o+ minutes at a time.

        • Guest

          and when they bang them on the back of the wooden pew over and over the rest of us get to practice saintly patience like St Therese did in her monastery. ;-)

  • Sherry

    I have tried all methods of taking toddlers to mass for the past 20 years –yes, the past 20 years, I have had toddlers and still do….and I love what you are saying. We went to mass as a family this weekend and my youngest son tested the acoustics. I admittedly took him to the back of the church after he was making too much noise during the readings, but when I got there, I made the mistake of putting him down and you guessed it, he ran wild. When I held him, he stilled and we were able to return to the mass. Thank you for the suggestion. –Mom of 10

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Now that my youngest kids are beyond the fussy stage (they’re boys and serving at altar), I have to say that I don’t hear other kids as clearly as I heard my own. I see young dads or moms, bringing an upset child to the back, clearly distressed at being a cause of disruption – but it’s at that point that I generally first notice the kid!

    All your advice is spot-on, especially that one point about not letting the child have fun after leaving the pew. That worked very well for me. Also, if the church is big enough with enough (good) stained glass and (decent) statues, there is often an opportunity to do a little quiet teaching. “Who’s this? St. Therese, you can tell by the roses and cross she holds.”

    And the other thing is, it’s not strictly necessary for a parent to pay attention to every word and action at Mass. This is more evident at an Extraordinary Form Mass than an Ordinary Form, but I have taken solace knowing that Mass is still Mass and it goes on quite nicely without me, as long as the priest is doing what he needs to do.

  • Jessica

    Thank you Dr Greg!
    I had a ‘challenging’ mass yesterday and wasn’t sure what I was doing right and wrong. This helps tremendously.
    I know children can be distracting! They are ‘figity’ and more ‘noisy’, but Our Lord wants them there. More often than not, their souls are more spotless than the rest of ours, and their presence makes our worship more holy. I pay no mind to dirty looks and I refuse to leave unless their is real mis-behavior. :)

  • Stu

    From practice, I differ in a small regard from your advice above. When it comes to actually reentering the Church with my youngster, I have always put them down, knelt, explained my expectations and then let them walk back in and under control. Don’t know why, but it seems effective.

    • Mama Turtle

      I will second the letting them walk calmly back into Mass. When I taught high school, if I needed to talk with a student about their behavior, I did it in the hallway (where their peers couldn’t hear) and let them walk back into the room before me…I think it lets them “save face” and I think it works that way even with little ones :) Just a guess though!

  • priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)

    What a beautiful post!
    I don’t understand how families are ABLE to ‘tag team’ – this means that not only are the parents not going to Sunday Mass together (which can be a great benefit to a marriage) but the family isn’t eating breakfast together- it feels like the entire day would be fragmented
    That being said- I highly recommend moms and dads going to a daily Mass alone at least once a month- it is nice to just focus on the Lord

  • Michael Matthew

    I am the father of 5 children and know all too well the trials of bringing the family to mass. Through the years I have implemented much of what you suggest and thankfully we are in a great small parish that is generally very welcoming to young families and children. However, about 2 months ago, my family attended Saturday vigil mass at another church in our metropolitan area due to children activities from the weekend. Unfortunately, we arrived a tad late and took a seat as quickly as possible. After looking around, I noticed we were the ONLY family in the church. Everyone else was at least 50 and older and the average age closer to 65. I generally can blow off the looks and stares from other parishioners but the elderly lady in front of us was quite visibly upset with us. Our 2 year old was a little wiggly and on several occasions she turned around with a stare that could melt the wax off the Easter candle. I proceeded to take him out to the outer hallway outside the church. As I was holding my son, I had this profound sense of sadness overcome me. With the intensity of a lightning bolt, the reality of our society was made clear as follows; is it no wonder children are not welcome in the womb if they are not even welcome in the “womb” of the church?

    • Deirdre Mundy

      I’ve had that experience too–usually at wealthy suburban parishes. In small-town midwest, it seems like older people are more used to kids–and even bring their grandkids to Mass sometimes! Family sizes vary a lot by region– I wonder if some of it has to do with how those regions treat kids!

  • Theodore Seeber

    What bothers me in this whole conversation is that the anti-children people seem to have forgotten Matthew Chapter 19. Go and read it before you respond to me please.

  • Michelle

    As a grouchy, bitter spinster, I’d feel a lot more sympathetic toward this post if I thought there was more consideration for the view that it is a parent’s job to teach his child how to behave properly at Mass, rather than shaming fellow Catholics at Mass for not behaving appropriately toward crying children.

    As I’m told over and over by the Happy Parents, “Hey! I don’t know what it’s like to be you! I don’t know your children and I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND!” So stop putting the onus on me to grin and bear your shrieking kidlets whilst you soothe and pet them in the middle of Mass rather than taking them outside to deal with their needs.

    Okay, that’s mostly joking. I do get that parenting is hard work, and that children need to be at Mass in order to learn that going to Mass each and every Sunday is what Catholics do. But I am sick and tired of the shaming from parents, who seem to expect me to make allowances for noisy, messy, all-around disruptive children rather than teach their children that they need to learn to sit still and keep quiet at Mass. I never scowl at parents who appear to be teaching those lessons to their children. But I have been known to glare at parents who allow their precious darlings to snack on Cheerios, stand on the furniture, sprawl in the pews for a nap (we’re talking 5-year-olds or older here), and litter the pews with the entire contents of their toyboxes.

    And I am not ashamed.

    • Dr. Greg

      I’m with you. That’s the reason for the extensive recommendations on point 5. The “overflow” area in our parish turns into a free for all. I had to peel some stranger’s kid off a stack of tables that could have killed him. The parents were oblivious. The imperative to bring one’s children to mass is not an excuse have circus time. That’s the same thing as not bringing them. Dr.Greg

    • Stu

      I think Michelle has the balanced approach.

    • Aimee

      I’m at a bit of a loss as to how you propose I *teach* an infant or young toddler how to sit still for an hour. Even if I escape to the cry room in a crying babe, and come back in, it’s a sequence that must be repeated dozens of times before an infant begins to understand (and even then, it’s more likely that they cry less not because I *taught* them, but because they aged and matured enough to do so). The glacier stares? They scare him more, I promise, and will only result in a more pronounced scream. Beyond that, I have no desire to make Mass a dreaded experience for an older preschool aged child (say 3 or 4 years old). If I shush every quiet question he asks or every excited (possibly loud) “oohhh!” when he sees a candle lit, I know from experience that Mass will quickly become something that is, at best, tolerated with a sigh from an active young child. If I misread, please forgive me; I’m still on my first cup of coffee.

      • Dr. Greg

        Yep. You misread. Take another look and see if my point was teaching a child to sit still for an hour. Dr.Greg

    • Erin Manning

      Michelle, I agree that five-year-olds should be better behaved than that. The funny part for me is that most of the five-year-olds I’ve seen who acted that way at Mass were the ones who never came to Mass until they were four…

      But I also have a cautionary note from my real life. My girls were average-sized toddlers. When they were quite young (3, 2, and infant) I was critical (in my heart, but shameful enough) of another family whose two “big girls” were as wiggly at Mass as mine. Surely at that age they could behave better! Turned out they were the same age as my kids, within a few months–but the 3.5 year old looked about six, and the two year old looked four! Since then, I’ve also encountered families struggling with special needs children and so forth, and all of that has taught me not to assume that every child who looks five IS five and should behave like an average five-year-old. That’s no excuse for the “toy box pew dump” way of handling things, but we don’t always know the whole situation in other cases.

    • Petro

      “I never scowl at parents who appear to be teaching those lessons to their children”

      The point is that you don’t really know who is doing a good job and who isn’t. Your scowls are uncharitable and unloving. The parents that allow their children to act in certain ways are, as you note, also being uncharitable. But it’s not very Christian to have pride in the fact that you are willfully uncharitable, even to those who are not being charitable to you

      • Michelle

        Scowling is not inherently uncharitable. Sometimes it is the only silent way to communicate such necessary but unspeakable messages as “Your kid has been screaming his head off for five minutes straight [much more than the 'minute or so' Dr. Popcak recommends] and you are not doing anything but patting him on the head and trying to giving him a binkie. Get the kid out of here right now so the rest of us can pray.” If a scowl clues in an oblivious parent that the crying has passed the point of “fussy” and moved into “intolerable,” I will not be sorry if it inspires that person to scoop up his or her kid and tend to the kid’s needs outside.

        • Dr. Greg

          One’s scowl is not going to help if a parent is that clueless. Trust me. Use it as an opportunity to offer it up. If you’re really that put out. Find a way to befriend the parent and mentor them, but you don’t have the opportunity to build a relationship or don’t have the time to be actually helpful, it is really best to practice self-control and charity and offer it up. I promise your scowl is in no way evangelistic.

    • Deirdre Mundy

      Michelle— I think the reason this all blew up is because it went from “Kids should not scream and destroy things in Mass” (a no brainer for most parents) to “kids don’t belong in Mass at all because the baby sings off key and the toddler is annoying when he stands on kneelers and that 5 year old fidgets while he sits.”

      Yes, other people are DEEPLY annoying. But if their behavior isn’t out and out screaming and psychotic, we don’t get to remove them from the sanctuary.

    • wineinthewater

      I think you bring up a really important point. Children belong at mass. But it is interesting, the same obligation that causes parents to bring their children to mass (being a good parent), also obligates them to actually parent their children at mass.
      We’ve been talking a lot about what is wrong with the attitude that children shouldn’t be at mass until they are older. But there is also something wrong with parents who think that others should just grin and bear their children’s behavior .. even when their behavior is due to deficient parenting. Parents should absolutely minimize the disruption their children can cause.

  • SD

    Wow. I have to strongly disagree with you here.

    I certainly think that parents MAY bring their small children to mass. Other people’s kids at mass don’t bother me. Honestly, when another kid is acting up at mass, I’m so relieved that it’s not MY kid that I don’t feel annoyed at all. I understand that some parents prefer to bring their kids to mass, or prefer to go as a family, or can’t do split shifts for whatever reason. I do think it’s uncharitable to glare at parents of small children every time their child makes a peep.

    But to tell parents they MUST bring their kids to mass?? Where is that in the Catechism? As I recall, parents technically don’t have to bring their kids to mass until they make their first communion, and the care of infants is a valid reason to miss mass. I’m not bothered by other people’s kids at mass, but I am bothered by MY kids at mass. I don’t understand why you would want to make mass as difficult for parents as possible.

    I also get annoyed when people want to get rid of cry rooms and nurseries. I certainly don’t think parents HAVE to use the cry room or nursery, but I like to have it available. The cry room is a lifesaver for us.

    To me, this way of thinking is kind of like making an idol out of the family. The family is very important, but it’s not more important than God.

    • Dr. Greg

      I just can’t imagine why you would want to keep your children from God until you “had” to bring them. I am trying to imagine the positive intention behind your comments but you have me stymied. I hope you will take a moment to expand on your thoughts because I would really like to understand where you’re coming from (and commenters, DO NOT pig pile on SD. If you attack her, I will delete you with extreme prejudice).

      I am sure you don’t mean this, but you sound as if you view your children and their religious education as a burden that you will take up if you have to instead of a relationship that must be fostered. Clearly I’m missing something, right? Why don’t you take another run at this.

      Thanks. I appreciate your patience with my confusion.


      • Kellie “Red”

        I agree with most of what you wrote here, but I do think for certain families, and in certain circumstances, it is ok to not bring babies/young ones to Mass. There is a reason the Sunday obligation does not extend to the family, but to individuals who are old enough to receive. I say this as someone who pretty much always brings my children to Mass, and has encouraged other families, absent extenuating circumstances, to bring their children to Mass. I think there is grace there, just being in the presence of Christ, and that children learn a great deal from attending Mass from a young age. I think this is important and agree with most of your sentiments. But I also think that almost all young families (especially larger ones), go through a period of time when Mass is very difficult with the entire family in attendance. Some of us are in the phase for years. And after years and years of not sitting in the pews, pacing with a baby, or trying to attend Mass with multiple children who need to be held and walked, it can lead to a sort of burnout. As someone who had 5 children in 7 years, we went through a very difficult phase when both our 4th and 5th were born, where we split up for Mass for a few months. This small change in our Sunday routine allowed for my husband and I to reboot. It just wasn’t possible for me to stand (postpartum issues!) with the baby, and my husband to wrangle two other toddlers in the pews. Every family has different circumstances and different seasons will call for a different plan. I do agree, however, that the goal should be for all to attend. But no family should feel difficult if their current circumstance makes that plan too difficult.

        I think nurseries and cry rooms are great for these special circumstances. And parents sometimes have to do what works for them in times of survival mode. I do agree, however, that bringing children is “best” and should be attempted when it makes sense. Kids get better at behaving during Mass when you take them MORE frequently, not less. I’ve found that the best antidote for a poorly behaved toddler at Mass is to take them to daily Mass at least once a week. The shorter duration allows them to experience success at Mass, and a nice reward afterward motivates them to sit for much longer at Sunday Mass. And we always sit in the first row if available– that is a great till

        • Dr. Greg

          I think its ok–as in, certainly permissible, but there are lots of things that are permissible that are foolish. I think this is one of them. Others may disagree. Dr.Greg.

          • MomWithSense

            So it was foolish for the parents of St. Therese to keep her home until she was mature enough to go? She remembers clearly being able to be allowed to go to mass, what a momentous occasion it was for her…and look how she turned out. Tradition should matter to us and apparently, this was far more common in the past than it is today. I think it’s better. I like their example and I choose to follow it. She was taken on walks to visit the Blessed Sacrament outside of mass, which is an excellent idea. When mass is so special, so awe-filled that only those who behave their Sunday-best can go, it can fill a child with a sense of reverence that can turn one saintly.

            So I completely disagree with you; it can be an excellent idea.

          • Dr. Greg

            Have you ever read Story of a Soul? Poor Therese was a psychological mess as a child. Her sainthood did not come easy.

            Zelie and Louis Martin were deeply pious people, but they needed A LOT of instruction on marriage and family life from their spiritual director. It was a steep learning curve. Sainthood is not a sign of perfection. It is a sign of humility and a willingess to learn.

        • Guest

          “I think there is grace there, just being in the presence of Christ, ”

          Every time I see this kind of comment used in this context I wince, and I’m not trying to single you out since many others have written the same thing. But I feel like it represents a misunderstanding of God and imposes some kind of limitation on God – as if God is not perfectly willing and capable of extending every possible grace to your young child regardless of whether they are in Church. Jesus in the Real Presence is certainly a wonderful gift and source of grace but Jesus is still fully present to us outside of Church as well and not as some kind of Jesus-lite either.

          • Marie

            He is capable of doing “extending every grace” through non-sacramental means for anyone of any age, but we don’t tell adults not to go to Mass or Adoration because of that. We don’t tell adults – or shouldn’t!! – that it “imposes a limitation on God,” if they pay a visit to Jesus in the tabernacle or come to Massto pray. So why should we use that argument to try and keep the little children away from His Sacramental Presence?

        • wineinthewater

          The Sunday obligation doesn’t have an age attached, it is for *all* the faithful. The only exception is for “grave reasons.” I think it’s a stretch to call childhood a “grave reason.”

      • Nina

        It’s not a matter of “keeping them from God”. How can you keep an infant from God since He is all around us in Creation? Christ is present in the Eucharist, but babies don’t get the Eucharist. At least in the Latin Rite.

        It’s a matter of being able to juggle the children you have (in my case literally juggling) while attempting any sort of reasonable facsimile of worship. I won’t bore you with my own issues/disabilities, but let’s just say that three kids under 4 was NO picnic. For **anyone**.

        • Deirdre Mundy

          He’s specially present in the Eucharist. That’s why we keep the red candle burning.

        • Marie

          Nina, I am sorry that you’ve had a hard struggle with your kids and disabilities. Each family has a unique situation and must come up with strategies that are best for all concerned. It is good to remember though what a precious gift it is to be able to give the little ones time with Jesus at Mass.

          Just like anyone else who comes to Mass and doesn’t receive Holy Communion, it’s a huge benefit to their souls. One is only obliged to receive Communion once per year; on the other hand, one is obliged to assist at Mass every Sunday. Through these obligations, the Church is teaching us that there is value in just being there at Mass in Jesus’ presence, regardless of whether we receive Him in Holy Communion that day or not. And yes, the souls infants and small children do benefit from this perhaps even more than ours, since they are quite innocent of personal sin.

          I have heard it explained that harried parents who feel that they are not worshipping as they should because of tending to the needs of their children are actually pleasing God very much and need only peacefully offer to Him each loving task they do for their kids. Pleasing worship as a parent of small children looks different than pleasing worship from a non-parent. If the non-parent’s thoughts wander and they don’t pay attention to readings or homily, that’s a problem. If a parent of little ones misses parts of the readings or homily due to kid issues, that’s not a problem, that’s loving service to God’s little ones. I suspect it would be at least as pleasing to God as St. Therese offering up to Him the distraction of the annoying clicking noise made by the nun behind her in the chapel – perhaps even more so!

      • Barbara Fryman

        My parents did not take us to Sunday mass. They also didn’t keep us from God. It was common to be woken up to attend 6:45am daily mass when we’d be tired and less likely to get wild. It was common to be on an errand and “stop for a visit” though our diocese didn’t have adoration. By the time I attended mass I knew how to behave thanks to the shorter daily masses I had attended and I knew just Who this mass was about (not me!)

  • MarylandBill

    Just a thought, in the original comment that is responsible for this blog post, the commenter said that they came from a “different time” when things were done differently. Whenever I look at what a mess things are today, I can’t help but remember that they are a product of people who grew up in a different time when things were done differently. Yes, all of their kids might be going to mass today, but how many of their children’s peers, whose parents presumably also kept them home now decide to stay home instead of going to Mass?

  • angela

    Dr. Greg,
    I have a problem with people playing with my two year old during mass. We have been working so hard with her and we had stopped having to take her out for four Sunday’s in a row but then people started playing with her that were sitting behind us. I can’t discipline her in mass for responding to the people but she gets really loud when she is excited. Do you know a kind way to tell people we are teaching her to pay attention to mass and please don’t start playing with our child during mass?

    • Michelle

      If it were me, I’d lean over the pew and say quietly to those teasing your child—and I mean that in the sense of people who rap on glass at the zoo to get the animals inside to look lively)—”I’m so sorry, but Jenny sometimes becomes ill when she’s over-stimulated.” That’s a polite way of suggesting that your child might just throw up in their laps if they don’t knock off the teasing Right This Very Minute.

  • RoseMeg

    I completely agree with holding them the whole time you are in the back, but what do you do if that’s not possible? My husband doesn’t come to Mass with us and I have a 3.5 year old son and a 10 month old daughter. My son is usually the reason we are in the back, but I have to hold the baby. Even if she wasn’t there, I have a hard time holding my son, and he always fights it.

    • Deirdre Mundy

      RoseMeg–I use a boring corner. Nose in the plain, white corner. Me standing behind him so he can’t leave, no eye contact. My kids HATE being bored, so it works.

      • Kristin

        That’s when we head out to the van, strap in the carseat, and wait a few minutes before returning. And then there’s a consequence once we get home, too. They quickly learn that, “Do we need to go to the van?” means “knock it off!”

  • Lisa Schmidt

    Dr. Greg – thank you so much for doing my homework for me! :) I co-host a weekly Catholic women’s radio show on Iowa Catholic Radio and my co-host and I planned our next show on this very topic. You’ve hit on the points we want to address. So we will be working smarter, not harder, and sharing your expert thoughts and pointing folks to this great post – and your book for that matter! Thanks for weighing in on the topic that left a very sour taste in my mouth.

  • SD

    Greg, I am confused by your reaction. I don’t know where you got the idea that I think my kids “religious education” is a burden. I make sure to take my kids to mass and CCD, teach them about their faith, etc. Just to clarify, we bring our kids to mass long before age 7 – I was merely pointing out that the Church does not require bringing children before that. I just don’t see what bringing a squirmy toddler to mass has to do with their “religious education.” They don’t even know where they are. There have been many, many masses where I haven’t been able to listen to the readings or homily because I’ve had to deal with a small child. I feel like I haven’t even gone to mass. It seems to me that you’re putting burdens on parents that the Church does not. I completely agree with you that parents who bring their small children to mass should be welcomed. But bringing them is not required.

    To further understand where I’m coming from, read this blog post by a devout Catholic mother of 8 who doesn’t bring her kids to mass when they’re small:

    • MarylandBill

      I am just curious, how do you know that they don’t know where they are? My first son (who was gifted with early speech) certainly knew that he was in Church was by 18 months. Certainly he doesn’t understand fully what that means even now that he is almost 4, but he understood even then that Mommy and Daddy expected different behavior in church (even if we rarely got it prior to age 2).

      • Marie

        Great point, MarylandBill. Fr. George David Byers at Holy Souls Hermitage blog (not sure if am allowed to post link here, but search his blog for “vocation” and its one of the first four or so hits) claims he received his vocation to the priesthood as a two year old at Sunday Mass.

  • John N

    The parish is our family. Family includes everybody. Perio Full Stop. it includes crying babies and the old woman who loudly sings off key. It is the couple wiht the retarded son. It is the woam hwo brings her mother who has alzheimer’s. It is everybody. If the church can include the likes of me in the famly, she certainly has a place for the rest of the family, including crying babies.

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  • Nina

    Not having read all the comments, I will say this…

    Yes, it’s great in theory. Yes, it often works well. HOWEVER – and this is a BIG however – Mass attendance is NOT obligatory for children under age 7. Per the 1983 Code of Canon Law ( Canon 11

    >>Can. 11 Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who were baptised in the catholic Church or received into it, and who have a sufficient use of reason and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, who have completed their seventh year of age.<<

    To imply that bringing a small child to Mass is the only way they'll ever grow up Catholic and live their faith does a disservice to Mother Church, Herself as well as those families who know their limits and which battles to fight.

    • Dr. Greg

      It isn’t a matter of being obligatory. I completely understand that and, just for the record, I never claimed there is one, right, official Catholic answer on this. I also never said that this is the only way to raise children to be Catholic. That’s putting words in my mouth. However, if faith formation is about building a relationship with God, and it is. It seems foolish to deny a child that relationship for 7 years and expect that to not make your life harder.

      • BA

        Yup. That is like the people that put their kids in religious education and the kid has never been to mass….

      • Bender

        Yes. I know that the Church uses the terminology of Mass as an “obligation,” but it is really unfortunate because it has fostered that Mass is a burden, something that someone “has” to do, as well as reinforcing the mindset that God is all about rules and regulations. In point of fact, Mass is an opportunity.

        But in any event, even if it is not “obligatory” for an infant to make the effort himself to attend Mass, that does NOT mean that parents have a right to exclude their child from Mass. Parents do not have the right to bar the door to the Church. Rather, parents do have an obligation to respect the right of their children to go to Mass.

    • wineinthewater

      My understanding is that the Sunday obligation is not “merely ecclesiastical law” but rather universal law and falls under canon 12 not 11.

      If I’m wrong, I’d love to be corrected.

  • Jeff Hite

    Dr. Popcak,
    Thanks for the wonderful post it bring ups some of the highlights and concerns for parents of young children. This is a subject I have been addressing a lot lately. I wrote a reply to the article I used to Sit Next to you ( that is mainly about taking kids to church, and a parents role there in. (My post I am the father of nine kids almost 16 to 2, so I do understand this plight. I liked your hints for parent’s. As you can see from my article I agree with you on all of them but bring toys to Mass, but that is more than likely just a personal choice.
    Thanks again for the very nice article

  • Laura K

    THANK YOU for posting this!

    I am one of those moms that sits in the back of the church with my family so that I can make a quick getaway if the little ones act up. Yes, I know the front would be better, but I don’t have the guts. I have 3 very active & normally loud boys – ages 5 and under.

    I used to be one of those people who got irritated with people allowing their kids to scream and act up in church. Then I was blessed with twins and realized that I had NO control over 2 infants that wanted to be active ALL the time. We started out in the cry room – and quickly realized that there was no way we’d be able to teach our children to sit still and be quiet if we stayed there. So when the twins were just under 3, and our youngest boy was a newborn – we moved to the sanctuary. If they fussed and acted up, I would take them out and bring them back in when I felt they were ready. It has taken some time – and a ton of dot to dot books – but they will now sit through mass quietly and behave (for the most part). And every once in a while they will repeat something that was said, or ask a question about something that happened during mass – so we know they’re listening – whether they appear to be, or not.

    Just recently – my husband was out of town and I went to mass for the first time by myself with the boys. And of course, once again my heart has softened – now for the single moms who do that ALL THE TIME by themselves. I may have only heard 4-5 minutes of the mass – but I was where I needed to be that morning.

    We need to be a lot less judgemental of others – we do not know their circumstances – only God does. It may have taken everything they had to get to church that morning… but they made it, and it may have been life-saving for them that day.

  • Joe

    Great article, Dr. Greg! As a father of 5, the weekly 8am Mass can be laborious at times. I know its a sacrifice, and I’m leading by example. I’d like you opinion on this, I generally go by myself about once every 4-5 Sundays, to help break up holding my crazy 18 month old. With your insight, would you consider that a fair compromise to my issue (sanity, never hearing a homily, etc.)? I still get some spiritual benefit, all while still being there 80+% of the time with the family. FYI I work 50+ hours so daily Masses prove difficult to attend so that isn’t a great option at this stage.

  • Leila

    I love seeing little ones at mass, but I must respectfully disagree with #3. I wrote about how our family of ten has handled things, with excellent results and all children faithfully Catholic! :)

    • The Girl from New York

      Amen, sister!

  • Carmen

    AMEN! As a mom – and even before I was a mom – I believe in bringing kids to Mass for all the reasons you stated, and more. Preshin’s original quote was very much “all about me.” And while all the other things Preshin did for the children were wonderful, that little robbery was very selfish, and is encouraged by a society that believes babies should be seen and not heard, or else left at home. That’s not how family works, nor is that what Christ commands! I find it especially ironic, coming from a home schooled background with the intention to home school my little ones. I was always questioned about “socialization,” yet the same society that uses “socialization” when talking about education is the same society that tells me to leave my kids at home. I’m sorry, but I’m not falling for that trap, nor should you allow others to fall into that trap. Bring the family, and suffer the little children!

    OH! And I sing in my choir. My kids have been coming with me since birth, and are incredibly well-behaved for their ages. That’s just what happens when you integrate your family, and that’s how legitimate socialization occurs, across all age gaps in many different place settings.


  • Kate

    I have heard the argument that cry rooms should be eliminated for various reasons (so that parents don’t start in cry room, or so parents aren’t *expected* to use it by other parishioners). Our parish does not have a cry room, and I miss having one.

    I am a young mom with 4 littles, and I so badly need the break to breath. I cannot handle 3 kids while nursing my baby. The cry room gives me a place to contain my toddler and nurse privately while still attending Mass. As it stands, if my child(ren) fuss up, I have to stand outside- and this is a very rainy part of the country. Some patience and understanding from other parishioners is greatly NEEDED.

    My childhood lacked Sunday Mass. My mom gave up. I don’t want to do that to my kids.

  • Eugenia

    Thank you, Dr. Greg, for this wonderful article.
    It wouldn’t even cross my mind not tor bring my babies. Are they not part of the family? Both my children have special needs. My son was easy. He has autism and he always sat quietly. My daughter, not so much. When she cried I’d take her to the crying room. But for when she fusses? I hold her, sit her next to to me with the missalette, carry her, or otherwise distract her quietly. She can’t speak and is partially deaf. She would point to the crying room because that’s where other kids are. But no way. She wasn’t making noise, and it’s not a play room. (Or shouldn’t be.) She no longer points to it. I haven’t heard a full Mass in five years. But my children are there before God. With their limited mental capacities, they’ve learned this house of God is a special place and they’re expected to behave accordingly. My daughter is five now and attends much better than before, but it was work. And she smiles and makes the sign of the cross to the best of her limited ability and that in itself is worth it. I wouldn’t dream of leaving her at home and not being in the presence of God because some adults would have a problem.
    On the other hand, I can understand the grief some adults have of parents who allow their kids to treat this holy place as a giant play room, or the crying room as a place that doesn’t require the same decorum expected in the rest of the church. But that’s the parents’ fault, not the children. Let the children come to God. :)

  • Sarah

    While I agree with many points in the article – and we do bring our 7 month old son to Mass – I have to disagree that this is an obligation, and agree with the commenter who says you are creating a requirement the Church herself does not hold parents to. Yes, we should want our kids to know God. But that doesn’t mean a devout family can’t tag-team or even leave them home under the age of reason. How do you know these families who tag team or leave kids at home who are tiny aren’t taking their child to Eucharistic Adoration regularly? (Some parishes have family-friendly hours for Adoration). How do you know they aren’t finding many other ways to keep the Catholic faith front and center? Again, so far, we plan on taking our son to Mass – I see many reasons why this is a good idea, and I agree that all children should be welcome. But it’s perfectly legitimate for a family to say, “Hey bringing the infant and two toddlers to Mass together just isn’t working.” Dr. Popcak, I feel like you are – oddly – entering a sort of “Mommy war” by making dogmatic statements about decisions that really belong to the individual parents taking into consideration their own families, children and dynamics.

  • Sarah

    p.s. I am really perplexed as to how, if a family is in the “tunnel years” and struggling with the kids at Mass, how the married couple going together benefits? Even with just our one little one, there are plenty of Masses where we never get to even sit together because the baby is having an off day. So those points contradict. Also, the grace we receive from going to Mass should benefit our marriages regardless of whether or not we attended together. Even before we had kids, sometimes my husband and I would have to attend separate Masses due to scheduling issues. I never once was aware that somehow our marriage was no longer “benefiting” from our Mass attendance just because we weren’t sitting next to each other?

    • Joanne

      “grace we receive from going to Mass should benefit our marriages regardless of whether or not we attended together.”
      Great point!

  • Katie

    My friend Meg wrote a blog post about how other’s screaming kids can actually help her prayer:

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  • Jen

    Dr. Greg, I have to say that #3 is harsh, along with your admonishment not to do Mass in shifts. The last thing a stressed-out Mom needs is more guilt. There were many Sundays when my husband and I did Mass in shifts when we had a toddler that we knew would never sit still. Later on, when that child was able to be contained in the pew, our “shifts” ended and we resumed Mass attendance together. We survived just fine, including the child. We did not commit some terrible “injustice” as you put it by not bring the toddler to Mass every Sunday. “Robbing” our child? That is very harsh and unwarranted. We’ve never not taken the 4-year old to Mass, but there were many Sundays when we did not bring the 15 month-old. BIG difference. Mom and Dad also need to have the opportunity to focus and worship once in a while, without having to leave to tend to a child who is not physiologically capable of being still and quiet. There will be plenty of time for the child to learn the sights and sounds and smells, and I doubt spiritual scarring will occur in the meantime.

    I agree wholeheartedly that children belong in Mass and deserve to be there, even when they make an occasional noise. I also know that Mom and Dad need to be free to determine what is best for their family from week to week without being saddled with guilt and pronouncements of “robbing” and “injustice.” Neither my husband or I ever treated our Mass obligations lightly or used the baby as an excuse not to go at all, but we did take “shifts” sometimes, precisely because we both needed and desired that small slice of time to pay full attention to the Lord.

  • Preshen

    SD’s blog link says it well. Especially the comments that are mostly supportive of her. Please read before you pass judgment. It is good to know that there really are considerate parents out there, just like I tried to be.

    • Petro

      I bring my two kids, both under 5, to mass. Does this make me inconsiderate?

  • Jennifer Fitz

    Dr. Greg, I fully agree with your general approach. But it is not an option for all parents.

    I spent my entire period of raising babies (youngest is now 6) as a single mom on Sunday mornings. (Happily married the other hours of the week). And quite a lot of that time I was physically ill or injured as well. If it weren’t for the cry room and nursery, and the odd bout of kid-swapping and relays with my (then-protestant) husband, none of my kids would have been able to attend Mass.

    I *was* aggressive about bringing baby #1, even as a colicky, yes, SCREAMING, newborn, even though it meant sitting out on the parish lawn until I gave up at the halfway point and tried the next parish down the road, where they had a cry room. I knew that if I didn’t bring the baby with me from the beginning, he’d never come. But having established that as the standard, my younger ones had variable attendance, gradually increasing until it became possible for us all to attend. (And then my husband reverted — go figure!)

    So while I hold your method as the gold standard, and I do caution parents not to think of Mass as something kids will do “later” — for I know moms who left the eldest home with lapsed Dad, and the kids never did attend as a result — I think it’s important to remember not all of us have the spouse that can watch the older kids in the pews, or even, say, the physical ability to stand outside with a fussy toddler (ouch).

    [And before someone glibly suggests there's a kindly parishioner to help the poor beleaguered parent . . . there isn't. Oughtta be. But nope. Generally not.]

    Under these less-than-ideal conditions, something that worked well for my littles as they reached about 3-4 years old, was to check-in at the nursery, but then have them come to Mass with me, stay for as long as they could manage, and then go play the remainder of the service. (Not because they were misbehaving, but because they’d politely said it was time.) With a clear understanding that by age 5 they were no longer allowed to play with the babies, and that in the transition process they’d try to stay a little bit longer each time. Our attitude of wanting them in the Mass, and the Mass being a privilege, speaks volumes. Kids know when you take something seriously, and they want to take it seriously as well.

  • Terri K

    Dr. Popcak,
    My husband and I are HUGE fans of yours, both your parenting books and your marriage/sex books. However, I think you’re taking too hard a line on this. My husbad and I have nine children, eight of them rowdy boys. One of our kids had autism spectrum issues. My husband is military and when he was overseas, we did mass in shifts because I was so outnumbered. It was the only way we could manage mass. The older kids would stay home with the two toddlers while I took most of the kids to mass in the morning and then the teens went to youth mass in the evening.We did that for about a year. Seriously. I don’t know that you took large families into account when you wrote this.
    I’m all about smells and bells and I agree with your perspective on that point 100%. Sometimes, though, something has got to give. Believe me, I TRIED taking them all to mass. When a (temporarily) single parent has a houseful of feisty boys, different rules apply.

  • Teena H. Blackburn

    As an Orthodox Christian, this thread puzzles me. If they are baptized Christians, they belong at the Liturgy. Period. You deal with the noise on a case by case basis. I cannot help but think if Latin Catholics communed infants, there would be little or no discussion of whether small children belong at Liturgy.

  • Chris

    For those who have been letting their child walk around (our daughter is 18 months) how do we rectify that? Should we just go cold turkey and hold her when we need to take her out? Great article!

    • Holly

      We used to let our daughter walk around, then we stopped, cold turkey, at around 16 months and she got the message immediately. I felt that age 15months- 26 months were the hardest for us.

  • Ann

    I don’t understand why we are debating this. The Church gives parents the right to do what THEY think is best for their situation and their family. Before First Holy Communion, the parents and no one else, decides whether and when to bring babies and young children to mass. It’s no one else’s business. And no one should be telling other parents what they should be doing or calling their decisions foolish. That is extremely presumptuous.

    • Leila

      Ann, bingo and thank you. This mother of a brood could not agree with you more. The whole discussion is divisive and unnecessary, and it makes me sad.

    • Elizabeth

      To say that you don’t need to bring your children to Mass until First Communion is confusing to me. How do you expect them to behave when they have never had to behave at Mass before. We don’t get married without dating first.

  • Rachel

    The things that makes me the most sad is that it seems like my parish has less and less families with children of ANY age at mass. And I truly believe this is thanks to people like the usher who constantly berates those with children who aren’t acting up, or the old ladies who glare and whisper at the family with the child who shouts loudly “HI JESUS” at the consecration.

    We’ve been doing some split-shifting and some “leave the toddler with the uncles for an hour” lately, but I’m feeling more and more convicted that he needs to be there (the preschooler has improved immensely since age 2 and goes weekly). It’s hard and there have been weeks where I have left in tears, or been consoled by my pastor while crying over the insults I’ve just received when my kids have even been BETTER than usual.

    • Carol

      You go Rachel! When people are cruel and rude remember Christ’s passion included humiliation and taunting and say, “Thank you Jesus.” The devil is there too trying to keep your family out. Don’t let him.

  • Lena

    I agree mostly with this. Like one other commenter, I really don’t like it when I see kids with toys and/or snacks. We tried that in the beginning and we will use books now if we have to be at Mass early(I coordinate the baptisms) but during Mass I found it much easier to nothing. My kids: 12, 10, 9, 7, 3 and 2 months are great at Mass. (Of course the baby still needs to be walked around). My husband is in the choir and for years I just thought Mass was the worst part of my week. I wasn’t getting one thing from Mass and I thought it might be better to quit. We pressed on and then changed our tactics. I stopped bringing anything to Mass, I didn’t even let the kids play with the hymnals. Slowly it got better and better. After having my third I told my husband I could not sit in the pew anymore without help. So we got help. One of the choir members told their wife about us and she agreed to sit with us. I was now able to get up with a fussy kid and she would watch the others. That was 9 years ago and she still sits with us. For all of those out there that want to give up, remember that someone else is out there that is having a worse time than you. Also remember that there is some gracious soul who would love to hold that baby while you tend to your toddler. Some days it really doesn’t seem worth it but maybe that means it wasn’t you who needed grace that day but one of your kids and you got them to Mass. Now two of my kids are always serving at Mass and I miss them sitting with me.

  • Dcn Rick Golden

    On Easter Sunday morning our small church (250 families ) was overflowing with the many visitors and all the children (of which we have many as our parish has many young families ) to the point of getting extra chairs out . WE have no cry room but what we do have is a pastor who says occaisionaly that the sound of crying children is the sound of the future . During the communion silence at this mass you could hear 6-8-10 children crying / fussing etc. I looked at him and he was smiling and said to me “that sounds even better than the choir ” . He thanked all those parents for being open to life and begged then to keep bringing their children to mass before the final blessing .

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  • Kelly

    Faith is not supposed to be easy. If it was, everyone would have it.

  • suzanne

    I totally agree children belong in the Church with their family and we haven’t missed mass aside from illness. However the lack of a cry room ( and only room available we were kicked out of by the parish priest), a child with autism, a wriggly 2 year old and many uncharitable parishioners has meant that my family attends the same mass in separately. My husband attends mass with my 8 year old in Church and I sit outside (I’m lucky if we stay in church till the first reading) with 2 boys under each arm trying to keep them quiet. I fear however the impression this gives children that they are forced to sit on cold, tiled floor for an hour as their parish can’t accept them and we have no alternative.

    • Dr. Greg

      I would recommend contacting these guys.

      Good peeople. Good resources. God bless. Dr.Greg

  • Liz

    Greg, you have a lot of great advice to share – and I agree with the spirit of your assertions – that children should be welcome at Mass and families should pray and worship together – but you’re coming across as if you have the all-time end-game answer to this question of how to approach Mass as a family – when family circumstances vary widely – and there is no one perfect answer to this question.

    We bring our kids to church – mostly it goes very well, sometimes it does not – and I know God always graces us regardless. We just moved back to the US from China, and when we lived there, church with our littles was much more challenging. I won’t bore anyone reading with the specifics, but it was harder. For a few months, we went in shifts, and left our 2 and 4 year old at home with the other parent. Neither of us loved it, but going all together was breaking us down, not building us up. Also, our oldest was an incredibly high octane toddler boy… He is now 5 1/2 and good to go at church, but whoa – from the time he could walk until about 4 years old – Mass was a catastrophic struggle. I used to watch my sister-in-law with her 3 calm sons at Mass and I felt so inadequate as a mother. Then I had #2 and #3 and realized that they aren’t all as challenging as my first – and temperaments vary widely!

    Parents – love your children – use your best judgment, pray, pray, pray and aim for going to Mass as a family -but don’t kill yourselves trying to do it. And if your little one needs to walk around a little bit in the back of church – I’m sure it won’t ruin them for life. Jesus did say, “Let the little ones come to me.” :) I don’t recall him saying, “If they can’t sit still, hold them in a straight jacket position in the back of church until they come begging back to the pew on their darn knees.” I don’t think that’s a bad idea, Greg – I just think it won’t work for every child – it would never have worked for my first.

  • deltaflute
  • Carol

    I have to say I completely agree with Dr. Popcak. However it should be noted that you are dispensed from Mass for the care of an infant. If you can bring your infant that’s awesome. However, infants are easy if you just breastfeed them, it’s the toddlers and preschoolers that are tricky.

  • Stephanie

    I wish more people were tolerant of typical kid behavior. I followed all your “rules” with my oldest, held in the sanctuary, expected good behavior, and she was an angel by age 2. But my youngest is severely developmentally delayed, and a real handful at Mass. I remove her when she gets noisy, but she is always, always moving. The last three weeks in a row, our pewmates have left as soon as we sat down. My child IS a bit of a distraction, I know. But I think some people forget what it was like to have babies and toddlers in Mass.

  • Christina P

    I agree with this article insofar as it encourages parents to bring young children to Mass and defends those who do. However, I agree with other commenters who think that it’s not so as obligatory as Dr. Popcak describes. It seems to me that culture plays a big role in this; my grandma and even my mom a little bit wouldn’t stress over the idea of leaving fussy kids at home, but today (at least it seems in most American parishes) bringing all the kids is the norm–which I think is excellent! It’s definitely stressful, but I really think Christ’s command “let the little children come to me” applies beautifully here. My husband is blessed to work near a church that has Mass right during his lunch hour, and he’ll offer to let me go out some evenings (or early mornings) for daily Mass; we find that going to Mass child-less sometimes (during the week) is really helpful spiritually. (Psst…sometimes I take my 1- and 3-year-olds to daily Mass with me…and that seems to help them be more well-behaved on Sundays!). Overall, I think the blessings abound when you take your kids to Mass, but I deeply sympathize with parents who choose not to, and can only assume they are making the best decision for their family and their spiritual lives.

  • Christina P

    Oh–but for people who are at Mass without children–it’s important to keep in mind that parents with children are making an effort to expose their family to the graces and experiences of the highest form of worship available. If there weren’t children, there would still be disruptive adults, but whoever is there, we need to practice charity towards them. God is in charge, and we can only assume that He called each person into that church. Acting in a way that discourages ANYONE–from one week old to 111-years-old–from attending Mass cannot be good. There may be benefits for a PARENT to go to Mass without a child, but in general, other parishioners don’t really need to address the issue except to work on their ability to pray in a fallen world that’s never free from distractions.

  • kelle

    Parents take their children to mass because some want to and some have to and that is okay. The elder parents trying to tell the younger one to not do has such a self ritious attitude that reminds me so much about the parable of the riteous man and the sinner. Oh lord I did good, I didn’t take my kids to church, and look all of them still stayed catholic, even they are doing it the same way and even they are good catholics. While the poor sinner, lord, please forgive me for having to bring my children to you. I know they aren’t as clean and tidy as I’d like them to be, and distract me from saying the prayers, but I ask for your grace on them, so they can be diciples and forgive them as they don’t know what they are doing. Either way, all this self ritious attitude is not building the church of god and both people that want to bring their kids to church and other people that want to go to church, they all have the right to go to church, we can all learn to respect each other. Also, the big elephant in the room though here is your title doctor, the Contracepting Sanctuary. In my very liberal parish, we certainly stand out, with only three kids SO FAR. Lord help us when/if he is going to give us more. But I don’t let their grunts, angry faces, or comments get to me. I’m a very optimistic person. We tend to do everything we can as a family, I know once there are more, it might be harder to, but we go to the soccer games as a family, we go to the dance recitals as a family, we purposedly go to events/venues that are family friendly, because we like to stick together as a bunch, like the brady bunch. It will be a sad state of affairs if the church will be considered a place that is not family friendly. I don’t do that to guarentee my kids will stay catholic, we do that because we enjoy each other’s company, in good times and bad. And I do give much to consideration to the poeple around us especially knowing over 50 percent of the parish don’t have kids, so I try not to put it in their face, I step out when my 10 month old is making loud noises, she actually doesn’t fuss or cry at all, she just started to say sounds/words that surprise her so she’ll just go on a baby talkathon.

  • kelle

    I meant my 10month old hasn’t cried or fussed at church so far, so lord help me get through it if at some point. I have a 3 year old who is actually very good at church, kneels and does the sign of the cross and mumbles some of the prayers, but she has a going to the restroom problem and when she says she has to go, sometimes she tells me within a minute, so I have to rush her to the restroom, even if its during consecretion (sorry god) but the alternative will be to risk it and having an accident in the pews, which has not happened at church, that you god, but it did recently happened at a friends house, where I though I had about 5 minutes and wanted to finish a conversation. That is getting better though. Thank God.

  • Judy

    I think you are being unfair to the mother of small children (sometimes many small children) who deserves to sometimes to go to Mass without everyone in tow. She has few moments alone and if she wants to go to Mass alone, she deserves that. Don’t make these heroic moms feel quilty. Heavens knows that is already something we suffer from already! Please apologize to the separate Mass people and please refrain from making blanket statements like that.

  • Jonathan

    I’m literally in tears reading these suggestions. As a father of 6 who are all 2 years apart, it has literally been over 10 years since I’ve been able to go to a Sunday Mass without having a 0 to 2 year old in tow. I’ve been doing virtually all of these suggestions intuitively all that time and have felt that I’ve been doing the best that I can, and yet the glares that my wife and I get and even on occasion the outright glare have made the entire process even more painful. Thank you so much for putting into words for everyone (those with kids and those who don’t) what has been on my heart for years. In particular the suggestion for those who make the Catholic parent more uncomfortable by their own actions to avail themselves of the sacrament of penance was particularly moving to me. In all humility I admit that there are times where I’ve kept my kids in the pew a little too long before moving them to the back, but you are so right that they behave better when in the front of the church (even when the usher tries to herd you to the cry room). And the cry room from the beginning is just sanctioning bad behavior. I’ve also seen that making the child more uncomfortable because we had to move out of our pew is very effective in encouraging better behavior in the next week’s Mass.

  • Carrie M

    I don’t have time to read all the comments here, but do want to say I’ve taken my daughter to church since she was in my stomach and almost every week since, unless we were sick. We always sat in the front. I remember holding her while she was sleeping and when the servers would ring the bells during the consecration she would open her eyes wide. I cherish that memory. We would sing and rock her to the music. Now at almost 12 we still sit in the front because she wants to, so she can SEE. We recently took our 3 year old niece to Mass who has never been. My sister was doubtful she would behave. We sat in the front and I whispered in her ears about what was happening. She had her “church bag” that my daughter used to use full of quiet, Catholic toys. She did not misbehave AT ALL and many people around us commented about how well behaved she was. I think it’s an awesome chance for a parent to be self-donative to their child and use that time in Mass to strengthen your relationship as you hold them and share the faith with them on their level. Doing so always made me appreciate what was going on in the mass even more as I took it down to her level of understanding. It’s one of my best memories of my daughter as a baby and toddler!

  • Viv

    I wish I had someone to leave the baby with when I attend mass! My husband works odd hours and that means sometimes I have to take the baby to mass by myself. I took her by myself this past Sunday. All I can say is: EPIC FAIL! I had to leave right after the homily. I’m not even sure that counts as having gone to mass. It was awful. I was placed in a cry room. The speakers didn’t work so I had the door open. No one within ear shot of my baby was pleased. We finally left. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure I said one proper prayer (expect please Lord get her to stop crying!).

    We only have one baby. I can’t imagine how other moms do it. Honestly, being mentally present at mass has been a huge challenge since the baby was born. I’m kind of thinking of leaving her at her grandparents house until she’s a little older.

    • Dr. Greg

      Check out Parenting with Grace. You will have more success with practice and good information. You’re lack of confidence is your worst enemy. Relax and your baby will relax with you.

  • Elena C

    For those of you who have doubts about bringing young children to Mass I suggest that you read the story of Blessed Imelda. “Even as a tiny child she showed unusual piety, taking delight in prayer…”

    • deltaflute

      One could easily argue the reverse…St. Terese did not attend Mass as a young child. She stayed home with her mother. Yet she still entered Carmel at a young age. Whether a child attends Mass in infancy/toddlerhood or not has nothing to do with their piety later.

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  • Bob

    Though my child is grown up now, I vividly recall her toddlerhood and preschool years, so I approach this topic as a fellow parent.

    There are many good thoughts here, aimed at parents and children. What I don’t see here in this post, however, or in its enormous train of comments, is sufficient pity for others at Mass whose spiritual needs may be different from your own and your children’s — for example, for an adult whose faith is hanging by a thread, who nevertheless forced himself to go to Mass that day, and who desperately needs an undistracted hour at that Mass to let his frayed emotions be calmed, and get his confused intellect reconnected with God, to let God’s grace work through to his heart. Imagine such a person trying hard to understand the message of that day’s Gospel, but hearing instead something like “At that time, Jesus said to the Pharisees, I am the Good SHRIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK! lays down His WAAAHHHHHHHHH! know Mine and Mine know BANG! WAILLLLLLLL!!!!” He hangs on through the Homily, hoping for the guidance he needs, but since whole sentences are inaudible over the din, that’s reduced to incoherence, too. Perhaps at that moment, something gives. He can’t endure any more distraction, any more disappointment. Parents, he won’t be the one scowling at you. He’s beyond that. He’s the one with head bowed, shuffling out quietly before the Credo, concluding that not even at Mass will God grant him an hour’s peace.

    And just outside the church door, the Enemy is waiting for him.

    • Dr. Greg

      One word. “Missalette.” Reading is fundamental.

  • Nadster

    All good suggestions from the author. As a father of ten, ages 20 to 8 months, I can say I have been there and then some. Sitting in front seems counter-intuitive, but it works. It makes the kids feel like they are taking part in something, and gives them a focal point. A couple soft toys are OK (we do the little soft bobble head thingy’s) but do not ever bring hard toys. The WILL drop them. Having older kids with you always helps, because they set the example and can help alleviate some of the “handling”. Lastly, don’t give up. Take your family to mass no matter what. Never compromise.

  • Deblette

    I believe children should come to Mass. I believe that parents are responsible for their children’s behavior at Mass and also, their own behavior. If you and your children feel compelled to carry on a conversation throughout the entire Mass, no, do not sit up front. Sit in the last row so that the number of people you distract from Mass will be minimal. Have some respect for the pastor also.
    If your child starts screaming, leave. Don’t wait through the entire reading of the Gospel to realize they aren’t going to stop.
    If you want to come to daily Mass, which is in a small chapel, with great acoustics, do not bring your child that you know is going to start screaming at least a dozen times during that half hour. Do not sit as far from the exit as possible so that all get to enjoy the length of time it takes you to leave once you have realized the child is not going to stop screaming. Do not bring a toy box of noisy toys, books that make loud noise as the child flips the pages non stop for thirty minutes, or toys that can be thrown and have to be retrieved. You are around your children all the time. You do not even hear the distracting noise coming from your child until numerous people have given you “the look.”

    Attending Mass on Sunday in a large church where you can take your child out without too much interruption to the rest of the parishioners is one thing. Attending daily Mass where you can pretty much disrupt the entire Mass for every single person is pretty selfish. I can understand the need for daily Mass and maybe fellow parishioners could take turns with each others toddlers and infants so that it can occur. If not, please, have mercy upon the rest of us, who may really, really need that peace of Jesus that day.

  • Maria

    I agree with what Dr. Greg has written, but I believe there are exceptions which prove the rule. We did have to tag team for a while with a toddler who’s mouth did not stop from the moment he woke until 3 minutes AFTER he was asleep. If we went to Mass with him, one of us was in the back the whole Mass. Our solution was tag-teaming on Sundays and taking him with us about twice a week on weekdays in a much more empty church where we could sit far from others, and the daily Mass goers didn’t (seem to) mind his noise. He grew into the Mass as his self control grew. Now ten, he can sit still and be silent enough to serve Mass! And of course he is the favorite of the daily Mass goers who “knew him when”.

  • Carmen

    Preshin, I do have to apologize. My comment about your behavior being a little selfish came off harsh. I just wanted to clarify that I was addressing the behavior (not taking the little ones to Mass) and not you. Clearly, what you did for your children was wonderful. But not everyone has that.

    It’s especially important for me to bring my little ones to Mass, and not just for the reasons I stated. I lapsed in my practice as a Catholic for a couple of years, and am now only civilly married to a person who shows some interest in Mass. However, he gives his oldest son the option of staying home because the oldest thinks it’s “boring.” Unfortunately, that’s how he was raised by his parents. Furthermore, my civil spouse doesn’t like going if he is sitting alone with the kids for the reasons many of you don’t want to bring the little ones. My toddlers sit quietly with me in the choir (for the most part), but he feels if he sits with them, he gets nothing out of it (mind you, he’s not Catholic), and so he wants me to quit the choir (so you can see how I view this mentality as selfish). But I’m not perfect. I have left the little ones at home when running late for pre-Mass choir practice, but I don’t want to continue those bad habits as I’m trying to reestablish my faith.

    And of course, my comments on current social attitudes towards children still stand.


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  • Proteios1

    Our story:
    We take our children 4 and 2 and soon newborn baby ( I’m so excited) to mass every week. Have since birth of the oldest, except when sick. Sometimes they cry or fuss and we settle them down. When we cannot we take the one out and return in the communion line. Yep. Babies cry. Yep when it’s that inconsolable cry, we act.
    Here is what we have learned.
    1. By age 4 they (well, one child. so not statistically valid, but…) know the etiquette and are quite content to sit quietly and aka quiet question. I direct my child to look forward and I point out aspects of mass. Maybe they understand. Maybe they don’t. But my 4 y.o. is now interested and expresses excitement at ‘getting a blessing’ at communion,
    2. They behave for the most part, although there are some moments and 2-3 is tough.
    3. Most people around me, especially the older folks with kids out of the house LOVE interacting with the kids, shaking hands, etc.
    4. Nearly every time my wife or I have taken a child out for excessive crying (trying to be courteous to’s not ever about us, it’s AlWYS about Christ) people see us after mass and say things like….children are proof there is life in the Church. (My favorite) or kids cry, their kids. I didn’t notice. I can go on, but all are very supportive.
    5. Yes. I notice the few isolated scowls. It happens. I would apologize, but they don’t do more than scowl and so be it. I am embarrassed too as I know I’m being judged by my (non)judge mental fellow Catholics…some…for being a bad parent and either bringing my kids or that they cry or whatever. It happens. I’m sorry. I am. But Christ is my life and I want so much to keep Christ in theirs.
    6. And yes. It helps to bring them IMO. People know my kids. Tey know adults. Other kids. They play. They interact. They say, ” are we going to Father Brian’s church… Yeah!” It’s uplifting.

    Conclusion. Bring your children if you want. Like being at a restaurant. Most don’t notice. A few don’t care and a few are ‘offended’. Can’t please everyone, but if you are sincere. Stick with it. The benefits of any plan enacted and seen through is worth it. Besides. Most people in Church understand that without children, there really is NO future for the Catholic Church. And that is simply not an option for us, the world and God.

  • Monica

    I appreciated this article. My husband and I feel very strongly about participating in Mass as a family no matter the age (or number) of our children. It is a great means of catechesis, an opportunity to grow in grace and holiness (adults and children alike) even if sometimes this grace may come from serving the poor (in this case, our children) vs. prayer, and to be a witness to and with other families.

    I didn’t realize this was such a controversial topic. The Mass is the source and summit of our Faith, and the center of our marriage and family. The idea of spouses and a family spending years splitting up to attend Mass seems absurd to me.

  • Kay Napier

    I hope I put these words down kind and charitably. In reading the article that has prompted so much debate, it just seems as though the parishioner was asking why parents don’t take babies or young children, who are being noisy/disruptive in church, out. I didn’t get the impression that they wanted them all to stay home. After reading comments from both sides, I would guess that I am one who would be labeled “intolerant.” (I’m getting that a lot, in today’s world!) My dh and I have 7 sons, from 26 to 8. We have run the gamut, like others, from attending Mass together, to taking turns (usually only when one of the boys is ill.) Noise has been problem for one of my boys, and we make sure he gets to the earliest Mass, with the fewest folks and quietest music. I have spent many, many Sundays/Masses, holding a young one back in the vestibule. I have never been one to sit in church and allow my child to cry, fuss, babble, or make other noise. Most families I see with young children and babies are of the same mind as me, and take their children out. But I have seen, or rather, heard, one or two parents who just don’t care. I’ve seen our priest lose his place, as the screaming/crying completely distracted him. I’ve spent a number of Masses not hearing a thing. I think these sorts of incidents are the ones about which the parishioner was speaking. I think if parents had said, “Yes, you are right. We should take our babies/children out until they settle down,” then that would have pre-empted a lot of the angry words I have seen exchanged. I think some of the older commenters became upset at the attitude that it doesn’t matter whether they can hear the words spoken at Mass, or the Homily. It does matter. Hearing the readings and the Homily do matter. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be a part of the Mass. Just as older folks shouldn’t give the parents dirty looks, before they have a chance to take their disruptive child out (and I never experienced dirty looks,) younger folks need to understand that the older man sitting down the pew may be hard of hearing, even with hearing aids. The little lady who is looking at them with a frown may have just lost her husband, and is looking for a comforting or helpful word in the Homily, which she now has no hope of hearing. And consider this, would you, as a parent with a quieted child, be happy if the couple in front of you decides to hold a conversation during the entire Mass, now preventing you from hearing the readings, homily, words of Consecration? (Now this, I have witnessed – adults talking – WAY more than I care to say!) I guess I just would hope that instead of being defensive, people could take the time to try to understand.

  • Anna

    It is strange… When on seldom occasions I attend the only Latin Mass offered, the small church is filled with families with little children and infants. In the other churches you see most grey heads. In my previous parish, my children were the only children attending the Mass for a long time.

  • Grace

    *Thank* you! Just heard you on Kresta in the Afternoon and I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear someone of authority championing the well-managed presence of children at Mass. I, like you, am stymied by those who want children to stay at home during the most formative years. Because of our family’s attendance at Mass, my four-year-old has asked about Christ on the cross and the reason for this, how the priest changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, why the Alleluia was missing during Lent, why we kneel at various points, etc. There’s a big difference between telling a child about these things and giving her the opportunity to explore them for herself. I’m not just bringing my kids to Mass to “socialize” them — I’m bringing them to continue their initiation into their faith. When we receive Communion, they receive a blessing from our priest. How terribly sad to think some want children not to receive this gift. What surprises me most about those who wish kids were absent from Mass is the contradiction their view presents with Christ’s own view of children. Very, very strange…

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  • Ellen

    This whole argument saddens me. I have 6 kids. The oldest is 14 years older than #2, and I was lapsed until she was about 5, so this wasn’t an issue at all with her. My others are all 2 years apart, currently ages 10 down to age 2. We’ve always tried to take them from the get go, as a family if possible (even before my husband was Catholic, he’d come with us anyway). Sometimes it’s impossible, and we’re blessed that our parish has 6 different Masses over the weekend, and we live in “the Rome of the west” (St. Louis Archdiocese), so even if we somehow couldn’t make Mass at our own parishes, there are a gazillion others around. But what if we didn’t? What if we lived in a rural area in the south, with one Catholic church for 50 miles, with one Mass? And what if we couldn’t afford a babysitter every Sunday? (this one’s actually true!). Is “not being able to afford a babysitter/do split shifts for Mass” now a serious enough reason to avoid having children (or more children?). Of course, there’s always going to be exceptions and extenuating circumstances, just like there are bad parents who aren’t pareting their children (in church, restaurants, on airplanes, etc), but, in general, most parents are doing the best they can, not letting the kids run wild and scream (ironically, in my experience, it’s the kids in the cry room and out in the vestibule who are usually screaming and running wild, not the ones the parents are trying to keep in Mass! Which is why a lot of parents DON’T take the kids to those places). But this does help why, during the parent meeting for First Communion, the priest and DRE go on and on about how we simply must take our kids to Mass every Sunday, and there are “practices” (not just on how to receive the Eucharist, but on how to “do” Mass). I didn’t understand why kids would be in Catholic school or PSR but not going to Mass on Sunday. I guess they’ve been told they don’t have to be their until age 7!

  • Natalia R

    Thanks for this post! Any advice on how to manage the perpetual chatterer? My 2 year old daughter is not LOUD in mass — she never cries or fusses — she just won’t stop TALKING! Our parish is very reverent and it is practically silent in the church during mass, so even though she is doing it in an under-tone, the chatter is very noticeable. Any advice from those with more experience is greatly appreciated!

    • michelletherese

      2 years old? Hmmm, this might be something you have to grit your teeth and endure. We have 3 kids and at the age of 2 and 3 wow, what chatterboxes! In the “old days” (phhht! Like when I was a kid and I’m 38) you got smacked. But these days… We would work on at least teaching the kids to chatter quietly, constantly reminding them to, “Shhh. We stay quiet in the kirk.” As they get older (our oldest is almost 5) we have found that by laying that foundation that we have to restrain ourselves at Mass (although not silent the kids were at least restraining their urge to BELLOW as toddlers are want to do…) we are now able to instruct our eldest to remain quiet with excellent results.

      Granted, if you are in a parish where the adults yap and talk in the church before and after Mass you are going to have more of an uphill trudge in the “We stay quite in kirk” training. Kids see adults yapping in the church and they don’t know that “Oh, we magically stop talking and behave reverently when that little bell tinkles and Father walks in…”

      Hang in there, the relentless stage-whisper-chatter-all-through-Mass phase does pass, especially if you lay down the foundation of teaching your kid(s) to restrain themselves as much as possible as per their age.

  • Michael Larson

    Every Sunday we bring our children and infants to church. There is no question whether we go or not. Faith lives from the preached word of Christ and His holy sacraments – faith is fed upon no other. Family catechesis and prayer are rooted in the mass. Christians are present in weekly worship with all their children because the risen Christ has promised to feed and strengthen his gathered guests – this is the deepest need of all children and the ‘one thing truly needful.’ Let the children come to me and do no hinder them.

  • Tony Esolen

    Bring the children! We need to see them — we need to see the extraordinary beauty of new life, and of a new mother and a proud father. I rejoice when I see small children and babies in church, and the older I get, the more I rejoice. To say that Mass is not for babies is like saying that Home is not for babies. The noise of a crying baby might bug the mother or father, but to the rest of us it is music. Suffer the little children to come unto us, because we need them.

  • David N. Calvillo

    I’ll stick with what our Pastor says on the issue: “We’re pro-life” around here! Babies are life. We’re pro-babies! Bring them. Sit up front!

  • Depaola

    The person who wrote probably attends a clown Mass as know nothing about being reverent at Mass. This idea is moronic and shows us how far off base so called Catholics are.

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  • Mary Borchers

    Wonderful, wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom. Children are the future of the Church. No children, no more Church.

  • Leslie Sholly

    Great piece. As the mother of five who were rowdy in their day, and who attended Mass from the age of two weeks or so, I appreciate it. I wrote something similar

  • michelletherese

    I always love how the same adults that gripe and complain about “being distracted” by young kids/babies at Mass are the exact same adults that yap and talk and socialize in the church proper before, sometimes even during, and also after Mass. They have no problem distracting everyone else when it suits them AND they set a terrible example for the kids about “how to behave in the church”.

  • Tess

    My husband and I have raised five children, all the while taking them to Sunday Mass. On occasion we took turns and we didn’t feel guilty about doing that either.

    I always had our Mass bag which held books about the saints, missals, rosaries, holy pictures, etc.and only used when we attended Mass. It was kept in the trunk of the car and was readily available for Sunday Mass.
    Our children were also used to sitting quietly at home while we read stories.
    We are blessed with eleven grand children and we help with their faith formation.

    Our youngest son is now married with a one year old and a two year old. Approximately once a month I watch these two lovely grand children so that my son and his wife (a convert) can attend the Tridentine Mass together and actually pray complete prayers for the entire Mass.

    When parents are a little flexible, everyone benefits!

    My husband and I are truly blessed: 4 out of 5 of our children are regular Mass attendees – please pray for my one child who has fallen away from the faith.
    He is a good man and we pray for his conversion.
    God bless,


  • Crystal Brown

    I converted to Catholicism about four years ago when my daughter was 3. She had never been to church before then, and it was quite the shock for her to be expected to sit quietly for an hour. She’s 7 now and doing better, but still not as well as the 7-year-olds who were born and raised attending mass. There are days she causes more problems than a toddler. I’m doing good just to get her to face front and stay quiet, forget paying attention. Any ideas on how to get her more interested in mass and more involved (for her age level)?

  • Em

    Love this! Very helpful and enlightening! One correction: where Pavlovian conditioning is mentioned, it should actually be respondent conditioning (they are very different). But the point of that os still correcr and I love the helpful assistance not only on take your chikd to Mass yea or nay, but also howbto do it so that you all get the most out of it. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this aid! God bless you! :)

  • Albert Cesare

    I must say I loved this article. I’ve been all over the country and more and more churches are pushing the idea of putting your children in a daycare at the parish during mass. If God wanted someone else to raise my children he wouldn’t have given them to me. PERIOD! And frankly I find adults and the things they do far more distracting… Like coughing exc. But lets be honest this comes from a misunderstanding of what the mass is. It’s not about us, it’s about God. The sooner one excepts that the quicker those crying babies voices fade into the background.

  • Angie Carter

    Aw, there are some lovely posts on here and as both a woman BC (before children) and now a mother, I really can see both sides to a degree. One particularly poignant post I could really relate to and that was concerning the visitor whose faith is hanging by a thread. My faith was hanging by a thread AND I was a new Mum!

    On the passing of the late Pope John Paul II, I determined I was going to walk several miles up hill with a huge pram in order to attend mass.

    It was quite a small church and I wasn’t entirely sure where I should sit but I thought near the back was probably best with the push-chair and all. I took my daughter (then only a few weeks old) out of the pushchair and alongside some surly looks a lady appeared, tapped on my pushchair and said in rather irritated tones; ‘You can’t sit there, you’re going to be in the way you need to move,’ before promptly returning to her seat. Upset and humiliated, I gathered my baby up but was struggling with all my things, I felt quite exposed as everyone simply sat there and watched me struggle. However, out of the choir, a kindly elderly gentleman and his wife, who were in the middle of a pew, struggled their way passed the people seated next to them and came to my assistance. They were like two angels! The gentleman took my pushchair and his wife chose to sit next to me for the whole service and even offered to take my daughter whilst I went for a blessing during communion.

    I was in tears through most of the service and although that wonderful couple were incredibly sweet I didn’t return to church for several years because all I could focus on at the time was the rejection I felt. Now I am back in the family, in another country serving as a Catechist, and from the choir, where I stand I always keep an eye out for the people who might be feeling a little out of place!