At ladies’ Bible study this past week we were talking about our prayer lives, and one of the moms worried that with small children in tow, she just wasn’t “getting much out of Mass.” This is a common worry, but it’s unfounded. Yesterday as I watched the mom in front of me do her best with a pair pew-scramblers, I was reminded of the three genuine spiritual benefits that can only be had by bringing wiggly, noisy, naughty children to Mass.
1. You learn the Mass.
Want to learn something? Teach it. When we bring young children to Mass, we have to help them get into the action. That “active participation” thing? We must teach it to our children explicitly. Let’s tell Jesus how much we love Him you say before the Gloria. Let’s listen to what Jesus has to say to us you whisper during the readings. There’s Jesus you point out at the elevation.
You become a pro at flipping to the proper page in the children’s Missal. You point out every word of every hymn to the new reader. You get good at answering those questions your kid asks in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer, and that you put off with a quick, “I’ll tell you later.” Because you have to tell him, later. What was that thing? Why that color? Why that sound? The one I remember most vividly: How does Jesus fall into the cup?
Catechesis aside, just having a child along causes you to know the Mass more intimately. There’s nothing like a baby in arms to make you profoundly aware of the Consecration (and the pterodactyl noises your child offers during). You learn when’s the best time to slip out with a toddler who needs to go potty (the offering is my pick). You more keenly understand the meaning of kneeling when you are trying to both adore the Eucharist and keep your little sunshine from ripping up another bulletin.
2. You develop the ability to snap back to attention constantly.
The very-active participation that is pewside parenting means you never, ever, get to pray one prayerful thought straight through: Lamb of God who . . . quit pinching your sister . . . have mercy on us. It’s all fine and good for contemplatives and retirees to have their uninterrupted reveries. But to always be returning, always be saying to our Lord, “Now where were we again?” That’s the Christian life.
There will come a time, when you are old and alone again, that you’ll need to relearn the art of long talks with the Lord. But you won’t be nearly so good at those long talks if you haven’t been through the school of distraction. Mass with children teaches us to remember God. To never forget Him, even when everything conspires to try to make us forget Him.
3. You get to see your insides on the outside.
Like a slide show that illustrates every word of the Gospel, our children give us the live-action version of our inner lives. I remember when my son was about six, and he was rocking, rocking, rocking back and forth in the pew, making the kneeler creak with every move. It had been a long day. We were in a strange parish. The Mass was dragging on. I just. wanted. him. to be. STILL.
And this was a kid who would be soon preparing to receive communion? Really?!!
Thought the woman who notices everyone’s shoes during the communion procession.
Our children bug us because they are like us. They echo us. They take what we do and flip it right back at us. And during Mass, they do with their bodies what we do with our souls.
My little kids weren’t particularly less devout than me. They just weren’t so good at faking it yet.
Image, Anonymous (Immagine scansita dall’originale) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons