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Will I Get Time Off in Purgatory If I Take My Kids to Mass?

children at MassMy husband and I have three young boys (Joey – 5, Nicky – 3, Ritchie – 11 months). These kids are my heart and my favorite people on the planet, but they are the reason that we haven’t heard a homily in five years.

When Travis and I were expecting Joey, we were blissfully unaware that all future masses would include spilled sippy cups, leaky diapers and endless interruptions.

Here is the normal routine: we get to the church with maybe a minute to spare (because some little guy decides to spill orange juice on his outfit as we’re walking out the door). The boys sit quietly for a long, long time (maybe until the priest reaches the altar). Then they explore the kneelers, hymnals, the purse under the pew in front of us. And then they start talking (“I need to poop, Mommy, Mommy. I NEED TO POOP!”). That is when we take the long walk out to the vestibule. It’s like the green mile, just longer.

Over the past five years, people have given us a lot of advice on how to take babies and young children to Mass. So, here are the best tips:

Advice (that Doesn’t Work) for Taking Kids to Mass:

1.) Bring toys to distract them.

–           They will (somehow, some way) make the toy noisy. My boys could make noise with a cotton ball.

–          They will make a fetching game with the toy, and guess who plays the part of the dog?

 

2.) Bring books.

–          See #1, except they will also tear (and sometimes eat) the pages.

 

3.) Take them to the cry room.

–          Have you ever been there? In our parish, it’s filled with kids (ages ranging approximately from 7-15) running around in circles swinging their younger siblings above their heads. If you think I’m exaggerating, you apparently have never been in a cry room.

–          If you want to see or hear Mass, this is not an option. If you don’t care about seeing/hearing the Mass, the cry room is the perfect place.

4.) Tell your little angel to be quiet/sit still.

–          If you have a young child who listens to you when you ask him/her to be quiet, then why do you need any advice?

–          Asking a kid (especially a toddler) to sit still is like asking a Democrat to quit spending money.

So, you might ask, “What can I do to insure a peaceful, prayerful time at Mass with my young kids?”

Well, I have no idea.

But I still want to bring my boys to church because I want them to grow up remembering that we went to Mass each week as a family, usually with their Nana, Papa and Aunt Mishy as well. Also, I want them to receive the graces that are poured out each time they witness the miracle of the Eucharist.

Still, when you’re in the middle of chasing a 1-year-old around the vestibule whisper-yelling sage advice such as, “Stop eating your brother’s shoe,” you might forget why you brought them in the first place.

But I imagine that years from now, when Travis and I look back on the times that we took our precious boys to Mass, we will wistfully say… “Were we insane?!?”


Jennifer Rainey formerly worked as a copywriter and associate producer and is now employed by the three cutest little boys on the planet. She and her terrific husband, Travis, are both Catholic converts and met at RCIA classes in 2004.


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  • Elain Gallacher

    I am so totally there with you being the mother of 5 kids (14 to 4) and I still have lots of masses just like you described! It’s hard work and intermittently my husband and i have gone seperately to mass just because we couldn’t cope with all the kids together. I keep wondering when it will get better??

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    You are lucky to be at Mass with children. In Ireland anyone under 50 at Mass is young. An advantage is that those in their 60s feel young, as most others seem older.

  • Terri K

    As a mom of nine, I feel your pain. Somehow the stars aligned and we can actually make it through mass most weeks without a trip to the vestibule (currently–knock on wood). Our oldest is 20 and the youngest will be two this summer. Our two oldest kids are away at college most of the time. Child number eight actually sat quietly in mass from birth until he was about two and a half. He was the only one. He’s not almost three and a half and we have to take him out periodically. I spent many a mass hour holding one of my middle boys in a straightjacket hold while he shrieked in the cry room (as described in the article). He was very hyper (not diagnosed, just full of bouncy energy). He’s an altar boy now.
    I know there are different schools of thought on this, but some of my kids did not go to mass until they grew out of acting like wild apes in church. They’d go as babies, but then spent time at home or the nursery during mass. Some were ready by age three and one of them, whom I believe has some autism spectrum issues, had to stay home until he was almost five. We’d go to mass in “shifts”. The older kids had youth mass, so they’d stay home with the monkeys in the morning and then go to mass in the evening. We did what we had to do, particularly during my husband’s two military deployments.
    I have not found a priest to agree with me on this (though I haven’t actively sought one), but I think it’s a prudential matter for parents to leave little ones at home (or in nursery, etc.) when they’re too little to have the personal awareness to sit still and/or be reasonably quiet. We’ve experimented both ways over the years, enduring the “one hour of hell for God”, as I used to call it, versus not taking them to mass. I got nothing out of mass for years and I’m not sure that it was the right thing. I literally hated going to mass and used to think that if it wasn’t for receiving Eucharist, it wouldn’t be worth it. I don’t know how protestant parents do it.
    I have specifically asked two priests about it and both said it’s important to teach them to go to mass consistently. But, truth be told, most celibate religious just don’t have the practical experience with parenting to always make the best decisions about little kids. As soon as my younger children started exhibiting the self awareness to talk in a whisper and to sit still for any amount of time, they started going to mass. They didn’t have to perfectly behaved, just not so extremely disruptive. When we were less experienced parents, our older kids went every week as a matter of principle and it just about killed me some weeks. My husband didn’t endure it well at all and we were both exhausted, physically and emotionally when mass was over. It was really horrible. I don’t think I’d do it that way again. It was too hard on the children and too hard on us. Making prudential judgements about individual kids on a week to week basis works a lot better.
    I have found that parental endurance can be greatly bolstered or strained based on the pastor and the parish, to include the building itself. Small pews makes keeping wiggly preschoolers corralled easier, for instance. :0) We left a parish because the pastor was so intolerant of the noise and movement of young children during mass. Shame on him who would preach against abortion in one breath and then castigate little children and their parents at mass in the next breath!
    This last year was the first time ever that our family did night liturgy on Christmas Eve and we did the Easter Vigil last spring. Easter was a little rough. I’m not sure we’ll have a repeat of that this year.
    Our youngest has gone to mass every week since he was an infant. It helps that the older kids can help hold him. He’s particularly fond of one of his teen brothers. A lot depends on the individual child’s temperment.
    God bless. <3

    • Terri K

      I wanted to add that we started praying a family rosary together at bedtime every night about three years ago. It may be coincidence, but the kids do seem to behave a lot better at mass since then. We have a little bit of “sit still and be quiet” reverence on a daily basis instead of just once a week. I do think it’s made a difference. Our oldest was 17 when we started this, though. I don’t know if it would have been possible in earlier years. It’s still a screaming circus some nights as it is. I’ve heard that some families with young children start with one decade at night.

  • CDville

    My youngest, the only boy, started to behave at mass when my husband got the idea to rename the cry room. DS would do anything to avoid the humiliation of the “baby room”!

  • beauly

    I promise you this works: at home,
    sit at the table or your desk with your youngster in your lap facing
    away from you. Give him a small, quiet toy (we used matchbox cars) while
    you are doing some little job, typing or writing, or reading. Tell him
    to sit as quietly as he can. When he squirms, correct him. When he is
    too loud, tell him to whisper and sit still. Try it for five minutes for
    a week or until he can be very still and very quiet for that long. Then
    increase the time by five minutes. Keep doing it until he can go an
    hour. If you practice this consistently, you will have a child that can
    sit the whole hour, and YOU will enjoy your Mass! Be sure to take
    the small toy you’ve been practicing with to Mass with you; it helps them associate it with “quiet and still.” This has
    worked with mine as young as two. We also place an adult and an older child between each little to prevent the fighting/talking/playing that inevitably begins.

  • Paul Gutting

    Jennifer, The answer to your question is no time off for taking the children, however if they go to Mass in their adult years you might have a case for a commuted sentence. For those who just stay at home expecting to avoid the Circus Maximus, I think there is extra time assigned. It is all about suffering people!