|"Jesus and the Children," by Lucas the Elder Cranach|
All of the arguments against bringing young children to Mass seem to assume two basic points: 1. The children do not know what is occurring, so it is unimportant for them to be there, or 2. Children are distracting and therefore harm the environment for others.
|"Christ and the Children,"by Franck Kirchbach|
But lets put even this aside and pretend she does not know and simply does not have the faculty to know what is occurring at the mass.
What is essential is that Christ is present in the Eucharist. He is not abstractly present; He is not symbolically present. He is there, in person, actively engaging the congregation, whether they are asleep or awake, distracted or deep in prayer, married or single, young or old. He is there whether we know it or not. Even if we assume, then, that the toddler cannot understand anything about the Mass, we still hold that it is good for them to be in the Real Presence of Christ. The absolute, physical presence of God has an impact on those present. We have witnessed this effect on atheists, Protestants, fallen away Catholics, ourselves, and our babies firsthand.
|Crazy medieval people|
The second argument folks make is that children are distracting to neighbors. In fact, not only do children distract other members of the congregation, but they also distract their weary parents who, in order to be good parents, need that quiet time at Mass. We can sympathize with this point a great deal more than with the first argument (which seems to us to be simply dishonest). Often enough, our children are fairy tale creatures, and their ways are inevitably loud and draw attention as we desperately attempt to tame the beast.
This argument loses a lot of its validity if you cede the first point. If you agree that Christ's true presence must have an impact on your children, then what you are really saying here is that you value the impact that the Eucharist has on adults more than on children. In this scenario, leaving the kids at home would be to sacrifice the benefit of the child's Eucharistic encounter for the greater good of an hour of quiet, calm parental meditation on the mysteries of the Mass, without having to worry about restraining the toddler and maintaining a distraction-free atmosphere in the church.
|"Christ Blessing the Children," by Nicolaes Maes|
For those of you who are still with us, take this as an analogy: I have often been frustrated when I try to exercise. My two girls lay in wait for me to get in push-up position. One of them gets on my back, the other one likes to slide under me and hang by my neck. How much better a Papa would I be if, instead of wrestling them off and confining them to their room, I simply loved them and got an even better work out by exercising with the challenge they provide. If I saw their presence not merely as a burden to my own progress, but as an opportunity.
There are so many more reasons to bring your children to Mass - so they can hear the Word of God and have the prayers of the Mass engraved in their hearts, learn to sing at Church, see their parents praying together (or working together to do so!). One of our happiest moments as parents was when we overheard our oldest daughter "playing Mass" in the bathtub at the age of 2. And it isn't only beneficial for children. The adults in the congregation are also surrounded by Catholic families who give witness to the domestic church. At the same time, having quiet time with the Lord is important, and parents who feel a longing for that should find a way to work it into their life, whether that is by attending Adoration for an hour every week or by going to daily Mass without the children once in a while. However, we do believe that attending Sunday Mass together is fundamental to the domestic church.
Families who make the decision to go to Mass together need to know that what they are doing is important and worthy. During our two-year stay in Belgium, where the Catholic population is anything but vibrant, we witnessed firsthand the cold and empty Mass without any children, Sunday after Sunday, and it is anything but spiritually uplifting. Belgian Catholics would come up to us after Mass like we were celebrities and thank us over and over again for bring our noisy baby to Mass. The priests would beg us to sit in the front row next time. In a time in which so many Masses are void of children in so many countries, this entire movement is immensely baffling.Yes, it is hard to bring young children to Mass. But parents who feel in their hearts that it is the right thing should be encouraged to follow that desire.
|"Christ Receiving the Children," by Sebastien Bourdon|
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will outline some practical strategies for attending Mass with toddlers without resorting to Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder.