When you approach the tabernacle, remember that He has been waiting for you for twenty centuries. — St. Josemaria Escriva
This is a distillation of unsolicited advice that my friend Alison and I offered to a group of moms before our last move. We each have 9 kids who come to Mass with us every Sunday, but often our husbands have not been with us due to work. We have watched moms struggle and make the same mistakes we did. We wanted to give a message of hope, and thankfully, our friends seemed to appreciate it, so I will share it with you too.
1. Learn to love the Mass so your children can learn to love it too.
In response to my questioning, my college-aged godson told me that he goes to Mass every week as it is his ‘moral obligation.’ Do you go because it’s your moral obligation? I’m not complaining, but you need to learn to love the Mass. Until you do, you will be plagued by a half desire to go which will spill over to your family and into everyone’s attitudes about the Herculean effort it takes to get there.
Once I realized that I went to Mass because of my longing for the grace that comes from the Eucharist (and not the homily or music), my own attitude toward Mass completely changed. I desired to be there and loved the Mass no matter how my children behaved (mostly). I can ‘be with’ Jesus in many ways, but nothing substitutes for the combination of spiritual and physical intimacy, the same way that nothing substitutes for physical intimacy with my husband. But how to learn to love it?
Start by considering what the Mass truly is and why that is different from the service at the First Non-Catholic Church of My Town. We do not come to Mass to be entertained, to feel good. Nor do we come to ‘get Jesus’. The Mass is the bloody sacrifice of Calvary re-presented. We, by the command of Christ, are privileged to be there at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady. If you read in the Catechism, we are *obligated* to receive Holy Eucharist only once a year at Easter Tide. We read in Sacred Scripture 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 that “Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation.” It is a very serious obligation to be in a state of grace when we come to Mass. We do not have a right to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We are being given a sacred and holy gift that we must be properly disposed to receive.
For an eye opening perspective into the unseen reality of what it happening at Mass, read this visionary’s private experience of having Our Lady explain the Mass to her. I have found it inspiring.
Perfect & imperfect: Sometimes I come to Mass because of meeting my Sunday obligation. It is better when I come for love of God. Love is a discipline, an act of the will- we do it when it’s hard. By working with our children, we teach them to master their wants for the good, and we can do this by modeling proper behavior at Mass. This is a long process. We work for about 2-3 years to help our children learn to be quiet and relatively still at Mass. Yes, my 3 year olds are quietly behaved at Mass.
2. The indispensible role of the father.
CCC para 13 But Christian parents must also understand that they are destined not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshippers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow-citizens of the Saints, and members of God’s household, that the worshippers of God and Our Savior may daily increase.
CCC para 23 (excerpt) This outward expression of love in the home demands not only mutual help but must go further; must have as its primary purpose that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life, so that through their partnership in life they may advance ever more and more in virtue, and above all that they may grow in true love toward God and their neighbor, on which indeed “dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets.” Footnoted to Casti Connubii, Pope Pius Vi, 1930
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Eph 6:4
Just as God used St. Joseph to form Jesus Christ in His humanity, so too does He want to use you to form your children. –Fr. Larry Richards
The father is spiritual head of the family. We must learn to let our husbands lead. Some of us have the cross of a husband who undermines us or no husband at all. In these situations, we need the graces available to us even more. For many of us, we are dealing with typical husband/ wife spiritual struggles, which is plenty enough challenge.
The father establishes discipline at home. The Mass is when your Domestic Church worships in union with the Church Universal. What happens at home prepares for what happens at Mass. All discipline should be mutually agreed on by parents, but the father should be the one who leads by establishing the “rules” and backs up his wife as needed. This is especially helpful when he is not always home and mom is left to discipline on her own. My husband is not the only dad who has used his weekly Skype time to discipline naughty children from a war zone, but the change in children’s behavior has made that sacrifice on his part worthwhile.
Preparing ahead of time for Mass. For spiritual preparation, have the father prepare the family for Mass by reading daily or Sunday readings to the family. And the mother should prepare clothes and food ahead of time (think Saturday night) so the father can dress and care for younger children while she gets ready.
At Mass the father starts training a child from about 1 year old.<——This child is no longer exclusively breastfeeding and does not need comfort nursing for the 1 hour of Sunday Mass. Having the father take the child and teach correct behavior is much easier.
How to deal with absent father. I’m sorry friends, but this is a hard hard situation. First, remember that going to Mass and desiring to be there “counts”. If your kid screams and you spend the whole time outside together in frustrated tears, you have still gone to Mass. Having a babysitter take young children can be a worthwhile investment. Asking a friend with older kids to let a child sit with them works very well. I noticed that when a Downs Syndrome friend sat with us, he was much better behaved than with his mom, even though I didn’t really do anything to make him behave. If possible, ask your husband to call from where he is and discipline the kids, either by calling before hand and reminding them of his expectations or by giving them a talk afterward.
3. Prepare for Mass before Sunday morning
The Mass is the source and summit of our Catholic faith and our life. Therefore, all the rest of our life is preparing for Mass.
The Mass is the source and summit of our Catholic faith and our life. Therefore, all the rest of our life is preparation for Mass. If you haven’t, take the time to read The Land without a Sunday by Maria Von Trapp in which she describes how their Austrian neighbors’ trip to communist Russia affected the Von Trapp family’s appreciation of Sunday and the Mass. “Of all the things they had seen and observed, one experience had most deeply impressed them: that Russia had done away with Sunday. This had shocked them even more than what they saw of Siberian concentration camps or of the misery and hardship in cities and country. The absence of Sunday seemed to be the root of all the evil.”
- Did I prepare a complete church outfit for each person the night before? Did I launder and iron as necessary? Did I find socks, shoes, pants, undershirt, dress shirt, tights, dress, sweater, coats, umbrellas, hankies/tissues, diaper bag, missal, accessories, purse and put them in an accessible place or even in the car the night before?
- Did I bathe kids the night before? Did I adequately plan time for me to shower and nurse the baby before Mass? Did I communicate with my husband to share the responsibility of who would dress, wash, entertain those who need help?
- Did we complete our balanced, nourishing breakfast (without a ton of sugar to make the kids crazy) an hour before Mass was to start?
- Did I send everyone to the bathroom before we left the house?
- Did I remember to plan for the 15 minutes that it takes to walk out of the house and get into the car?
- If my husband is deployed, did I arrange to sit near someone who can help me emotionally or physically during Mass? Older moms, teen girls, and grandmas often would willingly do this!!!!!
- Advanced techniques: DO NOT BRING–Food, toys, books to “entertain” youngest children unless you feel like spending the Mass breaking up arguments, comforting a child who was smacked with an object, or cleaning up spilled cereal being ground into the carpet as the entire congregation unfeelingly rushes out the door. (Sigh. BTDT). >By the time the child is in Kindergarten or 1st grade, say no to potty trips. Learn the ‘look’ . For older children teach them how to use their missal or prayer book. Tell them how to deal with being sick on the altar or during Mass.
- Did I go to Confession this month? Did I take those who are old enough to Confession this month?
- On Saturday evening, did we look up the gospel from the USCCB site and read and discuss it as a family?
- Did I pray this morning for the grace to love Jesus as He deserves to be loved, for the ability to parent well at Mass, for the help of Our Lady who so desires us to know her Son? Did we pray as a family Sunday morning?
- Did I turn off the computer, TV, radio until after Mass so I could have spiritual space to prepare for the Eucharist?
- Did I discuss with my husband on Saturday night, Sunday before Mass, or even in the car on the way, what discipline challenges we are having and how to address them? Did we agree on reasonable expectations for our kids at Mass today?
- In the car in the church parking lot, did my husband clearly state our expectations for behavior to all children fluent in a language?
- Did I help my child to kneel and thank God for the opportunity to be at Mass and for those who are persecuted or cannot go to Mass? Did we say the Act of Faith, Hope, Love and Contrition and the Anima Christi or other prayers to prepare for Mass? Did I draw my child’s attention to the True Presence at the consecration and elevation?
4. Have Age Appropriate expectations
Toddlers— Restrain them. Best done by dad. Most difficult. Should start getting better around 2yrs . >Start in the pew. > Try standing in the back . >Avoid the cry room, maybe. (This is really a prudential decision. Each time ask yourself if this is best and serving your goal to have your child at Mass. ) Don’t put them down to run around. >If you are kneeling keep a hold on them. >Take them outside, but don’t let them down unless you are giving up and heading to the car, lol. >Don’t make a lot of eye contact. If they wish to snuggle, great, but do not play with them. >Don’t bring books, toys or food. > Do NOT let your under 12 crowd hold their change for the votive candle.
4-7 years—Encourage them to obey out of love. If these 3 virtues are not learned, the child cannot progress.
*sincerity/saying the right thing at the right time– being quiet, praying along, greeting Father,
*order—getting themselves dressed and ready with supervision
8 to 12 years —Aim for satisfaction in overcoming real obstacles
*fortitude–Not going to the bathroom during Mass (this can be accomplished by any child who goes to school.)
*perseverance–Sits through Mass without asking when it will be over.
*Industry– Boys can be altar boys, girls can clean and decorate the church for holidays
*patience—Waiting for adults after Mass patiently
*responsibility—being ready on their own, brining their tithe, boys can be altar boys, girls can clean and decorate the church for holidays
*justice—giving God his due
*generosity–tithing, candles, praying for family and friends, offering graces
13 to 15 years — Give challenging but reasonable targets
*modesty–choosing appropriate Mass attire
*moderation—planning for preMass fast
*sociability and *friendship—often how we get them to be willing to go
*respect–Showing proper respect to God by behavior even if they don’t feel like it
*patriotism—Go to Mass on 4th of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving
15-18 years—starting to own it themselves
*prudence and *flexibility—getting themselves to Mass around their schedule
Children with special needs need special considerations. Be reasonable and internally firm in what you can expect from them at Mass. Look for opportunities for them to receive their sacraments so they can receive those much needed graces!
5. More Mass is better
Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls. –Bl. Teresa of Calcutta
Teaching them to love the Mass :
This process begins at home around the age of 3, but could be earlier for some children. At home you discuss things that happen at church so they gain in understanding what they are doing at Mass. It is not just a time to sit still and be quiet, but we go there to love God, to worship him, to participate with Him through the priest in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We go to Calvary. Memorize prayers or use prayers at home that connect you to the Mass (Memorare, Angelus, St. Michael, Spiritual Communion, Litany) Quietly help them tell Jesus ‘thank you’. Read the Gospel and the reading before Sunday Mass . Teach them the names of items you see in church . Let them light candles after Mass . Have them save for this privilege by doing good deeds or chores. Have a fun brunch afterward as a family . Celebrate feast days, especially with food. Ideas can be found at Catholic Icing, Catholic Cuisine, Catholic Culture, and Jennifer Miller gives a thoughtful peek into her family’s practices at Family in Feast and Feria .
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: Let them play ‘Mass’ . Help them to know the items used at Mass . The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a beautiful Montessori based religious education program designed to make the faith accessible to children. A friend used to have an atrium at church and would teach Kindergarteners using this method. It awoke in the children that sense of wonder and beauty for the Mass and their faith.
Use daily Mass as the training ground for Sunday. They get grace even if they aren’t communicants. Start with 1 per week. Don’t overwhelm them. Your spirituality is more advanced than theirs.
Always go to Catholic Mass on Sunday when on vacation or when visiting family, to fulfill your obligation, to teach the habit, and to show the kids the universality of our faith. Between Masstimes.org and Google maps this is an easy process. I always call ahead of time to check that the Mass times are correct.
Find an opportunity to go an Eastern Rite Mass or a Latin Mass. Talk about the Mass afterwards. What was good? What wasn’t? Do you know what makes a good Mass?
Discuss, do some fun stuff. Plan a family liturgical year that includes Holy days of obligation, feasts, and fun to make the Mass more fun. I have an example of how our family celebrates the liturgical year that will have to go in another post.
6. Invest in your Domestic church
Have some religious pictures or objects in your home. Keep Bible in a prominent place and use it. Choose books that show it is normal to be Catholic. Get books to read across the Liturgical Year.
7. Ask the Blessed Mother for help
Think again about how the Mass truly is Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. When you think to yourself, “Why are my children torturing me?!” remember that she was also tormented as she watched her Son’s passion and death at which we are made present when we attend Mass. She does not disdain us but instead desires to comfort and help us so we can draw closer to her Son. Pray and ask for her help and she will help you.