Thursday, April 24, 2014

Infants, Toddlers, and Mass Attendance

Parents know it's a crazy adventure taking a young child anywhere. There's the diaper bag, the bottles or snacks, the blanket, the toys, the car seat, the stroller, and then some. How parents of even 1 survive with a vehicle smaller than a minibus, I'll never know. Taking children to Mass to requires no less organization and planning, but it can require less gear than you might be thinking you need or are currently bringing.

It's important you start bringing your child to Mass each time you go as soon as possible. For most infants, this means within the first few weeks of life. Obviously, there are extenuating circumstances (premature infants or those with health problems who can't risk public exposure, etc.), but especially once your child is baptized you should really try to get him/her to Mass each week. This might seem difficult and stressful but with some simple tips, you should be able to make it easier on your family.

  • Take your child's schedule into consideration. Attend Mass at a time when he/she is most likely to be already rested and fed. This is tougher with an infant, but will become more doable over time. It's also harder with several children on different schedules, but do your best. Flexibility is a huge part of being a parent and Mass attendance requires this flexibility. 
  • Once your child begins potty training, hit the bathrooms before you leave the  house and as you enter the church. This will establish the habit that we don't leave the sanctuary during Mass (if at all possible).
  • Sit up front. I know this is stressful for some folks and we know Catholics don't like the front pew, but this will be helpful for many reasons. As your child grows, he/she will want to see what's going on. Sometimes, I think children fuss because they cannot see or experience what is happening. Sitting in the first 5 pews or so allows your child to be close to the action. Feel free to sit near an aisle so you can escape quickly, if need be.
  • Use cry rooms sparingly, if at all. Cry rooms are great and have their place. You never know when a child is going to start screaming uncontrollably and need a quiet place to regroup. Don't make the cry room a habit because then your child will have a much tougher time sitting through Mass as he/she grows. Go to the cry room when you cannot quickly/easily quiet your child. Return to Mass as soon as your child is ready.
  • Narrate the Mass. At some point (I am guessing between the ages of 1-2), most parents start narrating things to teach their child and increase vocabulary. "We are walking past the blue house."  "Mom is making chicken for supper." We need to make this a part of Mass with our infant and toddler children. "We are hearing the First Reading." "Father Bill is giving the homily." "Mom and Dad are receiving Jesus in the Eucharist." Your child is likely to be less fussy and antsy if he/she knows what's going on as he/she grows. Plus, quiet whispering in the ear should keep them feeling engaged even if they don't understand what's happening. When you enter church, walk around, point things out, and teach them. 
  • Participate. Your child will struggle to learn the prayers, responses, and songs if you never say them. Instead of singing/saying them aloud, whisper them to your child if you're holding him/her. I am confident children struggle to learn prayers because when we say them all together, they cannot discern the different words. If you whisper the prayers to them, they will focus more on your voice and begin learning the individual words. Case in point: until I was old enough to read, I was sure the words to the hymn "Glory and Praise to Our God" sang about "and alone gives thy do-or-days." This never made sense until I was old enough to use a hymnal and learned it was "and alone gives light to our days." 
  • Pack light. Stick to one blanket or cuddly toy and a bottle (or breast-feeding cover). For infants, I recommend the doll be the Baptism Bear or the Loving Jesus Doll rather than just their normal teddy. For a toddler, consider finding their patron saint from Soft Saints. The more you pack when your child is young, the more they will expect snacks, toys, and distractions as they grow. Plus, having this special toy just for church will make it a relaxing, pleasant time. Of course, bring the diaper bag if you're expecting to have to change the little one and don't forget spit up rags and other essentials. Just leave out the rattles, books, and other things.
        Lest you think I'm crazy about how important Mass attendance is for these little ones, I'd like to point out that our own Holy Father agrees with me. I feel for those of you who have pastors who discourage little ones in the sanctuary during Mass. However, I think if you take these or similar steps, encourage your friends and family to do the same, we can show priests how these littlest parishioners do belong in Mass.


  1. Nice post! I need to get better at the bathroom breaks during Mass. Although I can send a few of them by themselves so sometimes I enjoy the break as much as they do. Giggle. :)

    1. Aww! It's ok, Mary. It's tough, especially the more kids you have.

  2. I was wondering if anyone had tips on how to handle a 2 yr old, twin 1 yr old, and a new born. I will be having the new born within 7 weeks. We've been rotating two of the 3 but I'm so big and uncomfortable, we are just bringing one each week now. I don't want to use the nursery but we do use the cry room most of the time. We never let them out of our arms. I feel like we're not able to do the best without help and we don't have anyone extra to come to church with us or that just doesn't want to. This is the best we can do right now but I would like any advice when I do get to be stronger.

  3. Bless you. What a tough time! I'm so sorry I didn't see this post sooner. I really suggest talking to your pastor, deacon, or DRE. I'm almost sure there are some elderly folks or teens who would love to meet you at Mass and help hold your little ones.

    Remember, it will get easier as they get older. Do your best to keep holding the kids close and whispering the prayers/songs to them. Within 2 years (which seems like an eternity to you, I'm sure), things will be more manageable.

    Whenever you're struggling, remember to offer up your struggles for those who cannot get to Mass or are persecuted trying to attend.