Bringing babies and young children to mass is hard. I’ve seen different parishes deal with this differently. Nurseries, parent co-ops, cry rooms, Children’s dismissals, even a special row in the back for quick escapes. Priests, parishes, and parents have worked hard to make it easier for parents to meet their Sunday obligation. As a parent of young children, I appreciate the effort. I also believe we have to do better.
While parents might sigh a breath of relief as they part with their little wigglers, consider for a moment what we are communicating to our children. At the core of these “child friendly” options is the common thread of keeping kids away from the mass. How can we possibly be surprised that our teenagers don’t want to come to mass when we’ve spent their whole lives training them to believe that mass is not the place for them? How can we claim, “It is important that you are here,” when it wasn’t important enough that they join us when they were younger?
Yes, bringing children to mass, especially young children, is a struggle. If you are like me or have kids like mine, it is often a humiliating struggle. I want to help. Enter your email to receive a FREE printable checklist of tips and tricks for keeping kids busy and engaged at Mass. Take heart; this struggle is an essential part of our call as parents, and that means God is with us, ready to pour out his graces when we ask him. And when things are hard and you need a reminder of why you’re doing this, remember these 5 reasons!
Children Belong in Mass
Reason # 1: Jesus said so.
Why should we bring our children to mass? First, because Jesus said so: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” (Matt. 19:14). It is possible that Jesus merely meant these words only for the little children in front of him that day. I think that is unlikely. This short passage of two verses is sandwiched between two challenging calls to action. The first is Jesus’s “hard teaching” on divorce (don’t do it). The second is his encounter with the rich young man, who went away sad when faced with the challenge of giving up his possessions to gain salvation. Jesus is calling us to take up the hard work of bringing our children to mass to encounter him. As hard as it may be, it is much easier to help a toddler learn the mass prayers and responses than to pry open the heart of an adult child who has already closed the book on God. Jesus’s instruction is clear: when we go to Jesus, we are to bring our kids along with us.
REASON # 2: Kids Learn from the Mass.
Second, our children learn from the experience of mass. My daughter knows the feel of the holy water from the font under her hands. She knows where “Mamma Mary” is and talks with her after Mass. She offers peace to our fellow parishioners and goes with Daddy to “eat Jesus.” She has big plans to “eat Jesus” when she gets big one day, too. Sure, she sometimes eats the PSA brochure and thinks the kneelers are great playground equipment. That’s what a toddler does. That’s what God made them to do. It’s our job to redirect their curiosity and natural drive to explore in ways that help them encounter Jesus.
Now that she’s reached the “why” stage, her questions are: why Jesus is on the cross, why we eat and drink at mass, why do we put ashes on our heads. Children have absorbent minds and they are ready to encounter the different aspects of our faith at different times. Our children belong in mass so they can learn about and absorb the central mystery of our faith.
Children are not the only ones who learn and grow by their presence at mass. Jesus is clear: to enter the kingdom of God, we must become like little children (Matt. 18:2-4). So much of the joy of parenting is a renewed chance to see life once again through the eyes of our children. When we leave our children out of mass, we close our ears to what God might speak to us through them. We close ourselves off to an entire avenue of grace.
REASON # 3: KIDS ARE GOD’S PEOPLE, TOO.
The third reason our children have a place in the liturgy is that liturgy is the work of the people. All of God’s people. What takes place in the mass is holy, sacred, and we should include our children in that. There are many times and places where it is most appropriate to exclude our children because the task or activity is beyond them. I won’t take my baby or toddler to the movies. I won’t take them to eat at a fancy restaurant. The mass is unlike these things. The mass is not entertainment. It’s a prayer. It’s a ritual. This is the space and time in which heaven kisses earth, and Jesus wants our kids to be a part of that.
REASON # 4: KIDS NEED GRACE, TOO.
Children can and should pray. We are not here to evaluate their prayer or measure their experience of God. Our role is to provide the space and opportunity for prayer. St. Ignatius of Loyola offered this important piece of advice for retreat directors in his Spiritual Exercises: God deals directly with the retreatant. In an analogous way, parents are called to provide the opportunities in which kids can encounter the living Christ.
Reason #5: It’s a sacrament.
Mass is a Sacrament. It is about making the invisible visible. Why would we want to hide that from our kids? Kids belong in the pews, not in the nursery or the cry room. Ours is an incarnational faith. What we do with our bodies matters. Where we sit matters. Christ is truly present in the mass – in the person of the priest, in the word, in the assembly, and in the Eucharist. Christ is there, and we must let the children come to him.
But, bringing kids to mass is hard.
Yep. It’s hard. Just like basically every other aspect of parenting. There are lots of ways to make parenting easier, but let’s not fall into the trap of thinking easier means better. Instead, let’s lean into this struggle together, knowing that knowing that our efforts to include our children make the mass meaningful and important to them. Mass should be something we invite our children to enter into, and doing that means equipping them to engage to whatever degree is developmentally appropriate. It is a challenge. It’s worth it.
Looking for practical steps to help children feel and act like they belong at Mass? Here’s a FREE printable checklist of our best tips and tricks!
What are your biggest struggles bringing littles to Mass?