Friday, April 25, 2014

Children In Church: How Far Is Too Far?

This year, Elizabeth attended all the Triduum Masses (I know, I know, Good Friday is a service, not a Mass...but for ease of writing I'm just gonna lump them all together and say Mass) and Easter morning Mass:
Holy Thursday: 7pm-9pm
Good Friday: 3pm-4:45pm
Easter Vigil (Saturday): 8pm-11:30pm
Easter Morning: 10:30am-11:45am
The Triduum Masses are known to be long, late, and chock full of solemn silence. When I say that combination of words, the phrase "happy toddler" does not exactly jump quickly to my mind. Regardless, I was determined that she be there for all of it. Many people who heard I was doing this immediately told me that it would NOT be a good idea. The words "crazy", "are you out of your mind", and "glad it's you and not me" were all used. And to be honest, I knew they were right. But my stubbornness prevailed and away we went to participate in the most beautiful liturgies of the entire year.

As always, I had this vision of how things would go. It looked something like this:

For the late Masses, we would begin in the cry room and Elizabeth would fall asleep lovingly in Trent's arms. We would then proceed to the main part of Church and partake in the rest of Mass while Elizabeth kept sleeping. Good Friday service would be a breeze: my parents took her to my brother's church since I had to sing at another church. They're really good at keeping her occupied. Done and done.

My plans, of course, failed miserably and nothing went according to how I thought it would. God loves reminding me that I need to trust Him with'd think I would have learned by now that I should just stop making plans all together.

Would you like to know what actually happened? The good news is that the Good Friday service went extraordinarily well. Why is that, you ask? Because I wasn't there. For some reason Elizabeth behaves amazingly at Mass when I'm not there. Apparently it's normal for toddlers to be extremely whiny around their moms...right? RIGHT? It's normal, RIGHT?? 

The late Masses, on the other hand...let's just say this: thank GOODNESS we were the only ones in the cry room. I ended up crying from frustration during the Vigil at some point...I don't remember exactly when because it's all kind of a blur to me now...Trent was angry...Elizabeth was beyond tired...screaming at decibel levels I didn't know were possible...

Doesn't that just seem like the perfect picture of holiness?

Many people reading this will say at this point: so you've learned your lesson, right? Surely you would never put yourself or your kid through that again.

Yes I would. I would do it again in a heartbeat. And I plan on doing it again every year I possibly can. (Dangit!! I'm making plans again!!! I mean, God, I will do whatever Your will is...)

The following things have been said to me by many people. Allow me to give my responses. And remember: this is what we do in our family. It might not work for yours, and that's fine! It might not even work for ours in the future. Who knows? But just keep in mind that I'm not saying families who don't do what we do are bad. We're all different. I love y'all no matter what!

Q: That's unfair to your child to put her through that. She's just tired and miserable, so why do it?
A: I would agree with this if it was a regular occurrence. But the Triduum only happens once a year. Sure, she'll be cranky for a few hours during the late Masses.She might not get as much sleep for two nights as she normally does. But it's not going to kill her. It won't cause any long term damage. In fact, I really think it's good to be flexible for special occasions. If my out of town family is visiting, for example, Elizabeth might stay up a few hours later than she normally does so they get more time with her. This is no different...I'm just allowing her to stay up later to spend more time with Christ.

Q: You're not getting anything out of Mass when you take her. Don't you think it's better for you to be more spiritually and mentally present to what's going on around you?

A: That's true. I don't feel as emotionally or spiritually "fulfilled" when I'm focusing on keeping my toddler quiet during Mass. But here's the important part: Our goal in Mass should not be to "get something out of it." I always chuckle to myself when I see Christian churches advertising their "worship experience." Since when is it a requirement that Mass is an "experience?" Emotions and feelings change. Priests change. Homilies change. What I'm there for is what never has and never will change: the Eucharist. Jesus is fully present at each and every Mass, no matter how we feel. And I receive Him: body, blood, soul, and divinity, each time I participate. If my spiritual well being were dependent on my "feelings" or "what I get out of it", then I'd be in big trouble.
Also, in my struggles of caring for my toddler during Mass, I am offering up sacrifice, just as Christ did for us on the cross. It connects me more fully to Christ. Would I sometimes rather be basking in the glory of Liturgy? Or listening intently to the priest's homily? Yes. But I know that hardships are something that we can offer up to God.

Q: I think it's actually rude to sit in the front pews of church when you have small children. You're distracting other people from the Mass.

A: I'm most interested in hearing people's opinions about this one. Is it just the few more outspoken church members who feel this way? Or is it truly disrespectful? Here's what I think: I sit in front of church because I am so easily distracted, and that's where I am able to concentrate best. If I have a hard time paying attention during Mass, what's it like for my 16 month old? Sitting near the front, children can really see what's happening. Rather than simply seeing the back of people's heads, they can watch the priest more closely. They can participate in the Mass more fully (to the best of their ability according to their age). Right now, Elizabeth's "participating in Mass" pretty much means she occasionally looks at the altar, points, and says "Mama." But they have to start somewhere.
Going to Mass is not just about us as individuals. It is about the community coming together to worship. Aren't children part of the community? Shouldn't they be included just as much as anyone else?

I understand that a line must be drawn somewhere. Obviously, if a child is screaming or being extremely distracting, parents should remove them. But children, just by being children, simply are distracting, even if they aren't doing anything. Here are our rules (under normal circumstances) at this point (some people might think these are too strict, others might think they are not strict enough. They are what works for our family at this two families are the same!):

  • No solid food in church, no matter what age
  • Bottles/sippy cups with milk are okay until a certain point. We are just now starting to phase that out since Elizabeth eats regular meals and doesn't need milk every few hours anymore. We've also found that recently, it makes her more cranky when she sees the bottle bag because she wants it.
  • Only religious toys and books allowed. Elizabeth has a wooden child's rosary and a few children's prayer books we take. I'm planning on starting to phase some of those out and moving her to books about the Mass for kids starting around age 2, depending on how she does.
  • We always sit in front unless the pews are reserved. 
  • We only use the cry room as a last resort. If Elizabeth starts getting very loud or persistently crying, we will go to the cry room. I personally hate cry rooms (although the church we go to has probably the best cry room I've ever's right next to the altar) but I understand their necessity.
  • We try not to encourage her to make faces or "play" with other people during Mass, although we don't mind if others are the ones initiating it.
  • We don't let her walk around, even if we are in the cry room. She either sits in the pew or we hold her (we broke this rule at the end of the Easter Vigil. She was running all over the place in the cry room because we were so exhausted)

What do you think? I really would like to know. Especially with my last question: is it rude or disrespectful to sit in the front of church with small children? Or even anywhere but the cry room? I often get feedback on Facebook, but feel free to comment on my blog too...I know y'all are out there! :-)


  1. Okay....I'll comment. I like the fact of sitting in the front of church...I have done that will ALL 3 of my boys. I agree that the kids can see what's going on and tend to be a better at listening if they are close. I do NOT like cry rooms either. I have used one or two on occasion and can't STAND it when parents let there kids run around like crazy and be as loud as can be.....why be there then? Take them home! What drives me CRAZY? A kid screaming loudly.......or talking loudly and the parents laughing! UGH! This just happened the other day. Very cute kiddo...kept talking loudly...they would ask her to be quiet...but when she said something cute they would laugh at her which would encourage her. Father is doing the Eucharistic prayer and you hear this LOUD voice saying she wants her drink. When they did try to quiet her she started to cry and they started apologizing to her!! REALLY? the soap ALSO.....when a child is screaming....or you think they might start screaming because it's NOT SIT so far away from the exit it takes you FOREVER to get out! Good Friday service.......a child was crying loudly....mother trying to calm her for 2 minutes then finally took her out...BUT she was FAR away from the exit. It made me miss part of what was being said and I know it distracted other's around also.
    My kids were all taught that in church we were GOD and it was time to be quiet and listen. I let them take books or soft toys when they were little. If they acted up....they were taken out until they calmed down and then right back in we went. There were times we went to a parish with a nursery......and with my youngest it was needed. He was HORRIBLE at a certain time in his life and NONE of enjoyed even going to the nursery worked. We only used it as long as we had to though.

  2. I love it that you are starting Elizabeth early going to Mass. I now understand why you would sit in the front pew, so that she can be more aware of what is going on. As she gets older and you keep taking her, she'll understand more and more. You are a wonderful mother, Ashley, and God will bless you for bringing Elizabeth up in the church. I also believe that if you can't get her to be quiet, it is important to take her out, so that the other people won't be distracted. I'll never forget one time, when I was the substitute organist for a Sunday morning service. I started playing the accompaniment for a tenor soloist, whose voice was so beautiful it would make you cry. Well, it did make someone cry. A baby started crying as soon as he started to sing, and cried through the whole song. The parents never took the baby out. The service was recorded, and it is a shame that the beautiful voice was joined by a crying baby. That beautiful tenor voice is no longer with us. He passed away last year, but I still have the recording.

  3. There are different schools of thought on this. On one hand, children who have not reached the age of reason (7 years) are under no obligation to attend Mass. See

    On the other hand, baptized children are fully members of the Body of Christ, no less than you or me. This would suggest that they have a right to participate in the public worship of the church, whatever participation might look like at their age.

    I'd like to hear your thoughts on churches that offer a nursery. Many churches offer free childcare for children aged 2-preschool, some even watch newborns and infants. I'm for it, provided that it is run well and includes components of worship (bible stories, religious crafts, etc.) If that makes the difference for families with young children attending vs. not attending Mass, it can be a great ministry to offer. No one is compelled to participate, but it's there if needed. Thoughts?

    1. I think nurseries are great for families who want to use them! For our family at this point, we wouldn't use one because I'd rather have Elizabeth get used to going to Mass. But I'm certainly not against nurseries. And who knows, maybe at some point we would decide to use it if we had a big family or a high needs child. I've learned to never say never :-)

  4. Hi Ashley, I found your blog through Kendra's Answer Me This. I have a son who is turning two this week and I take him to mass every Sunday, and occasionally on a week day. I actually thought it was an obligation for all the baptised to attend mass each Sunday regardless of age so Scott's comment and link were a real surprise to me (thanks Scott!).

    I love the idea of sitting right at the front but am too scared to do it yet. My parish church is small and the only entrance is at the back, so I would have to walk past the entire congregation if Adoomi was acting up or crying, which he has been doing at least once a week lately. I don't think it's rude or disrespectful at all, I think it's awesome!

    1. Nice to meet you! We are really lucky because the cry room at our church is right by the altar so the closer we sit to the front of church, the closer we are to the cry room. Score! Most churches aren't like that though...and I definitely understand the hesitation to have to carry a screaming baby allllll the way past the entire's the walk that never ends! It probably also depends on how accepting the church is toward younger children. I've found some parishes are more welcoming than others when it comes to that!


Feel free to comment! Disagreements are fine, but please be nice :-)