How to be More Present in the Mass (Even When your Toddler is Busy Headbutting You)
“More babies,” Father Bosco shouts joyfully in his thick Ugandan accent during his homily at a friend’s Baptism. “We need more babies!” He went on to challenge us, the congregation of thirty or so young married couples, to continue co-creating the everlasting souls that are to be the recipients of the Mass and Sacraments.
And then he asked us something that seemed more daunting. He asked us to consistently bring our children to Mass each and every week.
This impressed me because, as the mother of two loud, headstrong, attention-seeking boys, I'm always seeking an opportunity to go to Mass without them. Father Bosco's encouragement is a beautiful message but I have experienced and learned that many parents find that bringing children to Mass is one of the hardest times of the week. Taking rambunctious children to Mass, keeping them entertained, and trying to keep them from being too distracting is stressful and feels nearly impossible. Saint John Vianney said, “If we truly understood the Mass, we would die of joy” but with so many distractions, especially small children, trying to remain present in Mass is very difficult.
My husband and I have a routine to keep our boys interested and relatively quiet, this requires discipline and consistency. But even with a routine, remaining present can be hard. Here are a few suggestions that have helped us to be more present in the Mass.
1. Read the readings ahead of time. Use the upcoming Sunday readings for a 15 minute meditation one or two times during the week. This preparation is great when a distraction pops up because you know what was said, even if you didn’t actually hear it in that moment.
2. Utilize key parts of the Mass to draw you back you into this great mystery. I have been trying to make sure that certain Mass parts redirect my attention back to our Lord. Three parts that have worked well are: the Confiteor, prayers before Communion (“Lord I am not worthy to receive you…”), and physically walking to Communion.
3. Sit in the Main Church, not the Children’s Chapel. A lot of times it is more distracting to sit in the “cry room”. You might fear that your kids will scream and distract everyone. Just try it. Sit as close as you can, near the end of a pew (for easy exit access), and explain little things that happen during the Mass. “Now you’ll see Jesus on the Cross” or “Father is going to read us a Gospel story”. If there is inconsolable screaming or a tantrum, you can exit quickly and return to the Children’s Chapel or outside the Church.
4. Get to Mass early. Prayer before Mass is key to being present. Offer everything that has happened up until that point of the day up to our Lord, offer what will occur in the Mass, and ask for help to remain present in this Holy Sacrifice.
5. Find an age appropriate Missal or prayer book for your child that will help them follow along and learn what is happening in the Mass. This, too, can help you remain present to the different parts of the Mass.
If all of these fail, and some days they will, recall Father Bosco's closing remarks. The fact that your family is together in the presence of our Eucharisitc Lord, will beget countless graces. The Lord sees your sacrifices, blesses it with immense love, and is consoled by you and your children physically present there at His sacrifice in the Mass.