Monday, May 01, 2006

What Do You Mean, The Daycare is Closed During Mass Today?

We rarely bring our small children to mass. We have weathered some criticism in this area, yet we stand firm.

Now, we are in no way Cafeteria Catholics. If the church says do it, we do it (and gladly). After researching this topic extensively, I have discovered that until a child reaches First Holy Communion, he or she is not obligated to attend mass. Many people think that, obligated or not, it is a good idea for young children to be at mass. This may work for them and for their children, but as for us, we walk this line.

Our young children have plenty of exposure to all goodness that is God. We pray together every day, they know their bible stories and they see their parents going to mass and confession regularly (dad makes mass daily even though mom can't quite pull that off). They know that when they are of age, they will have the PRIVILEGE of attending mass. This is something to anticipate and look forward to.

When our children start Kindergarten, they begin to attend mass with us each Sunday and Holy Day. Until then, it is to the daycare with them. And, believe me, we tip the provider well each week!

Mass is, for me, a spiritual reset button. I need mass to prepare me for the coming week, to remind me of all that is truly important. It is magical hour of peace and closeness to God that sustains me until I can come again. When I have my small children with me, there is little magical about this hour. It becomes something to endure rather than to treasure. There is no reflection on the gospel. There is no deep contemplation of Jesus' sacrifice. There is no singing with joy from the depths of my soul and there is certainly no recollection of the homily. It is an hour of stern corrections, fierce glares, subtle pinches and marches down the aisle with the worst offenders. It is an hour of endlessly replacing ruffled missils and registration cards, chasing the little pencils that roll under the pews and apologizing to the person in front of us for the pulled hair. And did I mention the repeated crashing of the kneeler? The display of little girl underwear? The shoes that get taken off right when it is time to go forward for the blessing? The annoyance of those around us mingled with smiles of pity at the sign of peace? The loud announcements of "I have to go pee!" in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer?

Yes, it is true, that I will do anything in my power to avoid mass with the too-young-to-reason-with crowd. I will call in babysitting favors, even questionable ones, to avoid the spectre. But, inevitably, there are times when we do have to bring them. Unfortunately, these times seem to fall most often on the most important masses of the year: Christmas and Easter. These are times when the church is packed to capacity,it is stifling hot from the press of bodies, and you have to arrive at least 40 minutes early to get a seat. Nothing says holiday cheer like having the children plow through their capacity for being good before the mass even begins!

The worst mass I can ever remember was the year before last, Christmas eve. We did not dare take the children to true midnight mass, so we went to the 5pm children's mass. Not our best hour, generally, but off to church we went with the joy of Christmas in our hearts. We thought we would sit in the front so that the children would be able to see what was going on and thereby be less restless. A large mistake, in retrospect. Turns out, when you are in the front, the whole church behind you becomes a witness to your children's inability to behave.

To make a long story a bit shorter, I was nearly in tears by the time we stood to receive the Eucharist. Holding my 1 year old, I ushered my 3 year old son Sam in front of me. My husband had inadvertantly dressed Sam for church in our 6 year old's clothes. As we ran out the door for church, I took note but did not attempt to correct this. They looked fine, albeit a little big. As we approached the Eucharist, Sam had his little arms crossed over his chest firmly, as he had been taught. Right before he reached the front of the church, his pants slipped off his hips and pooled decisively at his ankles. He was in front of the whole church, and Christ Himself in his underwear. And did Sam pull up his pants and right this situation? NO! He kept his arms crossed and, without missing a beat, waddled all the way to the side aisle and back to his seat with his pants around his ankles. Since I had the baby in my arms and was in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I was powerless to stop this horror scene from playing out in front of me. Something in me snapped and by the time I reached me seat I began to laugh. I laughed until I was crying. My husband and I were both kneeling with our faces down, shaking with laughter. Because what else could we do? There was nothing else. We were broken.

Can anyone really blame us for availing ourselves of the daycare thoughfully provided by our parish? I hope not.

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