How important is it for parishioners and priests to welcome young families with small children to Mass each weekend?
It’s almost impossible to overstate how respectfully and lovingly the parish faith community should treat a young family that has made the effort to come to Mass with small children. Everyone in church – especially those who were young parents many, many years ago – should recognize that getting to Mass on Sunday with small children or infants takes enormous effort and dedication. Sometimes, because the parents can’t find their baby’s pacifier or have to go back inside their house because they forgot the diaper bag, they’ll walk into church a little late. That’s when we inside the church should really be helpful. Little things, such as moving to the middle of the pew to allow a young family to easily slide in, are a real gift to a harried mother and father. I’ve also seen cases where it’s the single mother or single father taking the children to Mass. That can be exhausting. The first thing everyone can do is welcome them with a smile and let them know you are glad they are in church.
What should happen if the children get a little too rambunctious?
Sometimes that’s going to happen, and usually the kids will pick the quietest time of the liturgy, like the consecration, to let loose. Obviously, if the baby can’t be consoled, it’s probably best that the parent takes the child to the back of church until the child can be soothed. I’ve heard it said that parents with young children often do better if they sit in the front pew during Mass. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but when small children are able to see what’s going on around the altar, the visual experience can truly keep their interest. It’s also easier for the mom or dad to whisper something in their child’s ear to tell them what the priest, deacon, reader or cantor is doing. And parents have told me that they love sacred music (the louder the better!) because their children get to experience the congregational singing and the piano or organ resonating around them. Let me say this: It’s almost impossible for a toddler to sit quietly for 45 to 50 minutes. As a faith community, we have to make this as easy as we can on the young family by not shooting a piercing gaze at the parents as if they flunked Parenting 101. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”
Are you amazed at the things young families have to go through just to get to Mass?
I really am. It reminds me of the story Jesus told when he saw the wealthy people in the temple coming forward to place their offerings into the treasury. And then he saw the widow coming forward and putting in her two small coins. These young families are giving all they can, and it is quite a testament to the faith. They are letting their children know how important it is to live our faith authentically as a gift to God. Sometimes the parents may not hear a word of the Gospel, but their gift of presence has been the ultimate gift both to God and to the faith community. They are an inspiration to us.
Do you think their children will realize what their parents have done for them?
They may never verbalize it, but when parents model their faith to their children and show by their decisions how important it is, the chance that these children will maintain their faith throughout their lives grows exponentially. So, the next time we see parents struggling with their kids in church, don’t think about the distraction and maybe offer to help. Say a prayer for that young family, say a prayer of thanksgiving for their faithfulness and offer a kind word or a smile. And move to the middle of the pew! It will give them encouragement and lift them up in their sacrifice.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to email@example.com.