If the Church is not Crying…
Rewind your imagination to a pre-pandemic Sunday morning Mass at Ascension. Feel the bustle of bodies squishing into the already-full pews. See a mother straighten her daughter’s hair bow, a father remind his son to genuflect, or a grandmother remove her grandchild from an elbow-deep plunge into the baptismal font. Hear the babble of a baby next to you in the pew, the repeated thump of the kneeler that a toddler will not leave alone, or even the piercing scream of a little girl as her father rushes her out of church mid-homily.
Perhaps our pre-pandemic attitude toward children in our parish was not always appreciative; perhaps in the austerity of our post-pandemic Sunday Masses, we might reflect on the fullness of life that young children bring to our community.
If you are not a parent of a young child, try to imagine yourself in the role of a pandemic-parent. The church nursery and cry room are closed for the foreseeable future. The doors to the gathering area and even the exterior doors of the church are left open (meaning that there is no place to make a quick escape if your toddler drops a kneeler on her foot and starts screaming). Your son is confused by masked faces, repeatedly removes his own mask, and pulls at yours at every opportunity. Your daughter plays with the protective sheet on the pew in front of you and it falls to the floor. You have explained social distancing to your 4-year-old too many times to count, but he hugs everyone he sees. The pandemic poses challenges to all of us, but the challenges faced by parents of young children are substantial.
Let the children come to me
In light of these many challenges, it makes sense why many families have not returned to Mass inside our church . For families who have carefully and prayerfully discerned to wait to return to indoor Mass, this article is not intended to challenge your decision. However, the witness of young families who have returned to indoor Mass, even despite profound challenges, should be encouraging to our entire community. “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt. 19:14).
Most of us are familiar with the idea that parents should be the primary teachers of faith to their children (CCC 2223). This role underscores the importance of families participating in Mass together. However, we sometimes minimize the role of children when we limit families to a linear relationship. “Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents” (CCC 2227). As a parish, we are all called to help educate children in faith, but we are also called to grow in holiness through welcoming and accommodating children in our community.
Help and Defend
The role of helping and defending families is entrusted to our entire Church (CCC 2209). If you are an Ascension parishioner, then it is your job (in part) to help, defend, and encourage families in our parish. Here are four small ways that you can help make our church a welcoming place for families with children: exercise the 4 P’s through pause, prayer, positivity, and praise.
- Pause: take a moment to pause and reflect on your own presuppositions about parenting and family life. True, you may have parented your own children differently than the current generation parents. You may never have let your child scream in the gathering area or eat cereal during Mass. On a societal level, parenting norms have shifted with each generation. Regardless of your parenting ideology, take a moment to pause, value people over ideology and exercise charity toward the families that surround you.
- Prayer: pray for young families that you encounter at Mass — particularly the ones that you might feel tempted to judge or disregard.
- Positivity: show positivity through gracious body language — smile (with your eyes!), wink, or show a simple gesture of welcome. Give “good vibes” to families and struggling parents.
- Praise: give praise to families and children who are struggling, “Wow, Momma — you are working hard! Thank you for bringing your children to Mass today.” Or, if appropriate, say something kind to a child directly, “You were so well behaved at Mass today! You must be a big help to your Daddy when he is taking care of your baby sister.” Even if your praise is a bit of a stretch (i.e. not 100% accurate), it will help encourage the child toward more reverent behavior during future Masses. One encouraging sentence from a kind stranger can make a huge difference!
“The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents” (CCC 2226).