Ask Not What You Can Get Out of Mass, But Whether Due Worship is Given to God

One of the problems with contemporary Christianity is that too often Christians focus on what they “get out of Church.” I am thinking specifically of the plight parents find themselves in when their sweet newborn grows out of sleeping at Mass and becomes the loud and active baby. Their experience of Mass changes from one of focused prayer with very involved participation to distracted prayer and focus on keeping a child quiet in church. And while negative comments to parents about their children are rare, those are the comments that stick in parents’ minds, much more so than positive comments and encouraging smiles.

One cranky fellow parishioner can take away a parent’s comfort with bringing their little baptized Christian to Sunday Mass. So the parents start going to separate Masses or take the baby to the back, fearing that their child is disrupting the personal prayer of those around them. It seems to the parent that as long as they bring little ones to church they will not be able to pray. This is not the case. They just need to learn to pray differently and realize that Mass is not about personal prayer but it is a place of public prayer.

Here is the thing: the liturgy is about the Body of Christ as a whole giving due worship to God. It is about the Sacrifice of the Mass being made, which requires only that the priest make the actions of the liturgy in a fitting manner and that the baptized members of the parish be present. It does not matter for the due worship of God whether that I am pacing in back with a child or parenting my 21 month old into quietness in the pew. My inability to focus and my not “getting anything out of Mass” is not taking away from the due worship of God. But my child not being there, my child being sent to children’s church or a nursery, takes away from the fullness of the Body of Christ being present at our obligatory Sunday liturgy. Children as baptized members of the community should be at the Mass, as Canon 1247 states, not excluding people by age, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.”

Tuesday Night Mass by Ben SmidtPhoto by Ben Smidt. In the Creative Commons.

I discovered as a young parent that while personal private focus on the liturgy is important and good, it is not the purpose of the liturgy. The liturgy is the public worship of God, and while private consolations at Mass are a good thing, that is not the purpose of Mass. The Mass will go on. Personal, private worship of God is just that: something we can do personally and privately outside of the context of the liturgy. My husband and I have found that when we are able to set aside time for private prayer when our children are asleep and when we take time to go to a chapel alone, we have a deeper more personal relationship with God than when we worry about “getting something out of Mass” in addition to teaching them how to behave.

And as for everyone else, who is not the parent of the active and loud or fussy child, please be patient with families. For all Christians, the liturgy is not primarily meant for private prayer, but for all baptized Christians to pray together (even the non-baptized who are present worship God at the liturgy). It is an awful thing for Christians to criticize parents who have loud children. None of us know what it is like to parent each individual child; all people are different. We do not know if a child is teething and impossible to soothe or a child has allergies or any of those things, but we do know that children are meant to be in Church just as much as adults should be. Children are our hope for the future, and we should welcome them, with their non-adult behavior and all.  Since the liturgy is a place of public worship, all attending need to remember this and not be upset if they lose their personal focus on prayer. If we need quiet for prayer, then we should take time to pray in in addition to our attendance at Mass.

I am not advocating that children run wild in Church, I am trying to explain that the distractedness that even disciplined children cause it Church is okay, because they do not take away from the due worship given to God. I try my best to keep my children from distracting others, ask other parents to do the same, and ask the whole community to be welcoming of children and encouraging to parents. And cry rooms, nurseries, and children’s church (during the Liturgy) do not make children and parents feel welcome. When someone tells a parent pacing in back where the cry room is or to take their child behind the glass window in the back of Church, a parent feel ashamed to have children there and feels exiled from the body of the church.

If everyone were to realize that it is not about what one personally gets out of Mass, but giving due worship to God, then everyone would not feel like they need to create a space to for parents and children but would welcome them into the main body of the church. And parents can learn how to focus on the public worship in the liturgy, modeling it to their children, and stop fretting about what they “get out of Mass” and think more about what they bring to God.