Recently, I asked my sister what she thought of my not worrying about my oldest daughter going to Mass. My daughter is 7 and is in the First Communion program at our church. Joe and I had the idea that during the Sunday School year, we'd take advantage of only having one child with us while we attended Mass. The first week, we got them to Sunday School and then we all attended Mass at our regular time of 11 o'clock, but not until after almost an hour of craziness in between the end of school and the start of Mass, and a very horrific experience during Mass. The second week, we put them in school and went to Mass with just our youngest. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was probably not a good idea. My wise sister made the point that it's very important for my daughter to be going to Mass, especially at this critical time in her religious education. She should be able to experience the Mass first-hand (not just read about it), watch what is happening on the altar and really work toward understanding that Christ is indeed present in the holy Eucharist.
But before I really could admit that this was very important for her, specifically at this time, I had one major thought in my head. She doesn't even pay attention. As I wrestled with this thought pitted against the importance of her attendance, I really had a hard time. Which is why I asked my sister what she thought. And I have to admit, I already knew the answer; I think that's why I asked. I wanted a little extra motivation to beat that idea out of my head and give in to what I already knew was right. If I had someone other than God (my daughter's godmother no less) to be accountable to, it would make it a lot easier for me to do what was right. Funny how that works out, isn't it?
I also discussed it a little with my mom. She told me that she remembers that when she received her First Communion she was pretty indifferent to it. She didn't like going to Mass and she didn't really care all that much about Communion. She said it was the age and that the older she got, the more she understood and the happier she was to go. I think she's right. Most kids, especially those who are more prone to having a short attention span *cough* Angelina *cough* probably don't really care all that much about paying attention and really focusing on the importance of Communion and what it means to actually be receiving Christ's body and blood during Mass. This age is sort of a turning point for them; they are just on the cusp of delving into their Catholic Faith and really being able to grasp some of the most intimate and sacred details of such a faith. It's often difficult territory for them because they are also still only children and have a lot of tendencies which inhibit such a process.
I remember bursting into tears while I reamed out my children one day after Mass for their being so disrespectful during the service, particularly their (loudly) begging to go home. I sobbed through my tears, "Mass is a gift. Don't you understand that? Christ is not just present there because we all go there to worship. He's there in the Eucharist, in a very profound and significant way much more important than Him being here in this car or in our home... and it is a gift and blessing to be able to receive Him in that way; to receive the grace He bestows on us through our reception of Communion. You should want to go to Mass, not beg to go home because you're bored." My kids sat wide-eyed and staring as they took in my words and probably secretly wondered if their mommy had lost her marbles. But the truth is, they didn't get it. And I realize now that regardless of the first few sacraments they receive, they probably won't truly get it for a long time.
In general, we expect a certain level of reverence and quiet attitudes from our children while we are at Mass. If for no other reason than that it is respectful of other people's right to have such an atmosphere. But fidgety children make it often difficult to maintain this specific air, and those of them who are at the age of receiving one of their first sacraments are really no exception. Up until a few months ago we had been attending Mass as a family, sitting in the cry room. Our former head-priest, Father Waldron, used to affectionately refer to this room as Purgatory. For anyone who has ever had to subject themselves to such a room knows exactly why. It took great courage for us to remove ourselves from that room and decide to chance it in the main church in the pews with all the older folks who had teenagers or no young kids at all. The older people sort of scared us because we've heard stories of others who have been belittled by Granny sitting behind them clucking her tongue or making comments because she has forgotten what it was like to take young ones to Mass.
We have since learned, though, that for the most part people are accommodating. Or at least tolerant. Our kids aren't really very noisy except for the occasional bout of crankiness from the 2 and 4 year olds (like today). But they are "busy," and move around quite a bit. And they don't pay attention very well, which really is to be expected for their ages. This morning, Sunday school was canceled so we all went to Mass together at 11 o'clock. My 2 year old was pretty cranky over an issue with one of her siblings and she threw a rubber bracelet at the face of the 40-something lady sitting in the pew behind us. This lady was very gracious and retrieved the bracelet off the floor for my husband who apologized profusely as I quietly scolded our daughter. Should she know better? Probably. But 2 year olds have a little bit of a lack of self-control still and I was hard-pressed to remember this as my cheeks flushed red and I thought to myself "this is why I wanted to just go by myself."
Regardless of this morning's antics, and because of my determination to do what is right for Angelina, our plans for the Sunday School year are for me to go to Mass with her at 7:30 and have hubby take the kids to Sunday School and then attend the 9:00 Mass by himself. The times when Sunday School is canceled or not in session (summer), we'll go as a family and try to maintain a quiet reverent atmosphere, without stressing too terribly if we can't. The most important thing is to make sure our daughter is getting as much first-hand experience as she can to really be able to understand the things she is learning in her class- the things I so naively expected her and her younger siblings to just get as I tried to explain it through my tears all those weeks ago. As the others get older, they will go to Mass during the school year too, and we will start going as a family all the time again... eventually. I would love to be able to take them to Mass during the week as well.
I will say that today something was slightly different with Angelina as we attended Mass. She was actually paying attention. For the most part. She wanted to see what the priest was doing when he was preparing the gifts and she asked me what her hands are to be doing when we make the triple sign of the cross before the Gospel reading. She wanted to learn. She was trying to participate. It made me feel very hopeful, and I suspect that our early morning attendance at Mass together will be a wonderful learning experience....for both of us.