15 Tips on Surviving Mass With Young Children

Surviving Mass With Young Children_

I have been sitting in mass with small children since I became Catholic in 1994. There were times when it was more difficult and times when it was less difficult, but it is always an exhausting experience. Rewarding at times, but still a workout.

Many times people have come up to me and told me that I am “just lucky” that my kids behave so well in mass. That is not true. I work really, really hard to teach them how to behave from the time they are babies. I do admit that one of my children was amazingly good in mass, she was just a naturally compliant child with a long attention span. When people would try to compare their children to her, I would tell them that this is not what normal children do, and not to compare their child to her. A compliant child has their own set of problems, it’s just that sitting in mass is not one of them.

My husband is a cantor at our parish, and has been in the choir since I met him in high school. He generally sings two to four masses a Sunday. While one of our options is for him to accompany me and the kids to a mass when he is not singing, it has been easier on our schedule to attend a mass when he is singing and for me to sit with the kids. He can always come help me in an emergency.

Some families choose to split up the task and have one parent stay home with the little ones while the other one attends and then switch. I know some kids who were brought up in families who did that, and they turned out just fine. This is a good option, just not the one we chose in our family. Some families attend a parish with a nursery and use it often. That is also a great option. Some families make use of a cry room and that works well for them. This article is not saying those things shouldn’t be done, it is just about how to deal with having small ones with you in mass.

Some of these suggestions are practical advice, and some are more motivational. With all parenting advice, take what works for you and toss the rest.

1. We are not teaching them to sit still and be quiet in mass, we are teaching them to worship God. If you don’t read anything else in this article, I hope you will remember this one. Sometimes it feels like mass is a behavioral training ground for our children – and it does help with that – but that is not really what it is all about. Mass is a soul training ground.

2. Don’t make more of a spectacle than the kids do. They will wiggle. They will drop things. They will whisper. They will find things to do that you never even imagined. There is a certain level of activity and noise that has to be acceptable for children to produce in mass. It’s like leaves rustling in the trees. But parents, it is also easy for us to make a big deal out of small things to the point that we are drawing more attention to what is going on in our pew than the children would by their childishness. Before you respond to a behavior, ask yourself, Can this wait? Can I deal with this as a teaching moment after mass? Will my interfering draw a lot more attention than just letting it go?

3. Stop misbehavior at the step right before it happens. If you don’t want your child to crawl away under the pews, don’t let them sit on the floor. If you don’t want them to run down the aisle, don’t let them get to the edge of the pew. If you don’t want them to try to play with the kids behind them during mass, don’t allow it to happen before mass starts. You can explain that they can visit the child after mass. If you don’t want to have to leave to go to the bathroom during mass, get there early enough to take everyone to the bathroom before mass and warn them that they will not have another chance until mass is over. (This, of course, does not apply to children who have a messy diaper in mass or to potty training toddlers, who need to be taken to the bathroom at every possible inopportune moment.) This method doesn’t work for everything, but it helps to start thinking one step ahead. Once a child is around two, you can begin to explain what your expectations are for mass. They may not get it right away, but the reminder helps all of the family to focus. I find myself still telling my nine year old what I expect of him in mass. He just kind of “forgets” otherwise.

4. Sit up front but have an escape route. I find that people in my family, myself included, can sit better in mass when they can see what is happening. Your ability to do this may depend somewhat on the layout of your parish. I am lucky that our has doors near the front of the church, and to either side. Even though I sit up front – usually in the third of fourth pew – I can have a child out the door while they are still drawing in a breath for that ear piercing shriek after they have bumped their heads. (It happens.) We also always, always sit at the outside end of the pew. I don’t want to have to worry about plowing over people if we have a head injury or a major spit up to deal with. It just takes the pressure off.

5. If sitting up front stresses you out, sit in back. The kids will pick up on your stress and act it out. You might have to help them understand what is going on when they can’t see. Mass is mass, no matter what part of the church you are sitting in.

6. Keep the ones who are having the most trouble right next to you. Right now we sit in this order: 4 year old, me with 2 year old on my lap or on one side, 9 year old, 7 year old, then older kids. My 9 year old has a harder time behaving in mass than the 7 year old, so he has to be closer. Then I can easily reach out and touch his arm, which is usually enough to remind him of what he is supposed to be doing.

7. Make your corrections loving and praise them when they are doing well. A light touch on the arm works wonders if you have already reviewed your expectations. A whisper of “Psst.” and showing a child your folded hands can tell them what they need to be doing. Keep it light. Keep a gentle look on your face. Do not whisper-yell. They can tune that out as easily as a real yell. It also increases the commotion in your pew. On the other hand, give them a thumbs up when they are doing well, or a little hug and tell them you can see how hard they are trying to be good.

8. Breathe. It can get tense there in the trenches pews. Don’t forget to take nice, long, deep breaths.

9. On the subject of toys, books, and other distractions. Every family seems to have their own policy for this. I think the first general rule should be that if you throw it on the floor and it makes a big racket, it needs to stay home. I try to have some simple religious books for them to look at. After never being able to find a missal they could follow without my constant interference, I wrote two myself, one for toddlers and one for preschoolers/elementary students. A couple of the older kids have a MagnifiKid to help them follow the mass. I am a big fan of fidget toys. I think that they enable listening. I also allow my children to doodle on a small notepad for the same reason. I believe it opens their ears.

10. Little touches and whispers. When kneeling near a child, I will often hold them close and whisper simple prayers into their ear, or talk about some of the things in mass or the decoration of the church. With a child next to me or in my lap, I can trace the outlines and wrinkles on their hands. The effect of both of these is very calming and the hand massage is a special treat they look forward to.

11. It’s okay if they say, “I hate mass.” You are not failing miserably as a Catholic parent. You can’t make them like it. This is the time to spend some time (outside of mass) talking about Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for us, and that sometimes mass can be hard to sit through, but we do it because we love Him. Most especially point out that it will get easier for them. Let them know that they don’t have to like it, but that instead of saying “I hate mass.” they might say something like, “Mass is difficult.” or “I don’t feel like going to mass.” You can probably even identify with those feelings yourself sometimes.

12. Get there early. I know. I know how hard it is just to get everyone out the door. Try it, though, and see if it works for you. My children tend to need some time to settle into a space, to sort of change hats. We arrive and go to the bathroom and get a drink, so someone always has a water fountain wet spot in my family. Then we meander slowly back to our seats. We sit down and look around. The kids stand up and look around. They pick their spots (or I assign them) and arrange their worship aid, hymnal, or anything else they want at hand. Some parents think this just prolongs the time their child has to sit still, but I find the giving my kids a little elbow room to adjust enables them to sit still better.

13. If you have to take a child out, don’t make it a reward. There are still those times when the child just can’t make it through mass. Sometimes it is a fussy baby or toddler, sometimes it is a child who is just a little bit unglued that day or who had a little too much sugar in their breakfast. It happens. Our policy has been that if we have to leave, the child has to sit on our lap, on the floor next to one of us, or stand by a wall. There is no running around or talking to other people. Their behavior expectations remain the same, we just won’t be bothering other people when they are having a hard time with it.

14. Don’t expect to get a lot out of mass. You get the Eucharist. Read the readings ahead of time so that you are familiar with them when you catch little snippets of them or of the homily. Make arrangements to go another time for a peaceful mass. I know I don’t do this often enough, and I can always tell when it has been too long – when my patience with my little ones has stretched to the breaking point. A teacher of small children can’t expect to do a whole lot of learning while she is in the process of teaching her class, so why expect yourself to do that? I love the verse: Isaiah 40:11 “He will feed His flock like a shepherd, He will gather the lambs in His arms, He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” Take the pressure off of yourself to come away from mass “fed” by anything other than the miraculous grace of the Eucharist.

15. Yours is a Ministry of Presence. Your children see the importance you give to mass. Others see that you often struggle and you don’t give up. By your very presence in mass, you make a difference, one that is very important. Don’t ever forget that. On the days when I wish I could just go home and crawl under a table because my kids are being so embarrassing, I remember those little words, told to me by a friend years ago: Ministry of Presence.

First published on 9/18/14 at CatholicStand.com

Just Show Up



This is hardly the most controversial topic of our time, but I have heard complaints on both sides of the fence on it. Jeans in Mass: yes or no?

As a family, we have always had a sort of dress code for mass. The girls have to wear dresses or skirts of reasonable length. After first communion, no bared shoulders; sundresses need a sweater over them. Boys have to wear a collared shirt and nice pants or shorts. Then after third grade, no shorts.

Everyone is supposed to wear dress shoes and appropriate socks, girls can wear nice sandals, but there are times when crocs were the only shoes available so we had to go with those. I try to follow the dress code as much as possible myself, although I am more likely to wear dress pants simply because they are safer for toddler wrangling.

Some other families I know have a much more relaxed idea about what to wear to mass, and some are much more stringent. My friends and I have discussed what we wear to mass and why, and I have always found it interesting to hear the reasons people have for their ideas on clothing that is appropriate for mass.

I chose our dress code because I felt that was helpful in setting the mass aside as something special and different, but I have also often found it burdensome at times. I have heard people argue for more casual clothing in mass, saying that we should be able to “Just Show Up” and not worry about the extra stress of a particular set of clothing.

There have been times, especially recently, when I felt like getting dressed up for mass was more than I could handle, but I felt guilty arriving just as I was at the time. Once my focus shifted from why I was going to mass to what we were all wearing there, I knew it was time to reexamine my theories on our attire.

First and foremost, the mass is about connecting with and receiving Jesus. No matter what I wear, I need to remember that and teach my children as well. But there are other things to consider:

1. Getting dressed for mass changes my behavior and mindset. (and it shouldn’t be changing into a state of rage that the shoes are lost…) The body reflects and influences the mind and heart.

2. It sets the mass aside from cleaning house and chasing kids and <insert whatever else you do here>. This feels different and it takes effort to be different.

3. It can be an expression of respect. If I were going to meet a very important person face to face, I would probably change out of my grungy t-shirt, jeans, and tennies. Doesn’t Jesus deserve at least that?

However, I have found lately, in a time of stress, that I needed to let some of those ideals go. I needed to just show up and let my presence at mass be the expression of my love. We moved, fixed up a house, and had a bunch of kids start school all in the space of a month, and mini-crises were flinging themselves at me at every turn. I hit a point when showing up was all I could do. So I released my ideals and went to mass in jeans.

What we wear to mass is only part of the story. Just showing up is fine at times, I think. It is a little like spiritual camping. We take things down to their very basic level and do what we can to live our relationship with Jesus from there.

But we can’t stay there. Just showing up should be a temporary state. Camping might be nice, but we can get a whole lot more done – in both work and enjoyment – in our usual elements.

Whether or not I choose to wear jeans to mass, there has to be some step beyond just showing up. That will mean different things for different people. Studying the readings, spending some time praying before the Blessed Sacrament, getting involved in a ministry, and introducing yourself to someone in the community are all ways to do more than just show up.

For me, during this stressful time, I knew I needed to focus on the readings a little more than usual and pray with them. I needed to quiet my spirit, and taking my focus off my clothes helped with that.

If you find that time after time, showing up is the most you can do at mass, keep coming! Keep showing up! You are still a needed an vital part of the Church. But don’t be afraid to reach out, to find help to move beyond that.

Jesus accepted and rejoiced when the widow gave her penny, it was all she could do at the time. But he asked the rich man for much more. What is He asking of you now? Is it all the effort you can give to get to mass? Or is He asking you to stretch yourself and go beyond  your usual experience of your faith? Ask those questions often, and He will show you how to grow.

You have to start somewhere, though, so by all means, just show up!

But don’t only show up.

Originally posted on Catholic Stand 8.21.2014

I Forgot Myself


It seemed like a normal Sunday morning except I got up a little later than usual. I slept badly last night because I have a toothache, so my husband let me sleep in. When I woke up at 7:20am I pondered sleeping a little later but then decided that going to Mass this morning would be decidedly easier than in the late afternoon.

So I got up and got in the shower. I washed, dressed, moisturized my face, and then realized my hair was having a bad day of its own. I put it up in a bun. Done. Then I went to fuss with the kids. Jay had fed most of them breakfast already but then he had to leave early for choir. I sent the kids scurrying this way and that to get dressed and find shoes while I sat down for a peaceful cup of coffee.

Next I herded the girls into the bathroom to do their hair. Then I sent them in search of shoes. Again. I brushed my teeth. After one minor shoe related melt-down, we were off to church, only a few minutes past our usual extra early time. And I thought, That wasn’t so bad! I wished I had more time to sit with my thoughts in the morning like I usually do (I’m a slow starter.) but I could make time for that later in the day.

We arrived at church and I took everyone to the bathroom, washed their hands, and let everyone push the button on the hand dryer. That is always super important. Then we made our way to our seats and tried to settle in as best we could. The kids were a little extra squirrelly today, but nothing out of control. They were still enough for me to read the readings and listen to the homily, which is better than I expected.

The second reading today was a frustrating one for me. It was Romans 8:9, 11-13 and it talked about living in the Spirit and not the flesh. I pondered my weak willpower and how I would love to be able to step beyond the urgings of the flesh. Then maybe I could lose some weight. So spiritual, right? It did make me think a lot about how to set those desires aside and do the right thing instead of the easy thing, and how I needed to work on dying to self;  I always seem to come back to that theme. I thought again about my weak and broken will, and wondered about how to get the help I need, moment by moment, from Jesus. But that is another post for another day.

Mass continued, we went up and some of us received the Eucharist. This will help, I thought. But then I still found myself looking at the people who walked by while I was kneeling and supposed to be praying. I looked at their faces, their clothes, their toe-nail polish. Time to refocus. Unconsciously I brought my hands up to physically close my eyes. I was startled by what I found there.

I was not wearing makeup.

There I was, at Mass (the TV Mass, no less!), supposedly dressed up, and I had completely forgotten to put makeup on. How did this happen? I had been in front of the mirror several times that morning: brushing my teeth, doing the girls’ hair, helping the kids wash their hands… How had I not noticed?

I remembered that in the car before church I thought about putting on some lipstick, but when I reached in my purse I grabbed the tylenol instead (toothache!) and didn’t fuss with finding some lip gloss.

Part of me realized that maybe this was a good thing, that during the course of the morning I had set myself aside so well that I didn’t even feel deprived. My emotional response to this was not what I expected it would be. I felt alarmed and embarrassed. I wanted to dart out of the church right away, but Mass was nearly over so that wouldn’t help. Is my mind slipping? Is that how I forgot? No, I don’t think so. I took care of all the important things, my body was clean, my clothes were nice, my teeth were brushed, my hair was done, my vitamins were taken.

It not like I never go in public without makeup. I pick up the kids from school or run to the store without makeup sometimes. I wear makeup less often in the summer because I’m usually just a few hours away from a dip in the pool. It’s just… I was supposed to be dressed up for Mass. I was supposed to look pulled together. Without makeup on I tend to look tired and faded, not pulled together and ready for anything. When I am wearing makeup people say things like, “You don’t look like you have nine children!” Without makeup, I guess I look like I do, in fact, have nine children.

I felt humbled.

I didn’t think humble was supposed to be so uncomfortable. But I guess the truly humble part of my morning was over once I realized that I had left my self image behind for a little while. My Self came rushing back upon me, chastising me for imperfection. I confess that I didn’t stay around to chat after Mass like I usually would. I had had enough humility for one day.

I am sharing this not to say that wearing makeup is vain or to congratulate myself on a few moments of setting my self aside. I still love makeup and I enjoy that it makes me feel more confident. I am sharing this because for one moment my eyes left my Self and I didn’t even try to do it. I tasted the tiniest sip of not being “of the flesh,” the very thing I had been fussing about not being able to do. It was not of my own doing and I would not have chosen it, but I was gifted with this moment anyway.

Sometimes we are given the gift of stumbling into grace to remind us that it is not by our own will that we are changed to be who He made us to be.

Brothers and sisters:
You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Rom 8:9)


Children’s Mass Books

There are a lot or Children’s Missals available, but I haven’t found one that was simple enough for my kids to follow without feeling like they were bogged down by a lot of reading. They would open a book and see a ton of text and decide they would just get through Mass by asking me every five minutes if we were almost done.

Out of frustration from not finding the kind of book I wanted for my children, I decided to try to put one together myself. I made these a couple years ago and have been road testing them ever since. I have worked out a few kinks, and I think I’ve caught all the typos. Over the course of those years I have had several people ask me, beg me, to publish this so they could have one. Finally I am ready to offer these to you.

The first one is “My Mass Book” and is for kids about 4-9 years old. This helped me to deal with the constant question, “Is Mass almost done?” by being able to show, with pictures and some very basic text exactly where we are in Mass and what is left before we are done. My 9 year old recently moved on to using a MagnifiKid magazine instead of this, when his reading skills were quick enough to follow the actual readings.

Then there is “My Very Little Mass Book” which is for pre-readers. It has fewer pages and bigger pictures, but still takes the child through the parts of the Mass one at a time. I offer you two options for getting one of these books into your child’s hands.

First, you can download the PDF and put it together yourself. It is formatted to be half sheets, so set your Adobe Acrobat to print two pages per sheet. If you truly love it, and have good use for it, please donate a few dollars for my time making this. If that is not possible, I still hope this Mass Book blesses your family.

The second option is for me to put it together for you. I will print it out on card stock, laminate it, and have it comb or spiral bound. This option is $15 per book with free shipping. I realize that sounds like a lot, but it is a time consuming process and your book will be very sturdy. Ours have held up to multiple hands holding them per Mass, being stepped on in the car, and even written on/wiped off and they are still going strong.

Click on the titles below to see or download the PDF files.
Donation for file access.
My Mass Book – For children age 4-9, text and pictures walking them through the parts of Mass.
My Very Little Mass Book – For toddlers and preschoolers, mostly pictures walking them through the parts of Mass.
 Or purchase the books fully made, laminated, and comb bound in my Etsy Shop, Tools of Grace, for $10 each.

Printing Instructions:

1. Download the file you will be using (above), open in Adobe Acrobat.

2. Set Adobe Acrobat to “Multiple Pages” and set to 2 pages per sheet.

  • Go to “File”, select “Print:
  • Under “Page Sizing and Handling” select “Multiple”
  • By “Pages per Sheet” select 2
  • By “Page Order” select Horizontal

3. Make sure your printer settings are on “Best” quality.

4. Print the file out – I usually print it on cardstock.

5. Cut the pages and line them up in order, laminate them together. For “My Very Little Mass Book” I put an extra half sheet of cardstock in between the front and back pages to make it more sturdy.

6. Trim the binding edge of each page as close as you can to the paper.

7. Take it to a place like Staples or Office Max and have it comb or spiral bound, or use heavy duty staples or stitches to bind the edge.

Feet: A Holy Week Post

Originally posted 5/24/11


Little feet have brought me closer to God in many ways, chasing them around gives me patience and reminds me of the joy to be found even on the most stressful of days.  There are a couple ways though, that snuck up on me, and I thought I would share those with you.

Holy Week always finds me stressed and overwhelmed.  While I would like to participate in the many wonders and liturgies, having several very small children (and a husband in the choir) makes it nearly impossible to do without teaching my children by accident that Holy Week is more about getting yelled at than about appreciating the sacrifice of Jesus.  So we choose carefully which liturgies to attend.


Good Friday of 2010 found me at my wits end, as usual.  We had attended the live Stations of the Cross with the kids, and had intended to take them to the Good Friday liturgy as well.  But I felt like the small children needed a break and so did I.  It would have been a disaster in the making to try another long event in the same day.  So we stayed home.  At least our parish had their liturgy on television, so I was able to watch, holding my peacefully sleeping baby on the couch, while the other little ones played legos in the other room.

As the parishioners filed up, one by one, to venerate the cross and kiss the feet of Jesus, I looked down at the chubby little feet, so relaxed in my lap.  And I realized…  Mary must have kissed the feet of Jesus countless times.  She nibbled on his cute little toes as she cared for him.  And then she saw those feet lifted up before her on the cross.  She knew, she saw the physical effects of His sacrifice.  The body she had held so close was hurting.  I am sure that no one understands the veneration of the Cross like she does.


This year we were able to make it to Holy Thursday Mass.  I even came prepared with battery operated candles for the little ones to carry during the procession afterward.  (Although I also discovered just how far those battery operated candles can roll when dropped/thrown.  Next year I need to find square battery operated candles.)  I have to confess that I am a horrible listener in Mass, and only partly because of my kids.  I am just a distracted kind of person, so I always catch snippets here and there.  The part of the gospel that echoed out to me sitting in this particular wiggly, whiny pew was:

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (Jn 13:14-15)

And I tell you, I sat bolt upright and realized… I do this!

On a week when I had been feeling like there was no time for prayer and my going to mass was overwhelming, I was so relieved to realize that every day I do something that Jesus specifically asked us to do.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t find myself down on my knees washing little feet at some point in the day.  (And I had to stop writing this post twice to wipe a little behind as well, that has to count for something.)

Jesus asked us to serve one another, and to meet each other at our grossest and help to clean each other up.  That sums up my job pretty well, I think.  Maybe I am learning something out of these trips around Jericho.



There is some rule of parenting that says shoes will always be either lost or outgrown over a Saturday night.

No matter how many shoes are accounted for on Saturday evening, at least one child has a shoe meltdown (and therefore so do I) on Sunday morning.

This little princess:


has a super special talent for losing shoes. And recently one of her crocs made it into the dryer – where it shrank, and her church shoes were outgrown, and her NEW sandals somehow ceased to exist. So all she had left was a pair of purple flip flops, which always seem to go flying right as we are walking through a blisteringly hot parking lot, and the NEW white tennis shoes for her school uniform that she is not yet allowed to touch. (White?!? Who thought that was a good idea?)

Others had out grown or lost theirs as well, so we made the trek across town today to go to the outlet mall because I knew this was a bank breaker.


Stopping for a quick picture because: ELEPHANT!!!

Sure enough: 4 pairs of shoes at Stride Rite, 2 pair at Children’s Place, and 1 at Old Navy. Not counting the 2 more pair that were selected last weekend for Big Sister to purchase with a discount at her work.

9 new pair of shoes.


And that is not even for the whole crew, that is for 4 simultaneously growing children.

Tomorrow, I will go though all the shoes I can find anywhere and get rid of the ones that don’t fit, are worn out, shrunk, or missing a mate. I will remind them again that there ARE PLACES TO PUT THESE THINGS! Multiple, convenient places are available for them to put shoes in.

And next Sunday, when we go hunting for shoes, at least the ones we can’t find will be ones that fit.



Antiphons and Music in Mass


This is a difficult post to write. I have felt the pull to write it for quite a while, but I’ve been hoping that someone else would say these things so I wouldn’t have to. I wish to make clear at the get-go here that I support the Catholic Church, my priest, and bishop in their ministry, I trust in their knowledge and guidance, and I am doing my best to adapt to the changes. My purpose here is not to revolt against the new translation of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal and the implementation of sung Propers. However, the changes are difficult for many people, myself included. My purpose is to discuss the feelings and difficulties of some of those in the congregation.

Over the last couple years our parish has begun a series of changes in the music. They began slowly, eliminating drums and eventually guitars as well. People grumbled about it, some left the parish, but overall the people moved on and kept singing.

The next step seemed to be a combination of weeding out some of the cheesier (but well loved) songs and introducing more hymns. The hymns were changed out very quickly to correspond with the Sunday readings and liturgical seasons, so it was difficult to learn the new songs, even though the words were beautiful.  The responsorial psalms were changed as well, from songs of the psalms that could be sung even apart from a responsorial to a sung psalm and response usually in the Gelineau format. (Sample of Gelineau Psalm 23) The organ was used more and the pace of the music slowed. People grumbled, some more left the parish, and again the uproar died down.

Then came the Antiphons.

Oh Antiphons, the trouble you’ve caused.

As of Advent 2011 the new translation of the GIRM took effect, specifying, or rather, clarifying, what music could and should be used in Mass, and bringing back the Propers of the Mass. The Propers are five chants that are proper, or specific, to each Mass, varying by date.

And here’s where this post may indulge in a little bit of criticism. With the introductions of the Propers /Antiphons: entrance, responsorial, offertory, and communion, our parish dropped nearly all the rest of the music, except maybe one hymn, and possibly one choral piece sung only by the choir.

Our priest had done a bit to prepare the people for the change. He spent all of Advent teaching on the music of the church and the place it holds in mass, he encouraged us to go back and read Bishop Olmsted’s four part series on music in liturgy. Singing the Mass: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4. Father tried his best to tell us what it was about and why the changes were happening. He explained to us that there are four hierarchical options for music in the mass. Hierarchical meaning that the first one was ideal, and the 4th one was somehow resorting to a last ditch effort. So our parish has gone full steam ahead for #1, and a lot of people left the parish feeling abandoned and broken. That should tell us right there that this subject is very, very important.

It is important in two ways. First, the church understands that music is an important part of the human experience. Music has the capability to move beyond our rational minds and impact our very soul – for good or for bad. Second, because of this we have adopted the songs we have known as a spiritual language; a step towards knowing what prayer is.

In reading some different articles and posts around the internet, there seems to be an open disdain among music ministers for people who are dragging their feet about the changing of music. There is not any empathy towards the people’s attachment to what they have known or why it might be important to them. There is an underlying current of thought that says the people who don’t like the Antiphons or other changes in music are just not trying hard enough, and if they had any faith or taste then they would understand and love this.

What was my part in this? I’m just a mom, a pew sitter. But I had a bit of an inside view of what was happening because my husband is a cantor and deeply involved in the choir. So I had a very early look at what was coming and had been able to prepare myself as best I could. Still it has been difficult.

Why would a simple change in music be so difficult?

The songs we sing are a part of us. These songs that we had sung in mass from our early years had become, in a sense, our language of prayer. For many, these songs had been our first experience with what prayer is. Suddenly, it seemed, they had been yanked away, and I know people who actually floundered in their faith because of it. Since these praise and worship songs feel like a part of us, and they are no longer allowed at mass, it is natural to feel that the spirituality we had experienced in the past, that even our relationship with God was inferior or superficial. The antiphons and new-to-us hymns were difficult to sing. They were not in the musical form we were used to listening to and singing with. The meter was different, the tunes were unpredictable. And because they were different every week, they were impossible to learn.

Being close to the music ministry (but not in it) meant that I got an earful every place I went. Every conversation I had with people who were in any way connected to our parish was either filled with complaints or anger about the changes. Some wanted me to tell them what was happening and why, but mostly people just wanted to vent. One friend said, “I appreciate the musical abilities of the choir and music director, but I feel ostracized for my lack of abilities.” I had close friends who left the parish at this time, devastated that the mass no longer felt like they remembered.

For my part, I felt the pain of it too. I tried to focus on the positive and the inevitability of change. But for a while mass just wasn’t a happy time for me. It was work, not joy. I was frustrated for my children – that the songs in mass wouldn’t be ones they could sing in a time of fear at night or while going about their day. These antiphons weren’t songs that you could carry with you in your heart, and that made me so sad. It was hard to see my friends who were also doing their best to, if not embrace, at least tolerate the changes. All of us were struggling; there was a heaviness to the whole experience.

But it was not all bad –

There is a point in the faith, when you have to take a step from what you want to do to what is right. A point where you experience the drudgery of pure obedience. Strangely, there is grace to be found there.

One friend commented that it has, “sharpened her sense of reverence and awe.”

I had been sad that my children would not have those songs to buoy them along their faith journey – that the antiphons were not how they would pray musically as they went through their day…

Until they did.

A school friend had given my five year old daughter a teeny tiny bible – really just a little booklet with some key verses in it. One day, I found her reading them, singing them, in the style of the antiphons. And I realized: this is what they know. This will be what they grow up with. This will not be as difficult for them, unless we, as their parents, make it so.

I’m still struggling with the changes. But here are some things I am trying to do to move forward and keep my faith strong in the midst of this.

1. Add more faith filled music elsewhere. It is my job to fill my children’s hearts and my heart with musical prayer. This can be done at many times during the week, it doesn’t have to stem from mass. I purchased some more music, listened to it in the car with the kids, listened to it on my own while working around the house. Those songs are still there, even if we are not singing them in mass.

2. Enrich my language of prayer. I have leaned on the music in mass as an easy part of my prayer; but now it is time to pray in other forms as well. Through rote prayers, through the words of the psalms, through quiet, through work. I miss praying those songs during mass, but that was only one way to communicate with God and feel Him deeply.

3. Focus on why I am at mass. Was my purpose at mass to hear the songs I liked? I confess that sometimes it was. There was a time when I would glance at the worship aid and if I didn’t see any songs I liked I would get a little chip on my shoulder. But really, what is the ONE reason that we go to mass? Jesus. And that, friends, will never change. When I feel like I don’t matter here, I remember that this is not about me.

4. Ignore the music. When the mass feels like a funeral for all the slowness and minor sounding keys, let it be a quiet mass to you. Read the antiphons, connect them with the other readings. Contemplate the words and pray silently. The irony of this, much like obedience, is that once I completely let go of the music in mass idea, the music was able to speak to me in a completely different way. But to get there I had to block it out and take some time to separate myself and my ideas of what liturgical music was.

5. Learn about the changes. Take time to read the links above – Bishop Olmsted’s 4 part series and Dramatic Changes in Music Rubrics for New Missal. There is much more out there to learn.

For those of us who are feeling like our kids are missing out, who are having trouble watching them wrestle with the changes as well, and who are even feeling tempted by the “fun programs” in the local protestant churches, I challenge you to read this: 10 Surprising Reasons Our Kids Leave Church, and work to remedy those in your own heart and family. (I certainly have a lot of work to do there!) I know this is a confusing time, and we are grieving a little, but this is not the time to abandon our faith in God or in the Church He gave us. Think of how confusing that would be to our children!

As usual, C.S. Lewis can see to the root of the problem with laser sharpness. This quote is long, but every word here is important.

There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, an erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him it must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, church music will have been a means of grace: not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.

But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in the their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste – there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves through them is not the Holy Ghost.

These highly general reflections will not, I fear, be of much practical use to any priest or organist in devising a working compromise for a particular church. The most they can hope to do is to suggest that the problem is never merely a musical one. Where both the choir and the congregation are spiritually on the right road no insurmountable difficulties will occur. Discrepancies of taste and capacity will, indeed, provide matter for mutual charity and humility.

-C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, “On Church Music”

What we, the people who are struggling, need from the Church is humility and gentleness. Know that if we are still there, in mass, participating in the community, we are trying. This is a difficult and emotional change for some of us. We are being asked to revise how we see ourselves as a part of the Church. It feels like we are losing a bit of ourselves, and losing a way that we were comfortable talking to God.

It is okay to take some time to adjust to this change. For those who are still struggling, I feel your pain. I’m not over it; I’m still wrestling with it as well. I’m praying for all of us.


Writing this has been a little ironic. Phones ringing, kids running back and forth, needing a drink of water, spilling water, peeing pants, give me a ride, Mom can I…, Mom he just…, {crash), {waahh}, or the worst – silence.

I have spent the spring trying to bring myself back to some normal level of bible study. I started in February with a 21 day study of women in the bible that I found on my kindle. If all goes as planned, I will finally finish it up this coming week. 21 day study… 4 months to finish it…

Anyway, one of the days was, of course, the story of Martha and Mary. Instead of skimming like I usually do with stories I know (why do I do that, I always still get something out of the story when I slow down… must be distraction), I slowed down and read it. Let’s read it now.

Luke 10:38-42 As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Wait, that’s not what I read… in my study I was reading an NIV version and the wording was just enough different to wake me up a little. In that v 40 says, ‘But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”’

Martha was distracted.

She was focused on all the preparations and lost track of who and what the preparations were for.

But for me, when the distractions pile up, how can I keep and kind of focus? I am Martha, resentful of Mary, burdened by all of the stuff to be done. Someone has to do it! When is there time for Martha to be with Jesus? It’s all very well to say that her work is her prayer, is her worship. But it still feels a little bit unfair.

So I jotted in my notebook: Focus on who I am doing the work for, not on the work itself.

Which is a nice idea in theory, putting it into practice is not as easy. I’m still distracted and little bit resentful. And so my days of pushing myself through this study continued until one day just this past week when I felt like my prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling. I thought, “I’m trying, Lord. Why aren’t I getting any closer to you through this?”

I took a deep breath. Prayer. Just what is prayer?

And I remembered the image of just lifting my heart to God. Maybe I am struggling too much over the words I am reading or in trying to find the right words to say here. What I need to do is just lift my heart to God.

Okay, so what is my heart?

The picture that came to mind here was the junk drawer in my kitchen. My heart is full of junk. If I picture lifting that messy box of stuff above my head… a box full of things I don’t even know what to do with anymore – broken bits of this and that, things I am not sure what their purpose is, not sure what is important to keep or what to toss, and so it’s all there, in the way, unusable…

These are my distractions.

If I lift the whole thing up over my head, I can ask God to pull out the useless garbage (worldly attachments), the broken items (bad thought processes and other sins), and put the rest in order. Because when I am looking down at this mess, I can’t look up to Him.

So I have to lift my heart / messy drawer to Him.

As is.

He can sort me out.

So back to Martha. “‘But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Martha made it possible for Mary to be there, for Jesus to sit and teach. Martha got stuff done. For me, maybe the distraction isn’t so much the exterior noise around me, but my interior reaction to it. By my resentment and jealousy I am creating a dust storm of distraction that can’t even be calmed down when I do have a quiet moment.

I remember another mom telling me that her mothering during mass was her prayer. “Mothering in the pew”. That simple idea changed mass going for me. It wasn’t about hearing the homily or readings anymore while hissing violently at my children to BE QUIET. It became about gently leading my children through the mass. (Not that it always works, but in general I am a little less stressed out by it.)

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any grand advice to give about the distractions our family and the world throw at us during prayer. In my state of life there is very little I can do to calm those down, they are ever present, and if they aren’t, then I need to be sleeping, it’s as simple as that.

But I think we can all work towards calming down the internal distractions. The clutter and noise that we produce ourselves or allow in to our minds and hearts can be identified and cleared out. Some of it we can do, but I think it will take some help from God to find it all and clear it all out.

Dear Jesus,
Please show me what is distracting me from the inside.  I give you full permission to weed out the junk I carry around with me.  Heal me of the hurts and show me how to help the process of healing. Take away my attachments to broken ideas and habits and show me how to guard myself against them.  Put my heart in order to I can meet you there in peace, without extra noise or distraction.  Help me to find the things that keep me from focusing on you.

And help me, Lord, to make my daily work its own prayer to you.  You created me and gave me my vocation.  Let it mold me into who you mean for me to be.


Mexico Mission Appeal

For the last several years my older kids have gone on mission trips to Mexico with their youth group and school. The trips are arranged and made under the guidance of Amor Ministries. These trips have been life changing for Paisley, James, and Posy, giving them real experience with helping people and a real understanding of the poverty that some people live in.

On one of these Mexico mission trips, the group travels to Mexico, sleeps in tents, and spends their days building one to two houses for local families. They eat and work next to the family and others in the community there, and they especially enjoy playing with the kids.

Here are some photos of Posy’s trip last year:

Framing the house
Posy's Mexico Pictures

Taking time with the kids – Posy likes to get the kids to teach them some Spanish.
Posy's Mexico Pictures

Filling in the walls
Posy's Mexico Pictures

The Family gets the keys to their new home
Posy's Mexico Pictures

Stocked with supplies
Posy's Mexico Pictures

This year, due to budget cuts in the church, the kids have to personally fund a larger part of their trip. For Posy, this means coming up with $350 (which covers car travel, food, and her part of the building supplies) before the time of her trip in mid-February.

We need your help. We will be holding a yard sale on the 22nd of January and could use your stuff to sell, or would love to have you stop by to shop.

Monetary donations are tax deductible and any amount will help. Checks can be sent to:
Ss Simon and Jude Catherdral
6351 N 27th Ave
Phoenix, AZ 85017

Please put Posy’s name on the memo line for the credit to go towards her Mexico Mission.

Finally, in her own words, here is the appeal that she wrote and was featured in our parish bulletin:

Last year I had the two of the most moving experiences in my life so far. These experiences were my first two Missions to Mexico with the Ss. Simon and Jude Youth Group. We built two houses in November (’09)and one in February (’10), for families in need, with Amor Ministries. I was nervous for my first mission last November, and I really did not know what to expect. But when I got there, even though the work was hard, I found it easy to work with a smile on my face, because I knew that I was using my own two hands to do the work of God. Then, on the next mission in February, as we were working on the house, the family from the November mission found us and came to say hello. The thing that I will never forget about this is that they still remembered my name. I wasn’t just the young high school girl that I am every other day of my life, who is not-so-good at math and decent at writing research papers. I was a girl who helped to change the life of a family; the life of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally I understand what it means to live out my faith and to show my faith through my actions. This year I am asking you to help my fellow teens and I as we go to Mexico once again. We all know that budgets are tight at the moment but every cent, every prayer, every donation is one that will be very appreciated.

Please consider supporting Posy for this mission! Thank you!

7 Quick Takes – Mass Behavior

This week I am going to focus on surviving mass with our little people.  Specifically those 5 and under.  Theoretically, those over 5 should only need gentle reminders to be good if you have been working with them through their lives to sit still and quiet during mass.  But some kids might take a bit longer…

People often tell me that I just got lucky and miraculously gave birth to quiet children.  This could not be further from the truth at all.  My children are natural musical and LOUD.  When people call my house they often ask me if there is a party going on.  No, it’s just normal life – and it tries to occur in mass as well.

So I work my butt off to teach my children how to behave in mass.  This means that any attention that I am able to pay in mass is an unexpected treat and that I normally use up any and all graces I would receive from attending mass before I ever leave it.

These tips and tricks will mostly fall into two categories: Closing the Crying Hole and Distraction.

1. Closing the Crying Hole Part 1: Drink
I breastfeed in mass.  Yes, I do.  I am discreet about it and you will probably see less of my breast than many of the women in the church on any given summer Sunday.  I figure it is far less distracting to anyone else than what my child would do if they were not currently nursing.  This offers the extra bonus of said child possibly falling asleep.  The other bonus is that, unlike sippy cups, it can’t be thrown on the floor (no matter how hard the child might try) and make a loud bang.  Some time after the age of 1 however, I try to transition to a sippy of water during mass.  And sometime between ages 2 and 3 I try to phase that out as well.

2. Closing the Crying Hole Part 2: Food
Another hotly debated topic – I decide this one on a case by case, kid by kid basis.  My current 2 year old couldn’t be trusted on any level to not throw things on the floor, so she doesn’t get anything.  In the past though, we have done small things like cheerios.  The trick is, mom hold the container and hands the child ONE AT A TIME.  We remove any trace of food from the church when we leave.

3. Distraction Part 1: Massage
With the child sitting in your lap or close beside you, hold their hand and trace around their fingers and the creases on their palms with feathery strokes.  My kids love this!

4. Distraction Part 2: Whispered Prayers
Whispering prayers into their ears or talking about parts of the mass or the church building are very helpful and even work to distract young babies… at least for a minute or two.  Although it can result in an exchange like this one:
Tessa (8) was doing her part to whisper to Lily and keep her quiet during the consecration. Tessa turned to Lily (2) and said, “That is Jesus’s blood.”  Lily said, “JESUS’S BUTT? That’s not Jesus’s butt!  It’s Jesus’s BLOOD!”

So whisper clearly.

5. Distraction Part 3: Drawing
Magna-doodle.  Enough said.

6. Distraction Part 4: Quiet Toys
Throw any toy that you might bring to mass with you on the floor.  Throw it on the table.  If it is any louder than a light tap, it stays home or in the car.  Although the above mentioned Magna-doodle breaks this rule, it is usually only used with kids who are old enough to know that throwing a toy is a Capital Offense.

7. Jumping Ship:
Sometimes you have tried everything and tried more as well and Kid is just not going to settle down.  If you have to make an exit, try not to make it rewarding to the child.  Leaving mass and letting Kid run around in the back of the church only teaches them how to get back there more often.  No, if kid has to be taken out, they get to sit in your lap, heavily restrained.  It’s no fun for anyone, most especially the parent.  But it is effective.

I’m not one to disregard kid noises, but a peep or a whisper or even a short lived cry are not reasons to leave.  There is going to be a low level of ruckuss in any pew with a family with small children.  For our family, it is only repeated misbehavior or a child who has bumped their head on the pew or something that gets us to make a run for it. (Hurt children do not get restrained, by the way.  I have to add this because one of my children manages to hurt themselves on a pew more often than one might expect.)

My kids aren’t perfect, but we seldom have to leave mass, and I have plenty of little old ladies who love to sit by my kids too.

All of this is only going to work if you are talking to your child early and often about what is expected from them, what mass is about.  And a little prayer to their guardian angel doesn’t hurt either.