Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do babies belong in Mass?

It was only a few short months ago that my baby girl would sleep peacefully in my arms during Mass, the background noise comprised of sung Alleluias and dutiful Amens keeping her in a blissful state of sweet sleep. My arms ached after Mass from holding that 13 lb baby for an hour straight. My goodness, it's hard having a baby in Mass, I thought.

Let's fast forward to present day, shall we?

Evie is 9 months + 7 lbs heavier with more baby man power than thought possible. Instead of lulling her to sleep, the choir's song beckons her to sing along. Which she does- with one loud, continuous note that she carries on a full minute after the song is over. I manage to keep her quiet during the Gospel, although I'm not sure it counts since she is crawling up my shoulder while holding onto my face with her baby talons. When I hold her tighter, she flings her body backwards into a stiff arch while simultaneously trying to wriggle down to the floor.

My husband and I try and use the "crying room" as a training tool and take her only when she's really loud and stay until she settles down enough to join everyone in the main church. This tactic backfires when there's a family in there who uses the crying room as a playroom; Evie seems to gain energy from watching the little boy who is crashing his trucks into one another and running around the tiny room.

A few weeks ago she threw a board book that tumbled down the pew and smacked the man kneeling in front of us in the derriere. We gave her some laminated holy cards to hold and she tossed them like boomerangs at the faces of the people behind us. Our pastor has made reference to the newest choir member who shouldn't sing during his homilies.

I initially was inclined to feel frustrated or embarrassed. I know some people think babies don't belong in the congregation and I know I feel strongly the opposite. I know Christ says, Let the little children come to me.  What could I give Evie during Mass that could help her participate in her own way (without that object becoming a projectile)?

One day, Evie and I were banished to the vestibule after she tried to sing her version of "Amazing Grace" during the homily. I brought her over to the stained glass and told her about the colors. As she ran her chubby little hands over the brightly colored glass, suddenly the answer struck me. How do baby's learn? Through the senses.

The design of a church, the format of the Mass and the gestures we make during are not arbitrary. The body affects the mind (and vice-versa). Most people don't have perfect concentration during Mass. It's not an accident that the whole Mass is a sensory learning experience. The stained glass, statues, holy water, incense, ringing bells, singing genuflection, sign of the cross. Visual. Tactile. Auditory. Kinesthetic. Everything draws you back to Christ, to the purpose of being there.

Now when Evie needs a little break from the rest of the congregation, we walk around the back of the church. I let her dip her fingers in the cool holy water and teach her how to bless herself and then to give me a blessing.I've always been a shy singer who stared dumbly into space during the half of the Mass that is sung. I now open my hymnal and participate in my own off- key way while Evie strokes the pages and smiles sweetly at her singing Mama.

This doesn't prevent tantrums or the harmonizing with the choir. But this realization has made me more patient, more focused during Mass. I realize that the biggest cause of my frustration is that I forget the essential thing: She is learning. This is her first time in this world. She doesn't know how things work. It's up to me to teach her. I know that the best way to teach my child anything is to be a good model and to practice, practice, practice (with a big dose a patience!).

When she stretches her neck up to see where the little bell noise is coming from during the Consecration, I whisper in her ear about Jesus and His Body and Blood and His love.


  1. Our priest, Fr. Greg, has a policy regarding babies in Mass that our congregation has also adopted: Father can always talk louder than any baby can cry. He frequently thanks parents for bringing their babies to Mass because when we stop hearing babies cry, it's time to bury the Church.

  2. N, this is so beautiful! I am so proud of YOU and all that you are learning. Love you girl.