When parents are accustomed to dropping off their kids in nurseries and children’s churches on Sunday mornings, the move to making it through an entire Catholic Mass together is tremendous. It is an exercise in public dignity, discipline, and disposition. We had to master many new skills for their shenanigans such as how to communicate with our eyebrows, “Do that again and no doughnuts after Mass” and, “You cannot go to the bathroom until the collection.” We had to figure out how to restrain a flopping toddler while maintaining respectability and how to clasp a hand over a mouth without making a sound. We had to ascertain the point at which the adorable baby songbird turns the corner into a tiny, clamorous raven and must be removed. We had to recognize the difference between bemused and fuming pew neighbors and take appropriate action, all discussed via eyebrow language.
Since a Mass follows a plan, our children have their favorite recognizable sections. The three year old loves the bells that ring for the Consecration and usually exclaims, “Jesus bells!” Everyone around us smiles. Sometimes she yells, “Tinkerbell!” to fewer smiles. The five year old likes the sign of peace, but instead of politely shaking hands and murmuring, “Peace be with you,” he pumps his hand and happily cheers, “Howdy!” Most people smile. Our eight year old is naturally pious so his best part is when we all kneel down and pray, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; only say the word and my soul shall be healed (Matthew 8:8).
My bumptious eleven and thirteen year olds compete as they listen to the Scripture readings to see if they recognize the passages, or even better, have memorized any. We’re thrilled that they are listening so intently, even if their motivation is less than spiritual. Once, when the epistle reading included I Corinthians 15:26 – “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” – the thirteen year old joyfully burst out, “That’s the inscription on James and Lilly Potter’s grave!” Some of our pew neighbors chuckled and some pursed their lips. When a reading included Galatians 5, the eleven year old joined right in with the lector reciting the fruits of the Spirit, complete with pounding fists, which is how we memorized them. I think everyone around us smiled.
And then there are the parts that we repeat every Mass. They seem quite pleased with themselves as they strive to answer their responses as quickly and as loudly as possible. They may be showing off, but their noisy joy is nice to hear.
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.
We pray to the Lord. Lord hear our prayer.
We recite the Nicene Creed and the Our Father.
And of course, we do the constant and comfortable Sign of the Cross, a prayer using our bodies to honor the Holy Trinity and Jesus’ immense love.
The repetition of revered names and phrases was, and is, common in Judaism. The Shema (Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.) is the daily prayer of Jews, and most certainly was repeated by Jesus. He said that it was the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37). He also repeated prayers in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-44). The angels surrounding God’s throne repeat the trihagion: holy, holy, holy (Revelation 4:8). So clearly, it’s the vanity that Our Lord is warning against in Matthew 6:7 and not the repetition. It’s the excessive admiration of one’s appearance or achievements that defines us as hypocrites and pagans.
While I enjoy relaying humorous tales of the children’s (and my) vanity at Mass, I also know that the best way to fight against it is right in front of us. It is the crucifix. Nothing reminds us of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength like looking at a depiction of Perfect Love.
So while it is difficult to deal with all the children during church services, I will bring them. How can I keep them away from what our catechism calls:
“In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God…With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory (section 1090).”
And I eagerly await the time when my husband and I can sit next to each other in church and appear to be sane. Halleluia and amen.