Last month, I wrote about some ways to prepare for Mass, intellectually, in light of being distracted more because of the kiddos. But, how can we prepare to reduce those distractions?
First, a disclaimer, we are no experts. I’m just a father of a two-year old and an eight-month old. These are some suggestions that have, for the moment, worked for us. Give us a few more months and I’m sure this will change.
The biggest issue for us has been our two-year-old. It’s been a bit of a nightmare. Something might work one week, but never again. Sometimes we could walk around the back and be fine, sometimes, she’d just cry because she wanted to be with her mom and little sister. Sometimes, I could take her out during the homily to look at the statues for sale at the gift shop and be fine throughout the rest of Mass. Sometimes, she would pitch a fit as soon as we arrived wanting to see those statues.
Our eight-month old is still pretty easy. There was trial and error with Mass times in light of naps and we always have a bottle ready to go, but it has all seemed to be stable for the moment.
So, what’d we do?
A tired kid will virtually never be well-behaved for a whole hour. We tried every possible option, including 3:00 p.m. at a hospital chapel and 3:30 p.m. in the extraordinary form at St. Mary’s, and, in the end, for better or worse, 7:30 a.m. won the nod. A little sleep is a small sacrifice in the scheme of things.
We made a point to explain the different parts of Mass to our two-year old. While we didn’t get into the details of the theology behind adding water to the wine during the preparation, we made sure she understood that the Liturgy of the Word is someone reading to us, like how we read to her and that the Liturgy of the Eucharist was “making Jesus”. In addition to the actual educational aspect, she tries to pay attention longer now that she understands a little better what is happened.
Each week, we remind her of our expectations for her. We pay attention during the readings and then, you can put the money into the collection basket (“her” part of our Mass-going). We set a rule of no food in church once you turn two, and we reminded her for the weeks before and the weeks after that once she has her big birthday party, she’ll be a toddler and toddlers don’t eat during church. She responds to us much better when she isn’t surprised or confused by unclear expectations.
Simple Liturgical Participation
The Alleluia is one of her favorite songs. We taught her the setting most commonly used and she’ll always pay attention to sing that each week. (Pray for us when Lent arrives!). The sign of peace, the procession for communion are other simple ways too.
Our secret weapon: Austin Catholic New Media’s Sunday Coloring Pages
Olivia was constantly good during the Liturgy of the Word, but we couldn’t manage to keep that going throughout the Liturgy of the Eucharist. While I thought she was too young for them initially, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I downloaded and printed out Austin Catholic New Media’s Sunday Coloring Pages for that week and stuck a little pencil box with triangular crayons into my suit pocket. These little crayons are triangular-shaped and advertised as great for little hands, but the real gem is that they don’t roll. We tried traditional crayons one week and I think there is still one rolling around in church somewhere. If Olivia drops one, no problem.
Timing is key. We don’t give it to Olivia until the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. It carries her until Communion and allows us to focus on the Eucharistic celebration. She enjoys coloring them and she knows that they show Jesus and other people from the Bible. As she gets older, we’ll transition away from distracting her to enabling her to take in the beauty happening at the altar, but I’ll save that for another day.
This has been a long road in 2011. The year started with me being chewed out in the cry room, we added another child to the mix and, truly only through the grace of God, last weekend, Olivia was praised for her excellent behavior by the woman sitting in the pew behind us. Just as we need to be ourselves prepared intellectually and spiritually for Mass, having our families prepared is essential for allowing the Mass to be as fruitful in our own lives as possible.