Abby Brundage of Spirit FM Radio just blogged about whether young children should go to mass. CLICK HERE to read "Mass Hysteria"
This is a great topic and there are many viewpoints on when children should and shouldn't go to church. Here are my comments after six children, now ages 20-7 years old and probably 15 years in and out of the cry room.
Some would say, just leave them at home during these years and that isn't a bad idea. If they only "start" going to church at age 3 they will have years and years of training and participating and growing in holiness.The downside of this is it usually means mom and dad can't go to church together. As a couple it is important to pray and go to mass together, so leaving the child(ren) at home is best done on a short term basis.
Some would say bring them and go to the cry room. That idea also has merit, because the child does get into the weekly habit of mass with the family. However, during my years in the cry room, I never felt like the we were really participating in mass. It was either a big play room, a big snack room, with plenty of snacks dropped and smashed all over the place or a parents meet and greet. And yet, the grace of the mass is conferred and reception of the Eucharist did provide the weekly spiritual nourishment that EVERY parent needs. And meeting other parents with young children was a great gift.
And some would say, bring them to church.
With the first child or two this is harder because either mom or dad is pretty much walking in and out a lot if the child is noisy/fussy etc. But as you have more children, this gets easier because the younger ones see the 4, 5, or 6 year old behaving nicely (ok maybe just better than they are) and do try a little bit to copy that.
Consider attending the "family mass" which is usually at 9:30 or 10, as there are many others there with young children and yours doesn't stand out (usually) as being the loudest or worst behaved.
Sometimes the shortest mass is the best way to go. Some parishes have an early 7 am mass with little/no music and it is only 35-45 minutes instead of an hour. So that is easier to get through with a little one.
Once at mass, you can sit near the back or near the door you can easily leave, with minimal distraction to others. Or you can sit in the front row so the kids can actually see what was going on and try to pay attention. When you are in the back, all the kids see are other peoples' back. But if you sit in the front, you might be a big distraction to others.
Daily mass, at 30 minutes is great way to begin to train preschoolers in mass etiquette, because the mass is short, yet all the parts are there; listening, sitting still, standing, kneeling etc. And this is a great grace for the parent to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion more frequently.
Regardless of what you decide to do with your children, the best thing parents of young children can do is to prepare before going to any mass.
First off, prepare yourself.
Look up the reading for Sunday and read them quietly the day or two before. Even better, read them with your spouse. You can find them on line at www.usccb.org or subscribe to Magnificat, a monthly magazine with the readings at http://www.magnificat.com/.
Listen to Fr. Barron's homily about the Sunday mass before you go. Go to www.wordonfire.org and click on "sermons." Every Thursday Fr. Barron posts his homily for the upcoming Sunday.
Get a copy of In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez to get commentary on the readings and read these weekly or daily.
If you have read the scriptures and meditated on them before you get to mass, it is so much easier to listen and follow the homily even if you don't catch it all.
Then, prepare the kids.
Go to a mass when it is not nap time, so they won't be cranky.
Or go to mass when it is nap time so they sleep through it.
Bring a church book(s) for them to look at, but take it easy on the snacks and drinks. They almost always make a mess and can be very distracting to those around you. I once saw a woman give her 2 year old a corn dog in church (I am not making this up.) I was so astounded and distracted by seeing a corn dog in church (with a loud plastic wrapper) that I missed most of the homily.
As children get older, give very specific instructions before you go into church. Some directions might include:
For the younger ones:
"We're going to church now. When we go in, we are going to be quiet and sit still. If you are not quiet/don't sit still, I will spank/take you out/take your toy away/not let you get a donut afterwards, etc." Then when they misbehave be sure to spank/take them out/take toy away or don't buy donut!
For those a bit older:
"We're going to church now. When we go in, we are going to be quiet and sit still. Go to the bath room and get a drink before entering. We won't be leaving mass in the middle. If you behave we will play on the playground afterward/get a donut/invite a friend to come home with us, etc.
Bottom line is every parent needs to prayerfully consider all the options and make changes as needed. None of the advice above works for every family all the time. Be assured that Our Lord loves you and your children and is pleased with all the efforts you are making. But do keep trying and don't quit going to mass because your your children. Your persistence will pay off. One day, God Willing, you will be sitting in church with your delightfully well behaved children and all the old ladies will walk up to you and compliment your fine family!
Remember our Lord's instructions: "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them." Mark 10:14