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Church at Home: by Katie Sciba Verso l’Alto with Kids in Tow

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There’s nothing on Earth like being in Sunday Mass. After sliding into the pew and getting settled with my family, I’m sure that, right there and then, I’m right where the Lord wants us to be. As a mom of five kids ranging from 2 to 9 years old, my experience of Mass varies from focused to frazzled; but regardless, I know there will be graces from receiving the Eucharist as well as simply being in the Presence of Christ.

This kind of confidence is a new thing for me. I know I’m not the only parent who’s counted down to the recessional hymn because every passing minute could be the one when my toddler loses it. Someone else could cry because he didn’t get to pass the basket, or I’ll have to correct my oldest when he hammers drum beats after Communion. Sometimes my crew rivals the angels in behavior; other times, mischief takes over. Wouldn’t it be easier if my husband and I went to different Masses and left the kids at home?

But here’s the deal: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the source and summit of the faith. St. Pier Giorggio Frassati said, “Verso l’alto!” or “To the heights!” There’s no higher prayer we can participate in; there’s no greater blessing than receiving Jesus. Mass is quite literally the best thing ever, so we take our kids, and the the Lord bids them to come.

After all, the Savior Himself said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them” (Matthew 19:14). The scene in the gospel unfolds quickly when people bring their children to Christ, yet Jesus’s disciples rebuked them. I can just see the Twelve shooing kids away from what is supposed to be grown-up conversation; but Jesus knows kids can be just as crazy as they are sweet. Children 2,000 years ago lacked in social grace just as they do now; still, the Lord says, “do not hinder them.” Don’t get in the way of them coming to Me.

So we keep bringing our whole family together, and, over time, we’ve developed keys to “liturgical success” as well as heard some golden advice to ease our experience. Here are a few plays from our book. These hearty hacks have been put to the test, and our children have only progressed in their respect and reverence during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

1. Read the Gospel.

Read the next Sunday’s Gospel to your kids once or a few times during the week leading up to Mass. Talk about it. When the story is retold again on Sunday, our kids get excited: “I know this one!”

2. Everyone remain calm.

We’ve learned there’s no such thing as getting ready for Mass quickly for our family. It has to start one to three hours ahead of departure time, and it takes a divide-and-conquer approach from my husband Andrew and me. Taking it slow circumvents the stress of rushing. The kids’ Mass attire is presentable, but comfortable, too, which makes it easier for them to deliver good behavior. To avoid bathroom breaks, every child takes a trip to the bathroom an hour before and again right before we leave for Mass.

3. Check and voice expectations.

Regardless of how our preparations go, the ride to church is a behavioral pep talk. We’ve been going over the same rules every Sunday for years, and now every little Sciba can recite them. They know there won’t be any trips to the bathroom, they have to be prayerful with their bodies – folded hands and upright posture – and they have to pray the responses. Three simple rules. When our kids slip in any area, we give them a nudge and then model what we want them to remember.

4. Sit up close and talk.

This one is counterintuitive. It’s tempting to sit toward the back in case we have to make a quick exit with a fit-thrower; but it turns out that kids with comfy clothes and empty bladders are more likely to behave, and with the added bonus of being able to see, the whole family has a shot at making it through Mass, sanity intact. There in the front pews, the kids experience every part of the liturgy in plain sight. For our younger ones, we hold them and whisper what’s happening on the altar: “See how Father genuflects to the Host?” “Watch the servers when they ring the bells. They do it because Jesus is here.” Keeping up chatter at key times actually helps our kids focus.

5. Respond to behavior.

For the children with angelic manners during Mass, there are stickers or check marks on a chart at home; the older ones get high fives. Whatever we use to reward, the kids get psyched for
it. For the kids whose behavior needs tweaking (or revolutionizing), there is a conversation about what they need to work on with follow-through the next Sunday. Really bad behavior gets bigger discipline.

Going “to the heights” with our kids isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s what Jesus asks us to do. Above all, the biggest, most important tip I’ve received was to KEEP GOING. Practically speaking, parents and kids need consistent practice for behavior to improve; but even setting this aside, there is nothing more powerful than bringing our families before God. Wild kids will at least be in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, as will their tried and tired parents. The Lord sees our persistence, our struggles and victories with our families and loves us in both.

Katie Sciba is a national speaker and six-time Catholic Press Award-winning columnist. She holds a degree in Theology from Benedictine College and focuses her work on the family as well as Catholic minimalism. Katie and her husband Andrew have been married for 11 years and are blessed with six children. 

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