By Clare Lazzuri
I could see my 8-year-old son, one of three altar servers, suspiciously holding his belly, all colour washed from his face.
We were in our usual front row seat and there were two Communion lines between him and me, but I knew if I didn’t get him off that altar soon I’d have a serious clean-up situation on my hands.
I tried to motion to him to leave, but since he seemed frozen to the spot I was left with no choice but to march through the lines of communicants, while carrying a toddler, and literally pluck him from the altar and escort him to the bathroom. Just in time.
One of the advantages of sitting in the front pew – the ability for mom to make a quick altar-server rescue.
A long time ago, back when we just had two small children, someone told me that kids behaved better in Mass if they sat in the front. I was a bit skeptical about this advice. If my children were loud and disruptive during Mass, did I really want to be on display in the front of the church, or make the “take out” walk for the uncooperative child that much longer and obvious?
Then again, if there was a chance that sitting closer to the altar, or “the action,” if you will, would help keep the kids focused, then wasn’t it worth a try?
So, we tried it. And it worked. It certainly wasn’t a magic cure-all that transformed my children into perfectly behaved Mass angels, but it helped – a lot. I also soon discovered that if we went to a different church, my kids were not happy unless we sat in front. We had created little front-pew-hogging monsters.
There are numerous advantages to sitting up front. It’s a well-known fact that every child has FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – so it’s key to make your children aware from an early age that there is something going on at Mass that they don’t want to miss.
Ever since my children were babies, if they were fussing during Mass, rather than distract them with toys or snacks my first line of defence was to try to draw their attention toward the altar and whisper in their ear about the love story that was unfolding before them.
I would say something like “Shhhh, you’re missing it! Look at the altar. Jesus is getting ready to come be with us in a very special way” or “There’s Jesus on the altar! His body and blood are right there!”
Maybe as babies they couldn’t understand what I was saying, but I like to think I was laying a foundation, making them aware that we were somewhere special that required special attention. As they grew, they began to understand. And it’s that much easier to focus their attention if they are as close as possible to the altar.
I recently had a conversation in a store with an older lady, whom I didn’t know, but who recognized me from Mass. When I realized that she knew me because of Mass, I said something self-deprecating about our “front-row rodeo.” She offered words of encouragement and praise that my husband and I actually take our kids to church every Sunday. “There are too few children at Mass these days,” she said. “You are doing the right thing.”
It was nice to hear the affirmation. Sometimes sitting in the front pew, I think I feel the stares of those who are not as encouraging as this kind woman. I am not a showy person and it’s not a natural choice for me to be conspicuous with my large family front and centre. But the bottom line is, I’ll do it for my kids and I’ll do it for my Lord.
What I didn’t realize is that I might also be benefitting the parishioners behind us. This encounter with Jesus at Mass every Sunday (and sometimes daily) is bigger than me and my sense of embarrassment. And, frankly, usually whatever my kids have done at Sunday Mass to make me think I would rather die a thousand deaths, I’ve long forgotten about by the next week.
Chances are people are not judging me, or any parent, as much as we think they are. Chances are no one, other than me, is watching my three boys on the altar wishing they would stand up straighter. No one cares if my littlest is “singing” at the top of her lungs, when no one else is singing at all. In general, people are happy to see children at church. Children are a sign of hope and growth.
On the last Sunday of this month St. Luke will recount these words of Jesus in the Gospel reading: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
Whether you sit in the front pew, back pew, or somewhere in between, judging and condemning our neighbors – or ourselves – has no place in Mass. Let’s support each other. Offer words of encouragement to parents of young children at Mass.
If you are struggling with your children at Mass, consider changing your view, literally and figuratively. Get as close as you can to Jesus and encourage your children to give their best to Jesus each Sunday. Tell your kids there is something special happening that they definitely don’t want to miss.
Lazzuri writes from Nova Scotia, where she lives with her husband and six children.