Our toddler loves Mass. Sure, he’s not always well-behaved; he likes to climb the pews and gather up all the various papers and books, or lean into his little brother’s carseat to repeatedly kiss his cheeks. And every now and then, he has some sort of meltdown and we have to take him out. But most of the time, he’s very participatory and excited to be there. At home he likes to “play” Mass and calls himself Fr. Joseph.
But it wasn’t always like this. At the beginning of his toddlerhood he would roam the narthex, rather uninterested and totally distracted. Things changed, not because of a particular disciplinary strategy or because we were able to teach him anything specific. We simply began taking him more often.
My husband and I both grew up with a habit of going to daily Mass, but after getting married, the chaos of childbearing along with my own unpredictable health changed our habits. Daily Mass seemed like an exhausting endeavor, so we stopped expecting ourselves to go.
But soon enough we both felt like something was missing. I mentioned it to a priest once and he told me how he probably would have strayed from God if not for his persistent daily Mass habit. I took that as, “No, you don’t have to go, and God understands your limitations. But it could be the very thing that keeps your family holy.”
After our son turned one, we started making an effort at it again.
Within a few weeks, our son’s attitude towards Mass changed dramatically, as did ours. Whether it was the gold tabernacle or the candles or the chanted doxology —something new enchanted him each day. Could this have happened at Sunday Mass, once a week? Maybe. But there are a few things about daily Mass that are much more conducive to enchanting toddlers than Sunday Mass.
First, daily Mass is usually half as long as Sunday Mass. As all parents of young children know, homilies are by far the toughest part for young children. And who can blame them? They have to sit still and they don’t understand much of what’s being said. The rest of Mass, however, involves movement and responses they can quickly learn and participate in, some singing, bells, and other relatively exciting things. A thirty-minute Mass with a short homily is simply far easier to get through with a toddler than one that lasts an hour.
Second, daily Mass goers become like a little family. This is conducive to toddlers, both because family members pay them attention and because family members hold them accountable. It’s easy to hide in the crowd at Sunday Mass. You can’t get away with that when you’re with your little family. Moreover, family members are more likely to forgive toddler outbursts!
Third, going to Mass every day familiarizes children with Mass in a way that going weekly never can. As parenting experts will tell you, children thrive on routines and rituals. When the Mass ritual is as much a part of the daily routine as dinner and bedtime rituals, children are more likely to expect and embrace it. Our toddler asks us every day what time we’re going to Mass. Does that mean he would rather go to Mass than go to the playground? Probably not. But he does look forward to it every day.
Fourth, daily Mass is its own teacher. It is difficult enough for adults to memorize Mass parts when only attending once a week – how much more difficult it must be for children who are more distracted and don’t understand half the words. But it’s totally different if you’re doing it every day. Simply by going to daily Mass, our toddler learned the responses, prayers, and most of the structure/order of the Mass, without us ever explicitly teaching him. Daily Mass for a toddler seems to be like learning a new language through immersion rather than weekly class instruction.
Finally, daily Mass forces the whole family to prioritize Mass, and therefore, prioritize the entire Faith. There are so many discipline issues we’ve gone through with our son during Mass. If Mass was a once-a-week thing, it would have been far easier to sink away from dealing with those issues. But because we’ve committed to it every day, our sanity demands we deal with the issues. Just as parents will spend countless hours devoted to cultivating good sleep habits in their kids, when you’re taking your kids to Mass every day, you’re forced to devote time to cultivating good Mass/prayer habits.
Of course, not every family can make daily Mass work and, certainly, there are many beautiful ways to engage in prayer within the home. There are many days when we can’t make daily Mass work. But when we can make it work it ends up being probably the most convenient and easiest way to engage in family prayer and catechesis. The very thing we were afraid was impossible due to chaos is exactly what grounds us and connects us amidst the chaos.