Attending Mass on Sunday morning can be a great source of spiritual renewal for Catholic families. We have found it to be an opportunity to shed any negative experiences and energies of the week before by directly participating with the faith community in the hymns, prayers, and sacraments of the Church. This transforms and rejuvenates us on so many levels.
Before Kids - After Kids
However, when we became parents, our relationship to Mass changed. Bringing our children to Mass each week made it harder to concentrate on the liturgy. Some weeks we were fortunate enough to stay in the pew but other weeks we chose to sit in the “crying room.” For any who aren't familiar with the term, a crying room is an area in most churches where families can take their kids when they are too noisy or disruptive.
Still in the Crying Room?
We knew that with four rambunctious and energetic kids we would have to spend some time there. But as our kids got older, we expected that our days in the “crying room” would be coming to an end. However, in our case there was a catch. Our daughter Danielle has autism and her behaviors made it difficult to attend Mass as a family. When you are the parents of a child with autism, you find that the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t always materialize as soon as you think it should. We began to wonder if our family would be in the crying room forever! We wanted to go to Mass as a family. We wanted to sit together in the pew with the rest of the parishioners without the plexiglass window of the crying room separating us from what was happening. After all, we had more than done our required time.
Father Knows Best
So we came up with what we thought would be a good solution. We went to our pastor and explained that from then on we would attend Mass separately so one of us could stay home with Danielle. We thought this would allow our family to join the rest of the parish in the pews without being disruptive to everyone else. Fortunately, Father Phil knew better and told us this was a bad idea. He said that we should attend Mass together as a family in the pew and not worry so much about what others were thinking.
We are glad he did! We found that we could enjoy Mass again when we took Father's advice and stopped worrying so much about Danielle's behavior. Furthermore, because we took her to church regularly, her behavior gradually improved. Of course there’s still the need to be flexible and use courtesy and common sense. If she is having more difficulty we take her out temporarily, but we always return after a few minutes so she doesn’t learn to act up as a way to get out of Mass. There are good days and bad days, but on the whole she has learned to not only sit through the Mass but to actively and reverently participate in it. She stands, sits and kneels at the appropriate time, puts our family’s envelope in the collection basket, and extends her hand to others for the Sign of Peace. Most importantly, she receives Holy Communion regularly and kneels to pray when she returns to the pew.
Our children are now in high school and college. Our days in the crying room are thankfully long past. We have learned the value of attending Mass as a family. It is our genuine hope that other parents of children with special needs find they can participate in the Mass too!
Copyright 2015 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Photos copyright 2015 David and Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.
About the Author
David and Mercedes write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. They are available to speak, and have appeared on radio and other media. Visit DavidAndMercedesRizzo.com to learn more. Follow them on Facebook at Autism With The Rizzos. Authors of Praying For Your Special Needs Child, (Word Among Us Press) and Spiritually Able and The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit (Loyola Press).