Purgatory in the Narthex: On Managing Small Children at Mass


I've seen and talked to not a few frazzled moms after managing their small children at Mass lately, and this post on my old blog came to mind! I wrote this on Friday, August 5, 2016 when my children were 14, 11, 6, and 3. I was past the baby stage and able to actually think during prayer once again. Perhaps these thoughts might help us all get to daily Mass, at least once this month?

Today I managed, via some excellent peer pressure (see text thread above), to get to daily Mass with my four children. As we arrived barely on time for the 9am Mass, I could see something was different. The church was quite crowded with professionally-dressed, broadly smiling women, and it did not seem anyone was at all ready to begin Mass on time.

Then I remembered and leaned over to whisper to my daughter, "Didn't they say something last Sunday about the Mass time being different today due to the teachers' Mass?" She nodded, and it all came back to me: Mass at 9:30, back to school Mass for teachers of the diocese, the bishop. Yikes!

I had a quick mental conversation with God:
Me: Do I really need to be here?
God: Yes.
Me: But I have to keep these kids happy for 30 more minutes before Mass and then they have to sit still and be quiet for what will be a longer-than-usual, barely any kids here daily Mass.
God: But when is the last time you came to daily Mass to be with me? Don't you need my grace?
Me: Yes. Sigh.

Needless to say, after a short walk to discover the line for the ladies' room was at least twenty teachers long, we stayed for Mass, and shortly after the sign of the cross, I had to take my (loudly-spitting) three-year-old to the narthex, towing the (plugging-his-ears-from-the-loud-organ) six-year-old along.

And we didn't get to go back due to what might have been more spitting, some brotherly kicking, and general flopping about from both boys. I was disappointed and eventually joined by five other parents with wiggly kids, possibly the only other adults who brought children.

I kept reminding myself that the grace was there and that it was a special grace to be at a Mass said by a bishop, but I was feeling kind of sad. I wanted to be able to at least see the altar!

I gave thanks my two older children were mature enough to stay in the church and fully experience the liturgy. Between the distractions of the boys not able to sit still (since they couldn't see anything either) and the frustration at my expectations for a relatively quick and quiet daily Mass being crushed, I was grumbling inside.

But as I sank down on my knees near the pew against the narthex wall to pray during the consecration, I glanced through the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows separating the narthex from the nave. I was separated from God by this wall. I could not quite see Him, but I knew He was truly present in the Eucharist just a few feet away, but at the moment, unattainable.

And I recalled that someone once shared with me that it is possible the most intense pain in purgatory is caused by knowing you are so close to going to Heaven, to be in God's almighty presence, but not able to get there just yet.

For a few minutes, I gave thanks that I was living that purgatory there (with wiggly boys climbing all over me and battling for lap space), because with the suffering of purgatory comes the guarantee of eternal life with God. I remembered that there would be crazy-wonderful grace later in addition to the grace of the moment.

Mamas, we have all been there. Our bodies often deflate as we make that seemingly long walk to the narthex, cry room, or outside with a wiggly, loud, or crying child. The next time it happens to you, look at that wall, window, or door separating you from the rest of the congregation and give thanks. God is there, just a bit out of reach, and someday we will be closer to Him than we can even imagine!

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