My kids are officially back in the swing of school. I know what you’re thinking: WooHoo! Carline drop-off must be the most absolutely magical part of the day! I must admit, watching my kids exit through the automatic sliding minivan doors with the exchange of a kiss, is pretty awesome. (What stay-at-home mom doesn’t crave a few hours of solitude to accomplish the endless household chores before they all frantically pile back in taking their seats in the constant carousel ride of family chaos?) But, believe it or not, the drop-off is not my absolute favorite part of the day. There’s another much more special moment that wins by a long shot!
It comes shortly after morning carline, and quite frankly, its significance kind of snuck up on me. Over time I’ve come to cherish it as the treasured gift from God that I know it to be.
Once my trio is safely ensconced in the womb of the school playground, I pull around and park our Honda “mother ship” nearby. I do a quick check in the rearview. Getting the kids out of the house on time often means sacrificing little luxuries like combing one’s hair or showering. The crisp fall air surrounds me as I bound across the playground to the “gym church.” While our actual church is under construction for a much-needed upgrade, I overlook the make-shift setting of nondescript folding chairs and austere black curtains masking the erstwhile basketball court. I am excited to once again gaze upon a sanctuary with statues and stained glass, but the rudimentary surroundings are not altogether lacking in beauty. Despite the stark, temporary décor, I regularly fix my eyes on something most pleasing, hopeful and dare I say, transcendent?—the moment my kids sidle up next to me and take their seats for the celebration of the Holy Mass.
At my children’s Catholic Classical elementary school, Our Lady of Lourdes of Denver, third graders and older attend Mass every Tuesday through Friday. The younger students take part twice a week. What a joy to see my kids light up with recognition when they spot me as they file in with the other students. I often place my arm around one or the other, giving them a little squeeze. We are the domestic church, contentedly standing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I hope I never forget the shared glances we exchange in the moments leading up to the priest’s opening prayer. So much is said in our knowing looks, without uttering a single syllable. Whether the morning erupted in a mad rush, an angry huff, or both, which is often the case, it’s no matter. In that moment we are wholly reconciled. The annoying squabbles, the disgruntled feelings, the angry threats of “Get in the car now, or else!”—they seem to melt away. We leave the perpetual commotion at the door and we enter into a sacred stillness together as a part of His family.
Growing up, I rarely attended daily Mass. At my Catholic school, we trudged across the blacktop “playground” to the church on the few days of the year when a Hoy Day and the school calendar divinely aligned. I’d like to say it was something I looked forward to. But I remember being fairly apathetic about Mass attendance on school days. It meant a rare hour away from the classroom. That was a good thing, but to my young self, Mass felt overwhelmingly institutional and impersonal. Certainly not the way I remember Sunday Mass with my family—squeezed into the pew sporting our heavy winter coats, flanked by my parents and brothers. It was an experience of the senses. I can easily recall my mom’s dulcet singing and smell the spicy fragrance of my dad’s aftershave. And then it was a trip to a neighboring mom-n-pop bakery to pick out a dozen mouth-watering doughnuts.
Attending Mass as a student on Holy Days of Obligation, I was sadly doing just that—fulfilling an obligation. We had to; so we did. There was certainly no anticipation or joy in taking part. And I’m not sure we even discussed in class why the Church recognized the particular day as Holy. We were not taught the why behind it. I don’t remember ever seeing any parents in the congregation. And if they were present, they were not permitted to sit with their kids. That would be… disordered? unruly? too creepy family-ish? I don’t know. It just was not done.
I am grateful that my parents impressed upon me the primacy of Sunday Mass. They taught me by word and deed that it must be ritualized into my life. Even in the years when my faith seriously waned, I understood the importance of setting aside time for God on Sunday, a grace that eventually led me to a greater appreciation and understanding of Catholicism. For many years though, I mistakenly considered daily Mass as a slightly strange occurrence that existed only for blue hairs who had nothing better to do, and Catholic fanatics. However, when I experienced my ‘reversion’, I began longing for daily Mass, not unlike how as a child I anticipated our visits to the quaint neighborhood doughnut shop with the heavenly sights, smells and tastes. I ached to be there and felt truly blessed to be allowed in. I want that for my kids.
If we are serious about passing on the Christian faith in a meaningful way to the next generation, who I’m told are fleeing like millennials from Facebook, daily mass attendance is a beautiful way to engage their hearts and imaginations. We must instruct them to incorporate a slice of heaven into the drudgery of their daily lives. If you have a nose to smell, God’s fragrance permeates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as we surround the Eucharistic table. I am so blessed to experience, elbow to elbow with my kids, that everlasting moment of Christ’s profound love expressed through His death and resurrection. How beautiful that they witness their teachers and other parents ritualizing the Mass into their daily lives. They see us earnestly striving to reach beyond this life and grasping something eternal.
You wonderful moms with babies and spirited toddlers are rolling your eyes right now. I remember the days when Mass with little ones felt like a severe form of mortification. Don’t be disheartened that they squirm, chatter, and even scream. Find a vibrant, truly pro-life parish, where the sounds of little kids are welcomed and celebrated. And try to remember that it’s only a season. The fidgeting will subside someday. With deep wistfulness, I realize the days I am able to attend daily mass with my kids will eventually pass. Until then, I’m clinging to all the beauty and goodness that it brings. I pray that it will remain emblazoned on my heart and theirs and that it sets them on fire for our Lord. I encourage all parents to speak to their principals about the importance of daily mass. If we want to raise whole individuals who are striving for sainthood, let’s pack our churches daily. We must experience the source and summit of our faith as a loving family, which naturally includes lots of noisy, precious children.