Bulletin from Zacchaeus
Updated: Apr 18, 2022
“I am Zacchaeus”
He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. Luke 19:1-4
Short of stature or not, a mother of small children is Zacchaeus at Mass.
She isn’t climbing any trees, but she isn’t following the rubrics either. She sits with the napping toddler when she should kneel; she stands in the side aisle with a grumpy baby when all sit; she whispers explanations and corrections to the curious five year old when the book calls for silence. She exits to the courtyard with an especially disruptive child, hoping to sneak back inside for Communion.
When Mass is ended, Zacchaeus-moms are exhausted and very ready to go in peace.
Why do we embarrass ourselves at Sunday Mass? Like Zacchaeus, we greatly desire to see Jesus, even if the cry room’s view is obstructed.
Most priests are glad to see us at Mass. They understand that we can’t move toward the center aisle to make space for latecomers because we need a quick avenue of escape. Perhaps these good pastors of souls are glad to be reminded of the benefits of celibacy.
Now and then, we encounter a priest who does not see our hearts. He finds our behavior untoward. This priest might counsel us to skip Mass, or to sit in the cry room, or to use the nursery, or to get a sitter. Get down from that tree, Zacchaeus, you are making a spectacle of yourself!
Yet Jesus sees us up in the branches. The Lord calls us by name to dine with Him - to partake of His grace in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus is not nearly as fussy as the babies in our arms or as the scornful priest believes Him to be.
What the Mass Is For
Mass is not a time for quiet personal prayer. Mass is not a time for you to experience pristine silence.
Mass is the Divine Liturgy, the public prayer of the assembly called together by God. Mass is our participation in the Son’s perfect worship of the Father in the Spirit.
At Mass, God asks for reverence. Mass is a time for full, active participation from lay people, but note that participation in liturgical worship is not solely or even primarily about our intelligent comprehension of texts.
And note that full participation that means different things in different states and phases of life: the 88 year old man who struggles to hear and who cannot sit/stand/kneel is participating as much as he can; his 18 year old grandson who wears a surplice and carries a candle is not participating “more” than he is.
Liturgical participation does not originate in us, but rather is made possible for us by Christ through the sacrament of Baptism. A baptized toddler has the priesthood of the faithful, as does the young man with special needs or the nonverbal teenage girl. This is why the choir members and the lectors are not credited with “service hours” for time spent during the liturgy.
A Guide for the Perturbed
From time to time, parents get distracted, annoyed, and humiliated by their very own wiggly, noisy children. Occasionally, we get sick of scaling sycamores.
A few fellow worshipers, however, are constantly troubled in spirit by other people’s children.
If you have a hard time with inappropriately noisy/active children at Mass, here are some action steps for dealing with the spiritual disturbance:
Let the noise remind you that Jesus said to become like a little child before Him, and meditate on what that might mean: Trusting Him? Not hiding our mess from Him? Desperately needing a Father?
Renew your understanding of liturgy. Begin with Paragraphs 1136-1144 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and progress to this article by Dr. Timothy O’Malley.
Embrace this cross. As an extraordinary exercise in the virtue of mercy, actively suppress your annoyance. Jesus commands you to love your enemies, so smile at the parents.
You are right to desire silence and time for personal prayer in the church building: Seek out this silent prayer by going to Adoration whenever possible.
Look at statistics on the rapid decline of American Catholicism: Baptisms, First Communions, and Confirmations are in free fall, and over 26 million Americans designate themselves as former Catholics. Parents bringing their little ones to Mass are not part of this problem, but are themselves the solution. They are to be welcomed and supported in their effort to hand on a true and lively faith, even if they are a hot mess in the pew in front of you.
Next level: Offer to help a young family. Sit at the end of their pew to prevent escapees from making it down the nave. Get to know them and become their mentors in faith.
Lastly, remember that all adults are Zacchaeus at Mass: we are all infamous sinners, and we have no business taking part in the liturgy but for the fact that Jesus has chosen us.
We quiet and rubric-following adults are not worthy to receive Him until He heals us with His Word.
Indeed, the very little ones who bother us with their noise are probably the only worthy saints at Mass, as they have been cleansed in Baptism but cannot yet sin.
Be blessed by their presence, and do not prevent them from coming into the arms of the Lord.
Photo taken by author at a friend’s house