Only by a thread

A couple of weeks ago I was at Sunday evening Mass and sitting a little behind me was a young mum with her 2 toddler height children. They were, to be fair a little unruly and she did a sterling job of trying to keep them contained. I turned to her at one point and smiled, trying to keep the irritation at bay (it had been a long day); I find it difficult to be irritated when I have looked the other in the eye. A short while later, I was drawn to more noise and noticed others reaction, some of whom shot daggers at her, while one woman sitting next to her, whispered encouragement and tried to distract the younger child. I overheard the mother say ‘I could cry, it’s so hard’.
Here was a woman, a mother clinging on by her fingernails. I was not sitting close enough to offer her and her children the Sign of Peace but after Communion I managed to grasp her hand as a sign of what I hoped was solidarity and compassion. She smiled a heartfelt, weary smile of gratitude.

I can remember taking my four darlings to Sunday Mass with me and some weeks it was all I could do to allow the words to wash over me. I so desperately needed to be comforted by the Word of God, strengthened in communion with my faith community. I needed to receive the Lord in the Eucharist to give me the strength to go on being a mum, let alone a good enough mum, for a while longer. Seeing her on that Sunday evening brought back the memory of when I too barely hung on by my fingernails.
Yet Sunday after Sunday I went because going to Mass was the only thing that made any sense of my life as a single mum of four under 7, my ‘failed’ marriage, my tiredness, my loneliness, my sadness.

I remembered all of this on hearing the stories in the Gospel of Mark. I didn’t just reach out and touch the hem of His garment, nor did I beg to be touched by the fringe of His cloak, I hung on with all my might, sometimes slipping to hold just a thread that I hoped would not unravel before I did.


Of course I was not merely hanging on for dear life all the time and it did get better. I became more organised, I used to keep a bag that we only took to Mass packed with pencils and paper, pictures to colour (it was long before any Redemptorist resources!), books to read and the odd toy that did not make a noise, but the greatest and most helpful ‘distraction’ was the love of my faith community for me and my children. The elderly couple who chose to always sit behind us so as to smile lovingly at the ‘baby’ in my arms; the Religious Sister who sat in the same pew helping to ‘hold the line’ and surround all four of them in love; the other parents who would keep an eye on the others when one of mine was potty training; and the many others who made my children (and therefore me) feel genuinely welcome, wanted and loved.

Many years later one is still serving at the Altar, another trains new servers when home from University, and another is a parish music director…taking a little poetic license with the words of a Meatloaf song, ‘three out of four ain’t bad’. I have no doubt that it was because they were held in love and felt at home in our parish that they are still active members of the faith community.

So when we see mothers (or fathers) struggling at Mass, with children who interrupt our time with the Lord at Mass, let us pray for them, thanking God for their courage to come to Mass, for expending possibly their last vestige of strength in living out the Baptismal promises to bring their children up in the faith. Let us offer to help them, to welcome them, to hold them in love.


For if we don’t we run the risk of both denying Christ’s call to ‘let the children come to me’ and not having a Church in the future.



11 thoughts on “Only by a thread

  1. Rebecca this is beautiful! A dear parishioner at our church who has since gone to be with the Lord said once of screaming children in Church: ‘I just close my eyes and pray for Jesus to comfort them and to take away whatever is troubling them.’ Amen.

  2. Once again your blog is mirror reflection, same situation (3 children)t
    thank you for sharing your ex”perience
    it is so reasuring.

  3. Dear Rebekah,
    ould you mind if I took a few of the sentences from your article to use in our parish magazine at my church in Derbyshire? This is something we really struggle with in our anglo catholic church. I am a mother of 3 who does the childrens work at church and would just like to use some of your words to make the people think.

  4. hello there, lovely article, but I am puzzled?, is there not creche facilities available generally in Catholic services/Masses?. In most churches there is a creche is staffed on a rota by members of the congregation (DBS checked obviously!) to allow for the parents to have some time out to worship God. In one of the churches near here the creche room is fully sound proofed but the service is ‘piped in’ and the room is completely glass so those staffing the creche can see out and still participate.
    Surely if parents are struggling in a church, the church has the responsibility to see what they can do to lift the load and give the parents a much needed break too!!!.
    God bless

    • Hi Helen,
      Most parishes would hold a Children’s Liturgy at the same time as Mass, the children leaving at the beginning to take part in their own Liturgy of the Word and rejoining the rest of the worshipping community at the Offertory. The children’s Liturgists would all have DBS checks and in the Parish I work in have formation too.
      But every Parish is different and a lot depends on space (as it happens outside of the Church) and people to take it on. And this would only happen at the family Mass, the other Masses would not offer a Children’s Liturgy (RC Churches would have 2 or 3 morning Masses as well as one on a Saturday night (the Vigil Mass) and often one on Sunday evening).
      Some Churches do have as you suggest a room that is soundproofed with windows into which the Mass is piped in allowing the parents/carers to hear what is going on. Personally I don’t like these ‘crying chapels’ as they are known because they do not enable children to learn how to behave in Mass. In my experience, because children can not be heard outside parents do not monitor the level of noise as they try to listen to the Mass. When their children are too old to be taken out to this room it is a real shock to them to be expected to keep quiet when they have no experience of this.
      I think that a little tolerance goes a long way and enables us to help parents teach their children how to behave at Mass.

      I am glad you liked the article.

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