One thing no one prepared me for once I had a baby (and maybe that's because it should have been obvious) was that how I prayed at Mass would look totally different. If you are in that boat, I want to share what has helped me have a prayerful Mass in the midst of the chaos of bringing little ones to Mass.
A distinction before we begin: this is not a post about behavior or how to effectively entertain babies and toddlers at Mass. There are lots of great posts about that topic out there. I am more focused on a method of hearing Mass that you can use whether you are having to constantly entertain a curious one-year-old or just have your hands full with a sleeping or nursing baby. A second note, this method involves mental prayer, which is intrinsic to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), and pretty impossible (for me at least!) to practice at the Novus Ordo, so this post will be focused on assisting at the TLM. Let's get started!
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Unfortunately, you'll have to temporarily part with your Missal.
It does not take much to figure out your old method of assisting as Mass by following along in the Missal is not going to cut it anymore. You might be lucky enough to have one hand free to hold onto a book, but keeping up with where the priest is? That is hard to do. For me, I needed a way to pray that did not always require a book (or even harder, following along in a book) and that I could still accomplish when my two hands were full. That being said, on those lovely occasions when someone else has your little one while you are at Mass, you could definitely bring your old Missal or prayer book back—they are great reminders that we all need, even if it's just occasionally. If parting with your Missal discourages you, read these words of Fr. Jean, OFMcap and be comforted:
To someone asking whether it is necessary to follow the Mass in a missal, Padre Pio answered that only the priest needs a missal. According to him, the best way to attend the Holy Sacrifice is by uniting oneself to the Virgin of Sorrows at the foot of the cross, in compassion and love. It is only in paradise, he assures his interlocutor, that we will learn of all the benefits that we received by assisting at Holy Mass.
Pick a method of hearing Mass using mostly mental prayer.
So instead of the Missal, we are going to practice mental prayer—picking certain things to meditate on for the different parts of the Mass that are easy to remember. If you have to run outside with a baby, or remove your attention for another reason, no worries—do what you need to do then get back to meditating on the assigned topic for that part of the Mass—you don't need any hands to do this! (By meditating, we don't mean anything new age-y. Think about an aspect of the topic, stir up affections, use your imagination to picture it happening, talk with Our Lord and Our Lady discursively about it—whatever is working.)
There are several methods of doing this. I'm going to present three different ones to you here. My advice (for whatever it is worth!) would be to try each one out for a Mass and see how it works for you. You might find that one comes really easily, whereas one is a lot more difficult for you. Or you might find it helps to switch it up. Ask the Holy Ghost, Our Lady of Sorrows, and your guardian angel to really guide you.
From St. Frances de Sales:
"Now to hear holy Mass, either actually or spiritually, in a fitting manner: (1) From the beginning until the priest goes up to the altar, make the preparation with him, which consists in placing yourself in the presence of God, acknowledging your unworthiness and begging pardon for your faults. (2) From the time when the priest goes up to the altar to the Gospel, consider with a simple and general consideration the coming and the life of our Lord in this world. (3) From the Gospel to the Credo, consider the preaching of our Saviour; protest that you wish to live and die in the faith and obedience of his holy word, and in union with the holy Catholic Church. (4) From the Credo to the Pater noster apply your heart to the mysteries of the death and passion of our Redeemer, which, together with the priest and the rest of the people, you will offer to God the Father, for his honour and for your salvation. (5) From the Pater noster to the Communion strive to excite a thousand desires of your heart, ardently wishing to be for ever joined and united to your Saviour by everlasting love. (6) From the Communion to the end, thank his divine Majesty for his Incarnation, for his life, for his death, for his passion, and for the love which he shows to us in this holy Sacrifice, conjuring him through it to be ever propitious to you, to your relations, to your friends, and to the whole Church; and, humbling yourself with your whole heart, receive devoutly the divine blessing which our Lord gives you by the ministry of his priest."
Source: Introduction to the Devout Life
From Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus:
"The first duty is to praise and adore the infinite Majesty of God; the second, to satisfy His Divine justice for all our sins; the third to thank Him for all the benefits we have received from Hs liberality; the fourth to expose our wants to Him...
"In the beginning of Mass, when the Priest humbly recites the Confiteor, make a brief examination of conscience, exciting yourself to an act of contrition, and begging of Our Lord pardon for your sins. Implore the assistance of the Holy Ghost and of our blessed Lady, to hear holy Mass with all the respect and devotion of which you are capable. Then divide the Mass into four parts, in each of which you shall apply yourself to fulfill one of the four above-named duties.
"In the first part, which includes the beginning of Mass to the end of the Gospel, apply your mind to adore and praise the infinite Majesty of God...
"In the second part of the Mass, which begins with the end of the Gospel and continues to the Elevation, in order to make satisfaction for the immense debt of your sins...[here he includes a prayer of contrition, remorse for sins, self-accusation, and begging for forgiveness]
"In the third part of the Mass, from the Elevation to the Communion, considering yourself enriched with so many benefits by the liberality of your God, offer Him in requital Jesus Christ...
"In the fourth part of the Mass, from the Communion to the end, when you shall have made either your Spiritual or Sacramental Communion, concentrate your faith on the God who is within you, and, with a lively ardor, ask Him for all the graces of which you have need, for in this moment Jesus Christ unites Himself to you and prays for you. Dilate, open, unfold, therefore, your heart, and do not limit either your desires or your confidence."
From Fr. Lasance:
"Adore till the Gospel,
Give thanks to the bell;
Till Communion ask pardon—
Then all your wants tell."
Source: Our Lady Book
Prepare at home.
Like many things in life, you are likely not going to be able to just show up to Mass and start doing this without any preparation. This is especially true if part of your brain is focused on dealing with little ones at Mass. The first thing I would do, once you pick one of these or another method, really spend a couple of minutes trying to memorize the different topics for the different parts. Write it down, recite it, whatever you have to do (if you have a hard time memorizing, Fr. Lasance's might be the one for you—it's brevity and rhyme make it a breeze to remember!). Sometimes it does help to have vocal prayers for each topic written out (e.g., Fr. Ignatius' method contains vocal prayers for each to start with). You could write these down on a small index card, or something you could easily hold to get you started or when you are really having a tough time meditating.
The next thing to do is to practice mental prayer in general every day for at least 10-15 minutes. Pick a good meditation book to go through (all three of the above books mentioned have meditations—Introduction to the Devout Life actually takes the time to explain how to do mental prayer), pick a set time and place every day (I do mine for the first fifteen minutes of naptime), and do mental prayer. It can be very difficult at first, but, like anything, the more you practice it, the easier it gets, and you will have an easier time doing it at Mass if you are in the habit of it. If you have no idea what mental prayer is or could use a refresher, this video does an excellent job of explaining the basics:
Try this method of hearing Mass if you haven't. Hopefully you will find it a bit easier to assist at Mass devoutly than trying to juggle a baby or two and a Missal. I'd love to know what you think in the comments! If you enjoyed this post, you might like my post on praying with babies and toddlers—fostering an interior life in those same squirmy little ones from as early as infancy.