Do you have small children? Do you wonder how you might make it through the Easter Vigil with them? Let me share what we did last year. We attended the entire Easter Vigil with our 2-year-old, 5-year-old, and 6-year-old with no temper tantrums, no whining, and no embarrassing moments. Somehow, it turned out to be a far better mass for our children than most Sunday masses were at that point in our family’s life.
You may wonder, “How in the world did you do it?” Let me share!
How to Attend the Easter Vigil with Young Children
- A big goal for Holy Week was to attend the Easter Vigil. Therfore, we did not attend Holy Thursday’s mass or Good Friday’s service. My husband and I love those liturgies, but it is not the right season for it, given our children’s ages, if we wanted to attend the late Easter Vigil. This made the Easter Vigil mass “new” to them for that week. Let me explain, if we had attended Holy Thursday Mass and Good Friday’s service, attending Holy Saturday’s mass would have likely been too much for their little bodies. Bravo to any parent with young children who can attend all of the triduum! You should get an eternal gold star!
- During Holy Week at home, we read scripture stories with our children and explained some basics about salvation. During the triduum, we read some of the stories from it that would have been read at church. I can’t remember for sure what we read, but it was probably the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, and when Jesus died on the cross. During those readings, we focused on talking about how Jesus died for our sins. We talked about how Jesus died on the cross, went into Hell, and tore the veil to allow souls into Heaven. We talked about how everyone in the Old Testament had been waiting for Jesus to come and conquer death (our 5-year-old was very excited to learn about this!). We talked about how Jesus died and rose from the dead three days later.
- We explained to the children what to expect at the Easter Vigil. We went into details, but in general, we said things like the following:
- When mass starts, there is going to be a big bonfire! (Last year, we ended up arriving late and accidentally missed it, but they looked forward to it.)
- Then everyone in the whole church will get a candle! We’ll each light each other’s candles, one by one, and the only lights in the church will be our candles!
- We’ll hear lots and lots of Bible stories. (Here’s the full-text; you can try to summarize a few of them http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032616.cfm)
- Then when we talk about Jesus, we’ll sing a big song. Do you know which one? It’s a song we have not been able to sing all of Lent before the Gospel? Yes, it’s the A-song! We’ll hear beautiful music and all of the lights in the church will turn on!
- Then the Bishop will give a long homily talking about Jesus. (We attend a Cathedral.)
- Then adults will be Baptized. They will become Christians for the very first time!!
- Then we’ll have the consecration, Our Father, sign of peace, and communion like we do at every mass.
- We’ll sing lots of beautiful songs.
- When we get home, we’ll celebrate! If you’re good at mass, you can eat some Easter candy!
- On Holy Saturday, we made sure the kids’ basic needs were being met. They ate healthy foods (good fuel for their bodies!). We also made sure they played outside and got some good exercise; we didn’t want them wiggling at mass because they never had good old-fashioned childhood exercise for the day. We made everyone take a nap. I don’t know about your kids, but my kids are happier and better listeners when they are well rested. Naps are wonderful. I even took one to help me be prepared and have improved patience with my children.
- We made sure kids had baths during the day, well before needing to leave for mass.
- On Holy Saturday, I laid out all of our clothes and shoes in advance. I had everything laid out by about 3pm: dresses, shoes, tights, dress shirt and tie, socks, my clothes, etc. I thought I would need to iron some things right after dinner, and surely there would be time…but I was wrong, and that was my big error. My girls had adorable, light green matching dresses, from my mom, that she had bought a year in advance, but they must have been in their boxes too long. They were 100% cotton and had about 1,000 wrinkles. When I realized it after dinner, we ended up leaving late for mass because I was still ironing. In hindsight, since the first 1/4 of mass is in candlelight…it probably didn’t matter if the dresses were wrinkled. C’est la vie.
- We ate dinner before mass. We still were within the one-hour fast before communion (with the Easter Vigil lasting about 2.5 hours, we were definitely going to be ok!). Bravo to any and all parents who fast before the Easter Vigil like was once a tradition, followed by a very big feast afterwards.
- We got dressed after dinner. This helped the children’s church clothes remain clean. As explained above, I should have ironed clothes in advance; probably ironing a day or more in advance would have been wise!
- We packed books for the children. We brought children’s Bibles, children’s missels, and my 6-year-old brought her MagnifiKid. We tried to pack books that are religious related, but some much loved storybooks were packed, too. We packed some Jesus coloring pages and crayons. Our favorite children’s Bible for this ages range is The Beginner’s Bible.
- We packed a battery operated candle. This allowed our 2-year-old to have a safe candle during the Easter Vigil. She loved it! She might have cried and whined during mass if we weren’t prepared to have a candle for her because she would have wanted one like everyone else…and then I would have needed to stand in the back of church with her. Instead, we brought a battery operated one, and we could stay together as a family in the pew. It was wonderful.
- I had low expectations at mass. Yes, I expected the children to sit quietly, face forward, and try to pay attention. Yes, I expected my oldest one, who was a good reader, to read as much as she could from the MagnifiKid and say responses. Yes I expected my 5-year-old to sit and stand at most parts of the mass. Yes I expected my 2-year-old to be quiet and sit by us; I expected her to not loud or run…..and yet, I wanted to be flexible. Ahead of time, I was at peace knowing if any of my kids wanted to sleep, I would let them fall asleep in the pew. Ahead of time, I planned if my 5-year-old was having a hard time focusing during the long mass, I would let him sit and look at books or quietly color a page of Jesus.
- On the drive to mass, we reviewed our expectations with the children. We reminded them and quizzed them on what “good” behavior at mass was.
- Ahead of time, my husband and I decided if our kids were acting up at mass, we would just leave and return to mass in the morning. They were great, but I felt better knowing that we had other options if the Easter Vigil was “too much” for them. I wanted to be respectful of the other people at mass, and I wanted to honor my children, too. It all worked out quite well, and we did attend the entire mass.
- We sat in the middle of church and took up a whole pew. Even though it was the five of us and my in-laws, we used the whole pew to spread out to be comfortable (I think one of our church’s pews can fit 10-12 people). We wanted to be able to get up and leave quickly from either side of the aisle, if necessary. We tried to choose seats that were not too crowded to be respectful of neighbors, although I think we did sit right behind a couple and in front of another couple, by accident somehow (maybe because we entered church when it was dark….). Fortunately, the people around us kindly gave us positive compliments about our children at the end of mass, which is always a good sign that it was ok. We sat in the middle part of the church to help all our children to see the front of church, but not so close to the front that I felt like we would be a distraction to the priests and the more heavily populated front of the church.
- During mass, we quietly explained what was happening. Whispering to the children, “We are going to hear about how God created the world” or “There are two more reading left” or “We are going to say the Our Father next” is quite helpful to the children. They really don’t have a sense of time at their ages (6, 5, and 2). They also don’t understand a lot of what’s going on at mass; we can really help our children feel welcome at mass and learn as the mass happens if we briefly whisper to them what to expect. Now, for our 2-year-old, we did not do that much; she fortunately liked being held by us for a lot of mass and eventually fell asleep.
- After mass, we went home and the children had some of their Easter candy. The children really enjoyed having a time to “feast” on a piece of chocolate after mass! We took a family picture, and promptly got them ready for bed. We did jammies, brushed teeth, prayers, lights out. We almost always read a story, but they had just heard a ton of stories at mass; that counted. The children fell asleep very easily. It was a very smooth evening, miraculously.
Now, I am not going to guarantee if you do similar things to what I did that your children, too, will sit quietly through the entire Easter Vigil mass. Kids likely will need guidance during mass about what to do or not do; gentle taps on the shoulder, a stern look, and pointing (e.g., down at the kneeler) are helpful ways to guide children. These are suggestions, and I wanted to offer hope that it can be done. It takes some careful planning and preparation, but it can be done. There is such beauty in the Easter Vigil mass. Children are excited that Jesus rises from the dead. They love that the tomb is empty because Jesus is alive. They can understand that Jesus is God.
Please, if it is on your heart to attend the Easter Vigil, and if you can prepare your children in advance, please take your small children to the Easter Vigil. If Saturday goes smoothly and you are ready, give it a try! If your Saturday is a disaster and the kids are constantly fighting with each other and are cranky, and if you have a migraine all day because of it…do yourself a favor and wait until Easter Sunday after everyone gets a good night’s sleep. If this is not the right time to bring your children to an Easter Vigil, then maybe try for next year. God will be pleased however you prioritize celebrating this most sacred feast of Easter with Him.