When I first told my husband I was writing a piece on how to get to Mass on time, we both chuckled a bit. Like diets and budgets, promptness is mostly about planning and then obedience to "stick to the plan." With 12 bodies to get up and going, the littlest thing (usually shoes) can sabotage the whole operation. Still, because lateness can become an easy habit, and grow from the occasional misstep to perpetually late, to missing a key and critical part of the Mass, we've sought to improve our record and devised any number of means to address punctuality when attempting to meet our weekly obligation.



Set the Expectation: The first key to making it to Mass on time is knowing what Mass is best for your family to attend, taking into account wakefulness of adults, children, dressing time, loading time, number of shoes you will have to locate and if any additional outer gear like coats and gloves might be needed. In winter or inclement weather situations, my family should probably start preparing on Thursday night.

The mass time should be public, common and posted knowledge. Telling your family, "Hey folks, we're going to the 10 o'clock Mass this weekend" over pizza on Friday is insufficient. Waiting until Sunday to ask, "So when are we going to go to Mass?" is too passive to ensure there isn't a mad scramble out the door and hunt for a Mass time to sort of fit the fact that we're in the car. Like dates, birthday parties and sporting events, Masses belong fixed on the family schedule.



Sous-Chef Prep: Laying out the whole ensembles of everyone the night before, including socks, eliminates the need to send the 5-year-old back upstairs because she's wearing a summer sun dress with striped leggings and it is below 50 degrees or the equally agonizing, "There's nothing to wear" teen/tween battles that puzzle adults when they've just spent the day doing laundry. It also prevents creative footwear experiences where a child is wearing two different left shoes; though I concede, I'm not particular about matching if we've got left and right. If this level of over the top planning is too much, consider the vigil service a prime time to go. Everyone's already up. They're already dressed. It's just a question of getting in the car. Dangle dinner as a family or watching a movie with popcorn afterward as a treat if you get complaints about the lack of opportunity for donuts.
Speaking of Getting in the Car: Have a barker! Growing up, on Sundays, my father would walk through the house booming, "It's time for Mass! Get up! Get dressed! You're burning daylight." You had about 10 minutes to be brushed, dressed, shod and out the door. You didn't know what would happen if you didn't comply, but it didn't matter, you heard the phrase, "Burning daylight" and you were moving. Having a single person in command gets everyone going in the same direction. It's sort of a cross between an alarm clock, cheerleader and the bad cop. The Barker also orders people out to the car and asks, "Why are you coming back in the house?" when the children start returning before we've left. Of course, there are sometimes when the Barker's powers are limited in which case, we go to the next strategy.

Defense in Depth: Have a junky weekend schedule full of soccer and birthday parties and errands? Or perhaps a child too young for coffee, but who does not rise willingly for love, money or donuts? Divide and conquer using split squads. Having a morning and evening shift to Mass works great when you have night owls and morning larks and everyone knows what time they are going. It does not work if you don't keep track of "what time is it?"

Tricky Time Management: Weekends can drift lazily by or be a whirr of activity. In either case, we suddenly can look at the clock and say, "It's what time?" We set the cell phone alarms to go off 30 minutes prior to the planned Mass on the weekend. Sometimes we use the oven timer to count down the time until we must load as well; particularly if we're attending the evening Mass. Also knowing our family, one daughter has set the clocks in the kitchen to be 10 minutes fast in an attempt to ensure that we are fooled into leaving on time. Oddly enough, this usually works. It's only a problem when someone else has reset the clocks to actual Eastern Standard Time and not told us.

Why is this important? Isn't showing up enough? It's true that God counts effort. Showing up certainly counts. But going to Mass should be more than a dutiful check off of a weekend "thing to do." Mass requires we give of ourselves. Going to mass on time is a little thing; a little thing we must do with great love. Lest one think this is simply over-scrupulousness over a tiny detail, the point of attending Mass is to receive the word, receive the Eucharist, and to be present; to place ourselves amongst others, in the presence of God. We ought to want to be at Mass with all our hearts, and find our hearts longing to linger here in this quiet alive place where we cannot multi-task, check our e-mail or do any of the other 1,000 Martha-esque chores that can crowd out Christ from our lives. Mass is one of the few places left in this world, where we can only be distracted by ourselves from paying attention to God. We should show up as eager for Christ as we would for a date, because we're going to see the One who loves us beyond all others.

Sherry Antonetti and her husband Marc have 10 children and are members of Saint Martin's Parish in Gaithersburg.