Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Children and the Mass

I love the Mass.
“The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood.” (CCC 1382)
We come together as a community, and we are each invited to draw near to the Heart of Christ.
“…the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.” (CCC 1382)
We adore, we worship, we petition, we offer thanksgiving. And we also forget.

We forget what the Mass is, and we forget the reverence that is due to God in this sacred, holy, precious celebration. We forget that the Mass isn’t about our desires or personal expressions of prayer. Or, perhaps, we have never been taught this—and we cannot forget what we have never been taught.

So, then, some of us forget, and some of us do not know, through no fault of our own. Poor faith formation, insufficient instruction from the pulpit, lack of instruction in one’s upbringing and home, or false impressions that have been given through the witness of others or even one’s own parish.

We do not realize that the Sacred Liturgy just that-sacred. That at every Mass, multitudes of angels are adoring the Lord. We do not understand that the Mass is a sacrifice, offered to God—and so we think that it is about us. About our desires, our emotions, our personal expressions of prayer. And we think that the sacredness of the Liturgy must be something so far beyond our reach that we must bring the Mass down to our level, and turn it into something more palatable, more comfortable to our sensibilities. And when children are present, we can rush to think of all the aspects we should adjust or change so that the children will be engaged and “get something” from the Mass.

But here’s the thing: The Liturgy isn’t about us. Furthermore, some children can grasp the reverence due to God better than many adults can.

“There is a deep bond uniting God to the child, the Creator to His creature; it is a bond that cannot be explained as the result of any human work, a bond with which no person should dare interfere. The catechist’s task is to create specific conditions so that this relationship may be established, but to withdraw as soon as the contact occurs. We should take the greatest care not to intervene between God and the child with our encumbering person, with our insistent words.” ~Sofia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child
There are, it must be acknowledged, special allowances that are made for Masses in which the majority of the participants are children. However, it is easy to springboard off of those minor elements—like using a particular Eucharistic Prayer designated for these liturgies—and begin adding in whatever we think could help children “get something” out of Mass. 

But, as the Congregation for Divine Worship states,
“In all this, it should be kept in mind that external activities will remain fruitless and even harmful if they do not serve the internal participation of the children. Thus sacred silence has its importance even in Masses with children. These things should be attended to with great care so that the children do not forget that all the forms of participation reach their high point in Eucharistic communion, when the body and blood of Christ are received as spiritual nourishment.”
Anecdotally, I have seen many, many young children observe the Mass and other times of prayer with reverence. They notice when their parents treat the Mass as a Big Deal. So, they know that what is happening on the altar is a Big Deal. They notice that coming to Mass is different than going to story time at the library. They notice that the church is a special, holy place, set apart from the rest of their world. It’s not like the kitchen, living room, or day care—it’s something entirely different: it is the House of God.

Some children, at certain ages, can be rambunctious during Mass. I’m sure some of you who are reading this are shaking your heads, thinking, “Oh, AnneMarie, you don’t get it. My child could NEVER be reverent like your idealized image dictates!” Although I do not have a child in a “wild and crazy” phase yet, from my experience as both an older sibling and as a woman who has friends with young children, I have noticed that most children go through phases—and if your child is in a “wild and crazy” phase, know that it most likely will not last forever. 

If we help cultivate reverence towards God, the Mass, and the church building, then even the most energetic of children will—hopefully—grasp this significance at some point. And how will they ever be able to imitate a spirit of silence, prayer, and reverence if the parents and church community do not already practice it?

If we stop worrying about making the Mass look like preschool story time at the library, and instead focus on giving God the glory, honor, and reverence due to Him, our children will pick up on that. If we focus on centering our lives and homes on God and a spirit of prayer, drawing connections between Sunday Mass and daily life, our children will notice it. If, from a young age, we instill in our children the sacredness of the Mass and the church building, we will help them grow in an awareness and natural understanding of the Faith.
“It is always necessary to keep in mind that such Eucharistic celebrations must lead children toward the celebration of Mass with adults, especially the Masses at which the Christian community must come together on Sundays. Thus, apart from adaptations that are necessary because of the children’s age, the result should not be entirely special rites, markedly different from the Order of Mass celebrated with a congregation.” (The Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory for Masses with Children)

Will we help our children to experience the beautiful, awe-inspiring, reverent, magnificent, incredible gift of the Mass? Will we help our children learn a spirit of holy reverence from a young age?
“One should really do some serious thinking before going to receive the great favors accorded in the most high mystery. One should keep in mind whom one is approaching, what state one is in, and how and why one approaches it.” ~Blessed Angela of Foligno


  1. Agree. While our babe is still young, over the years I've observed many families in church and have seen families with MANY young kids that are reverent and well as families where the kids are crazy. My husband and I discuss ways we think will help cultivate reverent kids at Mass. Liked your thoughts. :)

  2. Very interesting read. I've only attended Mass once--my parents-in-law are Catholic, and Angel grew up Catholic. So the Mass I attended was in Spanish and I definitely didn't catch the meaning of everything, although the songs were easier to understand--one of the songs was all about the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was interesting to me as someone who had only learned about Catholic theology from books. In Protestant churches, there is a constant debate about keeping all kids in the main service or teaching more child-friendly classes and offering nursery rooms during the service. I've been to churches that kept all children in the main service--that was when I was a kid, and that pastor is, to this day, the best relationship I have with a pastor, he is the one who married us. I've also been a children's church teacher...and was recently asked to become a children's church teacher at our current church. I think there are benefits to either approach, but when I was a kid, my family always kept us in service and always had us participate in the whole service, didn't give us anything like activities to keep us busy.

  3. Thank you so much for this post! It really helped me examine myself in regards to my attitude as well as my internal and external behavior while in Mass. Being a first-time mom and going to Mass with a 13 mo old makes me wonder how other moms with more babies/kids do it! Mass is so sublime, so awesome and we are so easily distracted by vain little things, or sometimes we might be going through tough times. But you have reminded me that it is not about me, it is about God and his always-new sacrifice of Love for all of humanity, past, present and future, from all over the world! It is truly the most wonderful Love story ever. I know a 13 mo old doesn't really understand what is going on but at least with my baby I just point towards the tabernacle and tell her "Jesus is there. Let's say hi to Jesus!" when we go to Mass and then we say goodbye before leaving. It's a small thing but I think it will eventually help her realize that in the form of the Holy Eucharist Jesus is a living person, a friend that is always waiting for us to visit Him at the tabernacle.

  4. I'm not Catholic but I loved this post! In our church we don't have a nursery where the kids go during the Sunday service - all the infants and toddlers are right there in the chapel with us. It gets loud sometimes. (And by that I mean all the time.)

    But I think overall, kids who grow up with the habit of going to church and sitting through the service are able to do it. Of course they have moments, days, and maybe go through longer phases when it's a struggle.

    I 100% agree that there does not have to be lots of crazy entertainment for them to start getting something out of it. In fact, I find that the more toys and snacks I bring to keep them entertained, the worse they are. Now I just bring some baby toys, a matchbox car for the toddler, and a piece of paper and pencil for the older kids to draw as they listen, and it works great.