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Encouragement For The Parents of Young Children in Mass

alec vanderboom

Attending Mass at a new church means a new struggle to figure out the balance between teaching my young kids the faith, being courteous to strangers around me in the pew, and grabbing a few moments of quiet prayer for myself. Especially in new surroundings and in a new routine, it always feels like I get the balance wrong.

I found this letter from a priest in the Catholic Spirit really encouraging.

If the Mass is fundamentally a performance, not unlike a play or a movie, then we have every reason to glare at young children who make a scene at Mass, just as we would glare at the movie patron texting furiously in a darkened theater.

But the Mass is not a performance.  It is the total gift of self that Christ offers to the Father in love, an offering that we who are Christ’s body are invited to embrace and unite with our own sacrificial gift of self. The Mass is dangerous because it will change us if it is entered into fully and with conscious participation. It will make us one with Christ, willingly offering our own lives to the Father and in love to our brothers and sisters.

One of the remarkable features of grace is that God can inspire even within young children this generosity of Christ-like love. St. Maria Goretti stands as a shining example of this wondrous fact.

What is more, Christ speaks rather boldly and mysteriously of the need to acquire the heart of a child if one is to enter the kingdom of heaven.  

As the Mother of Six, I'm so over the "should we or shouldn't we bring young kids to Mass" divisiveness. St. Therese of Lisieux's parents kept her home until she was around age 7.  St. John Newman's Mama brought her bored son to Daily Mass with the bribe of a penny. The situation is complicated, highly personal, and likely to change week to week.

I like how the priest addresses this situation.

Now, to be sure, the question as to how to best handle the embarrassing difficulty of rambunctious children at Mass is not always an easy one. Nor is the question as to whether or not to even bring one’s very small child or children to Mass when those particular children are prone to disruptive behavior of some kind.

These are decisions that must be made with prudence, honesty and prayer, accompanied by candid conversation between spouses and perhaps with one’s pastor. The answer for one family will not be the same answer for another. 

But despite its difficulties or the various tactics utilized, it is, in fact, a grave duty of Christian parents to teach their children how to love with Christ-like love. And the absolute best way to do this is by bringing these children, including those who have not yet reached the age of reason, into contact with Jesus Christ at the holy sacrifice of the Mass, where Christ himself shows us how to love.

“Let the children come to me . . . ”  Christ calls out even today for the presence of young hearts to be filled with his love. Let us do everything we can to heed this call.

Teaching the Faith to children is not easy. It's not like having an Adult Sunday School class or a Carmelite meeting where a leader can hand out homework and expect class participation. Or introducing the Mass to an adult convert where even if a mind is distracted, confused, or bored silly, the body stays still so the person's inattentiveness is not telegraphed to the entire congregation.

Two year olds, are truth tellers. When my daughter is into reverence, with her hands folded neatly in prayer over her little yellow Gap dress, it shows. When she's distracted, it shows also. It's my job as her Mama to gradually increase the reverence she feels during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. My final goal isn't "When can my daughter sit quietly for 60 minutes inside of church?"  My end goal is far higher. I want this princess of Christ to feel the comfort, the nourishment, and the challenge of participation in a Catholic Mass for her whole life. This Mass is her true home base, long after she leaves my house.

It's a project. Like any good projects--home renovations, education, the sacrament of marriage--sometimes I feel overwhelmed. On a hard day, it's good to remember the end goal. I appreciated this priest for articulating the end goal so clearly, while acknowledging the messy reality of the process itself.