Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Children at Mass

At a time when my husband and I were invited to be Godparents, I started to think a lot about children's religious education as a whole. It is a lot of responsibility and not an easy topic, I must agree. At times like that I wish I were living closer to my group of Communion and Liberation to have some like-minded people to discuss with. Then I found an interesting post about Children at mass and I am up for that discussion.

I don't have any kids yet so I am commenting as an "outsider", ok? And I am fully aware that when mine will be born I will find them brilliant and amazing as any other parent does.  I only hope not to be so blind as to excuse them of every bad behavior and blaming the world for not seeing them as special beings the same way I do.

I bet noisy kids (at church, regardless of religion) can be frustrating to their parents but it is a lot more irritating to the rest of the assembly, as the parents are not the only ones affected by all the distraction. And I bet it can be extremely difficult for children up to 8 years old to feel minimally engaged at mass anyway - it is difficult for many adults too, some are always chatting during mass and have their cell phones ringing during blessings . And before you start to throw stones at me for calling your kids irritating (and let's face it, for the rest of the world, that is exactly what they are), I don't think parents are to blame alone or, even less, their kids. I think every parish is responsible to find ways to keep children engaged at mass and to learn about it. There will always be kids of all ages at every mass, anywhere around the globe, so I am not talking about exceptions here: this is a certainty.

I attended Catholic schools from the age of 4 until 17, and masses at school were at least once a week, during normal hours. Kindergarten masses were every Monday at the beginning of the day, and I always looked forward to those as we had to each take a flower to offer to Our Lady at the altar. We felt very special in participating this way and it was a solemn start that set us up in the mood for the ceremony. Those masses were short and the priest addressed to us, children, speaking in a language accessible to us. Scored! Silence and everybody paying attention to the altar at ages 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 while not even one parent on site. Only children and their teachers.

My parish was always a very engaging one, so every Sunday at 5pm there were Children's Masses, prepared with children in mind. We would be encouraged to sit all together at the front rows, away from our parents, and face to face with the altar. It can be intimidating to look at the priest if you are behaving badly. The Homily was done in a way to grab children's attention, there were stories with a moral end relating to the readings of the day. Absolute silence, while illustrations were projected at the wall helping the comprehension.  Children were called to the altar to give hands to the Priest to say the Our Father together. We all enjoyed that huge circle at the altar. The next day, at school, children would be talking about the story told on Sunday, and on Friday they would all look forward to go to mass again on Sunday to hear a new story and to meet their school friends and proudly show their families to them. Children learned how to appreciate mass, behave accordingly and understand what is that all about. Explaining to a child what mass is about in the same way you would explain to an adult not only won't make any sense in her mind, as it will sound just as a boring obligation - and this is certainly not what we intend to.

A lot later in life I ended up working with an Indian nun. Christianism is many times prosecuted in India, and Catholicism is even a much smaller group, so people have to really bond together to keep their faith strong and community is everything in such cases. Sr. Arun then told me that at every mass, in any parish, they have a nun responsible for the children. They are not locked away at an aquarium in the back of the church, but they all go and sit together at the front rows, with the nun, who then will guide them through mass. Kind of the same way it was in my parish during my childhood. And I do think this is an amazing solution.

In the end, complaining about the noise and disturbance won't help us in any way. Offering solutions, discussing about them and implementing, will. So what can we do in our own parishes today?



Daniel said...

Nice blog. Our parish back in Indiana would pull the kids out before the readings. The children would go to the altar with the teachers. The priest would hand one of them the book for the readings. They would head out of the church and do the readings in the hall. They would return for the sign of peace and communion. It was the best example I have seen in the churches we have attended.

Vicky said...

Thanks for visiting, Daniel! I really like what you just described about your Indiana parish. I would like to know if anyone does anything similar around us, in Albuquerque. It would be very nice to know about some priests supporting those initiatives.

Ju said...

Hummmm... I don't like the idea of pulling kids out before the readings, prima... I'm sorry, but that's why we all are at the church, to hear God's words and try to understand it. Guilty! I am one of those who read the Gospel everyday, but I need someone to guide me through it many times. I mean, the kids are not hearing the homily?
I do believe we need to respect God's house, but at the end it is God's house, and everybody should be welcomed. At my parish, here in Schaumburg, the homily is so interesting and the priest so nice (he is a funny guy!), that when there is a disturbance, it comes from babies (whom we cannot control at all!). And the babies' parents have the right to go to church too, right?!
My parish in Florida uses to put ushers on each door when the readings start and you are not able to go in, in case you are late, until they end. That makes me so angry! Again, it's God's house and everybody should be welcomed, no matter if late or not. The other day they pulled a girl out because her baby started crying. That pissed me off!
Anyways, I think the parents should educate and control their kids. But the kids should not be punished, by the church, for just being kids! They need to be adducted and engaged.
And I think like that since before I got pregnant... I will not stop going to the church with Alex because I do not have someone to take care of the baby... He is going with me! ;)

PS: Sorry for the lonnnnng comment...

Teresa said...

Nice post, Vicky. San Clemente used to take the younger children to the parish hall during the readings also, not sure why we stopped doing that. I used to always sit in the front with my boys before we had a cry room. I'd have to get up and leave our seat in our little church building when the youngest, some know who that is, would get too fidgety. With our new building, we have a very nice cry room, but I beleive too many people use the cry room for convience rather than trying to teach their children to sit with the congregation and learn to pay attention and behave. I used to instruct my boys from the time they were little what the alter was and that Jesus was haning on the cross. I had them read the missel with me through the entire Mass. After making their first communion, I had each of them become alter servers. Now, with having a grandson, when I get to take him with me to Mass, I keep him with me and only go to the cry room if he starts to get loud and won't quiet down. I want him to learn there is a time and place to be quiet and Mass is the time...I love the disipline you were brought up with, I wish more of our generation and the next had this opportunity as you did. I'd like to see our parish go back to the practice of taking the kids out during the readings. Having a lifeteen mass would be great also, and to have the Preist address the teens in the homily would be wonderful.


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