Saturday, 30 October 2010

Children at Mass

I came across this post about children at Mass when I should have been doing something else. I think it makes for an interesting read.

I do believe that being single, and therefore not having children to take to Mass, leaves me some right of pontification on this issue - if only because, not being occupied with children on a Sunday morning, I have more opportunity to observe what is going on around me.

First: I absolutely agree with Michelle Therese's suggestion that children should be welcomed at Mass, in the spirit of the words of Jesus that she quotes at the beginning of her post. In a very real sense, I don't mind children being at Mass and the element of disturbance that that can cause to single folk like me. What I do find difficult, and what drives me to Sunday evening Mass at the moment, is when I see a total lack of any effort by parents or parishes to achieve a proper participation by children at Mass (see seventhly below).

Secondly: Michelle Therese has experienced the way in which even young children can have a real sense of "the sacred" when they enter a Church or attend Mass. I would argue that this is so from principle rather than from experience (because I don't have any)... but the wee mites gain that sense of the sacred from seeing it in those around them, their parents firstly, but other adults at Mass, too. Oh, and in the way in which the celebrating priest conducts himself. The "good morning, everyone"/"good morning, father" approach to the Liturgy ain't goin' to deliver on this ...

Thirdly: Children need to see, from the very beginning, that going to Church for Mass is "different". They need to be asked to behave differently - with reverence, silence - and to see that others behave in the same way. They won't do it every time, that's children for you, but that they have been asked to do it communicates a message.

Fourthly: Children aren't going to pray by understanding the meaning of all the words (indeed many an adult will not understand all the words of the Liturgy), but that doesn't mean they can't participate. They can pray with their bodily postures - standing, sitting, kneeling, holding their hands together in prayer, watching what is happening in the sanctuary - and Michelle Therese's post bears witness to this. They can recognise that we stand for the Gospel after sitting for the other readings, something that might well be lost if they have trooped out for "children's liturgy".

Fifthly: Families should sit at the front where the children can see! And, yes, a few years ago, I gave this advice to a Mum with two children who were sometimes difficult in Church, and then watched over the following months as she followed it and the children's participation during Mass improved.

Sixthly: Give children something to watch at Mass! Gospel procession, acolytes, incense - all the works. This was always a hidden pastoral intent to my activity as a parish MC. And it makes life more exciting for the altar servers. The last time I was MC for a Bishop's visitation and confirmation, the minimum number of servers I needed was thirteen!

Seventhly: For all the efforts at "children's liturgy" and first communion programmes, my experience of seeing families at Mass on a Sunday morning is generally one of watching a pastoral disaster, and this seems to be the case whichever the parish and wherever the parish (at the moment I am generally hiding away at a Sunday evening Mass for my own sanity). The majority of families, both parents and children, simply do not participate in any sense, and do not seem to make any effort to participate. I have thought for some time now that it would be a good idea to scrap "childrens liturgy" and instead arrange for catechists to work with families during Mass to help them participate - modelling reverence in posture, genuflection, silence, the simpler responses, attentiveness to what is happening in the sanctuary. There appears to be as much a work to be done with the parents as with the children!
Michelle Therese's post does demonstrate what is possible and what can be done in this regard with a suitable pastoral intent.
Pontification over; now back to what I should have been doing for the last half hour ....


Patricius said...

As the father of (now grown-up) children I agree with you here absolutely. The way children generally behave at mass is largely reflective of the relationship the parents have with them. The comedienne Victoria Wood once expressed her puzzlement at why parents found it necessary to take their children to supermarkets in order to slap them! It never ceases to amaze me how the parents of children badly behaving in mass ignore them- and, judging by the glazed facial expressions, everyone and everything else as well. All young children can be fractious at times but part of the vocation of being a parent is the immense privilege of introducing one's children to what is truly important in life.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of this has to do with the fact that some families are just attending church in order to win a place for their child in a Catholic school. They don't care about introducing the child to the religion because they don't believe in it themselves.

To them, Mass attendence is just a household chore like putting the rubbish out for the dustmen.

Joe said...


Thank you for your observation.

The question of school admissions does in all likelihood encourage some families to attend Mass when they might otherwise not do so.

However, even for these famiies, I think it is harsh to suggest that they have no level of belief at all. It might not be the deepest and strongest - but in most cases my experience suggests that there is some degree of genuine belief.

My experience also suggests that what I describe reaches beyond such families, to families whose Mass attendance is not motivated by the question of school admissions.

Joe said...

Valle Adurni makes a useful contribution to the discussion about children in Church when he describes his own commitment, as a parish priest, to being involved in the catechesis of children rather than just leaving it to lay catechists alone.

My own reflection was intended to address the question of participation rather than just that of behaviour, but Valle Adurni's pastoral strategy is certainly one that contributes to growing genuine participation.

His post can be found here: