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 ....