Taking Little Ones To Mass
When they were young, every Thursday or Friday morning, Matthew or Jonathon would ask me when I woke them up: "Mom, is it a Church day yet?"
The two boys had given special names to different days, names that showed me what they saw as important. There was Church Day, School Day and Play Day. As Jon said; "Church Day is the starting of the week."
I agree with him. For me, 'Church Day' places a God-centred focus on the rest of the week. It is a way for all of us to remember that every day of the week is in God's service. The Mass on Sunday is the foundation on which we can build the rest of our lives.
Even before our first child was born, Peter and I made a commitment to go to Mass every Sunday as a family, believing it would be a crucial element in our children's faith formation. Now that we have six, ranging in age from 20 to 8, we know from experience just how vital is weekly Mass attendance. Nothing, barring dangerous driving weather, keeps the whole family from going to Mass every Sunday.
Regular attendance at Mass is crucial for many reasons. The most important, of course, is our participation in the Eucharist. Christ taught us that He is the vine, and we are the fruit; isolation from the Body of the Church will cause our spiritual life to wither and die. Liturgy, prayer, song or celebration, everything is secondary to the great prayer of the Church in the sacrifice of the Body of Christ.
As confirmed Catholics we have an obligation to attend Sunday Mass and the other Holy Days of Obligation of the Church. This obligation allows us to use God's gift of our free will in obedience to the precepts of His Church.
Sunday Mass is also an opportunity to join the community in worship. Peter and I have come to see the Mass as the time and place where our first faith community, the family, can join the larger faith community, our parish, in worship.
A fourth reason relates more directly to how a child's faith develops. Children learn by repetition, through consistency, and from example. What a perfect way to describe a Mass! The candles, stained glass, and bright colours capture their attention and the weekly repetition gives them time to extract the full meaning from each movement, song, and prayer. With so much to learn in a busy childhood, a child will learn first what relates directly to his everyday life. When the Sunday Mass is part of their regular routine, children will learn in a lasting and significant way how to be Catholic. They also learn through repetition how to maintain the habit of weekly attendance, even when it's difficult or we have something we'd rather do.
It is very simple at first; Robert first learned to bless himself when we entered the church, but gradually as their understanding of the world develops, their understanding of our Faith will follow. Questions and comments from Sarah, Andrew and Tina about the readings and homily are now a regular part of our drive home after Mass.
Of course, there are practical difficulties to attending Mass as a family. The first challenge is getting to Mass on time. Our solution is to lay out clothes on Saturday evening, have a simple breakfast, and allow 45 minutes for the 15 minute drive.
When we get to church early, we take a seat at the front. The children can see and hear better there. (Besides, up at the front, you can't see all the people who may be annoyed by your child.) Sometimes, we use two short pews, one in front of the other, to separate the wigglers and gigglers, and make sure no one is out of arm's reach. We never bring food, toys or books with us, we have found that the children do not learn to behave if distractions are provided.
Even though our children have a right and an obligation to attend Mass along with us, and no-one has the right to tell us to leave, instruct us to use a 'crying room' or even to make disparaging comments or faces at us, we recognize that sometimes children do disturb and distract others, and have worked hard to teach them how to behave at Mass. We tell them; "Wiggle if you have to, but Be Quiet!". As they approach their First Communion, we also expect them to pay attention and follow the responses. If a little one is restless or experimenting with the echoes (favorite of our 13 month olds), we walk them around at the back of the church to look at the statues, paintings and stained glass. No one seems to mind.
We have found that the Sunday Mass acts as a foundation and supports the life of the family, just as a foundation supports our house. The benefits that we acquire at Mass follow us throughout the week, and the reminder of Jesus' unconditional love and untiring aid as we go about our busy daily lives is a source of strength for all of us. We go to work and school, do housework, do homework, cook and bake, read stories, talk about our day, say our evening prayers together and before I know it, it's Thursday morning again;
"Mom, is it a Church day yet?"
Let us know what you do to make Mass with kids easier, what have you tried over the years? Please mail us with your advice.
One mother's answer:
Hi! I have some tips that have worked for me.
I have two sons (ages 5 and 4). The youngest one has been our "terror" at Mass. He really didn't seem to even want to go and would start crying the minute we drove into the parking lot.
One day I decided to take both boys over to the church during the week. No one was there but us. I showed them and talked to them about several things.....baptismal font, tabernacle and sanctuary light, the altar - I went over some very basic things about the Mass and told them that the next time we were at Mass to watch Father and see if they could see him use some of the things we talked about and do some of the things I explained to them.
Well, it seems to have worked! This is not to say we don't have fidgeting! However, when things start to get "vocal", I just whisper "Look! Look at Father! See what he is doing!" This seems to settle them down and grab their attention.
I also have friends who suggest sitting in the front row so that the children can SEE! We have one family of eight that does this every Sunday.....and their children do behave!