A number of years ago, I had a young parent stop by my office and ask, “How do you feel about kids in church?” I’m never quite sure how to answer a question posed in that way, but I did know that the parent in question had two young children, and so I presumed that she was asking me how I felt in general about the presence of young children in church during Mass. I assured her that I treasure the presence of young children as part of the worshiping assembly and then asked why she felt the need to ask such a question. The floodgates opened. The young mom shared with me that people in the assembly had said some very uncharitable words to her about her children’s behavior, and one went so far as to tell her that she should just consider keeping her kids at home if they were going to act up in church. The young mother was so frustrated by the actions of her fellow parishioners that she was contemplating leaving the parish. I apologized to her for the poor behavior of her brothers and sisters in Christ and assured her that she and her children would always be welcome at Mass. Her family’s departure from the parish would be the last thing I would want.
If you are a parent with young children and you are wondering if you should make the effort to come to Mass regularly, let me begin by saying unequivocally, “Yes, please take the time and make the consistent effort.” The presence of you and your children at Mass is a sign of hope, and the energy that your kids bring to worship puts a smile on many faces, including my own.
Here is the advice that I usually offer young parents when it comes to bringing kids to church. First, be consistent – bring your children to Mass every week. The only reasonable way to expect them to learn how to behave at Mass is to regularly take part in the Mass with your guidance and assistance. There are a variety of books designed to help young children learn the actions and words of the Mass. Perhaps your parish makes such books available. Next, come up to the front. Young children want to see what is happening during Mass and it is best if they can have a clear view of the many actions that take place as we worship.
As you come up front, you may want to sit near the musicians, if that is possible. Kids are fascinated by the actions of the piano, organ, other instrumentalists, cantor and choir at Mass. If your child is musically inclined, perhaps being near the musicians will eventually give them the courage to share their musical gifts with God. Third, you may wish to separate the troublemakers. If your children have trouble sitting next to one another in the car on the way to church, perhaps putting mom or dad between them might keep unruly factions at bay during Mass. This worked wonders when my brother and I were kids. Finally, your patient guidance and whispered explanations of what is happening during Mass will, in time, help your children to fall in love with the Mass. One of the most touching things I recently saw was a dad kneeling down with his two young sons on either side, patiently helping them to sing the final song at Mass by pointing out the words in the hymnal and singing along with his boys. What a wonderful sight and what a picture of faith, hope and love!
As Christmas draws near, and as the new year unfolds, our parish communities will be welcoming folks of all ages who may not attend Mass regularly or who may have been invited by a family member or friend to explore coming to church. The care, guidance, sensitivity and loving acceptance that we offer for young children present in our assemblies will also go a long way in helping folks of any age to feel welcome and accepted into the family we call Church. Each of us, no matter our age, can take part as we join together at Mass for Christmas and all year ‘round, giving joyful praise and thanks to God. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.