Children at Mass
"The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and families" (CCC para 226).
Every Catholic of whatever age has a right and duty to attend Mass “on Sundays and Holy Days”. (CCC para 2041). This precept reflects the universal and inclusive nature of the Catholic Church and the central place of Mass in worship and in belonging. Mass is where “All gather together..All have their own active parts to play in the celebration”. (CCC para 1348). Children therefore have a right to attend Mass and we as parents, have a duty to take them. It is good to remind yourself of this if ever you meet with someone who wonders aloud after Mass whether you “couldn’t just wait til, they are older “ or “ couldn’t just attend another Mass”… No, we cannot and should not. Our childrens’ place, right from birth is where Christ himself placed them; at the heart of the worshipping community.
we can feel supported and justified in taking children along. This is necessary
to fulfil our obligations, but not sufficient. A child can come to Mass every
Sunday for years and remain either indifferent or become actively hostile to
love of God cannot be imposed upon a child or even taught to him or her.
Parents and other adults do, however, have a duty to create the kind of
environment in which a child may himself discover Faith and the love of God. As
adults we also have the duty of providing our children with the example of how
to behave. . We have a grave responsibility to give a good example, to
evangelise our children and to teach them how to pray.(Catechism paras 2223 -2226). In order to facilitate
the growth of Faith in a child they must have an experience of prayer as part
of their everyday family life. They need to learn the Hail Mary and Our Father,
by hearing them said every day and having the chance to join in when they are
ready. They need to read the Bible and have it read to them so that they are
familiar with the stories and people of the Old Testament and the Gospels. They
also need to be taken to
Such an environment and an example prepare the ground and provide the child with the openness needed to participate in worship, but more is needed.
The environment of the Church must be so designed as to provide for the special needs of the child. In order for Faith to grow and for children to be genuinely and fruitfully welcomed at Mass, there must be;
If such facilities are available to children and they are accompanied to Mass by an adult who gently invites (not forces) them to join in with the prayers that they already know, with the hymns and who draws their attention to the altar at the time of Consecration, then they will have a genuine opportunity to understand the depth and mystery of God’s love for us as expressed in the Eucharist. A very young child takes in everything in their environment; their environment and the happenings and atmosphere within in it, form the deep and unshakeable basis for their sense of self and of how the world is and should be. By the age of three, each child will count as part of him or herself all that he or she has experienced; all that has not been a part of their experience until then will be regarded as foreign to them. The following fact should give us all pause for thought; by the age of three, a child will either have had an experience of God as part of their Universe or God and Church will be seen as alien to them, however interested in them they may subsequently become.
We as parents are not responsible for whether or not our children choose to be practising Catholics. We will, however, be judged on the example and support we have given them and we are expected to facilitate the growth of their love of God and their relationship with Him. There can surely be no more awe-inspiring and exciting vocation in the world than that of Catholic parents. If we take our children to Mass, help them join in, explain to them what is going on, and above all show great reverence ourselves for the Real Presence, we will have done our duty. Incidentally, our children will also be much more likely to want to come to Mass of their own volition.
There are three excellent publications on the subject of children and the Mass, sadly currently out of print,
but old copies are sometimes available;
"The Mass Explained to children"" by Maria Montessori
"The Child in Church" by Maria Montessori
and "My Lord and my God" By Cardinal Heenan.
I have made notes on the last two, which I am happy to circulate by email to any one who is interested.