Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Everyday Grace: Chasing away those liturgy blues
by Lori Fontana
(From the July 5, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
What’s that you say? Your children don’t like going to Mass? Join the crowd. I’ve been dragging our various “little ones” to Sunday Mass for over 22 years. Bringing our children to Mass (in a non-violent way!) is a task that stretches the creative talents and sheer willpower of all Catholic parents.
Why is Mass such a difficult experience for our children? And why is it that Mass tries the patience of many adults, too? How many of us merely “endure” our Sunday obligation because of years of habit or fear of offending God?
I think it’s time to look at Mass, our Sunday Eucharist, with new eyes. I think three things can help.
First, we need to see Sunday Mass as the weekly centerpiece of our day-to-day lives of faith. If Mass is the only time during our week that we think of God and our faith, then Mass will be dull and lifeless.
Secondly, we need to develop the habit of Mass-going. We all need some of the “carrot and stick” approach to any of life’s regular commitments.
Finally, we must advocate for more user-friendly liturgies. There are creative ways to draw both children and adults into the drama and wonder of the Eucharistic celebration.
Is our faith part of our day-to-day lives? One Sunday, my brother’s 2-year-old, Dominic, was noisy and uncooperative at Mass. John scooped up Dominic and carried him over his shoulder out of the church. As they moved down the aisle, Dominic stretched out his tiny arms toward the crucifix over the altar and cried, “Jesus, help me! Dad’s going to spank me!” Dominic knew who Jesus was; he knew that Jesus helps us in time of need. He grew up with the stories of Jesus and brought that learning to Mass.
For Mass to make any sense, all of us need to know the stories of Jesus and the Church and the saints. We need some day-to-day experience of faith so that Jesus isn’t just a wooden figure on the wall, so that Mass isn’t just a string of monotonous prayers and gestures of standing, kneeling, sitting and standing again. We must be people of prayer. Then we can bring our week of praying and living out our faith to the Sunday celebration.
How many of us would run merrily to our jobs each morning if we received no pay for them? Some compensation for our work is a primary motivator. That’s why I thank God for coffee and donuts after Mass.
I’ll admit it now, after all these years: the Fontana kids were bribed from the time they were very small — “if you cooperate during Mass, you may have a donut and hot chocolate.” It worked. When Clare tormented her sister mercilessly one Sunday, she didn’t get her donut. And she remembered that the next Sunday. Her behavior improved, and the next week she picked out the biggest maple bar there.
The donut is not a cure-all, but the treat helps to develop a habit. The worker at a nine-to-five job, the dedicated athlete, even the tiny toddler learning to walk — all need a push from behind and a “reward” held out before them. So too with the weekly commitment of Mass — we need both discipline and reward to help us develop the habit of fully participating in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Finally, there are creative ways to draw children into the liturgy. We need to advocate for changes to liturgical styles which will engage our children. A bishop friend of ours observed that when he preaches to adults, the children are quite left out and many of the adults tune out, too. But when he tailors the homily to a child’s level, everyone listens. Some parishes offer a children’s Liturgy of the Word. If that’s not possible, the celebrant can move down into the congregation or call the children up to the front for the homily. The use of props and very concrete images in explaining the Scriptures, and confining the homily to one or two main points are very helpful.
Sunday mornings need not be a great battle to get your children to Mass. Have other times of prayer during the week to prepare for Mass. Take a look at the Sunday Gospel reading beforehand, so that children will say, “Oh, I’ve heard that story!” when the Gospel is read at Mass.
Make Sunday mornings pleasant in different ways. If your church doesn’t offer a coffee and donut time, buy your own treat to share in your home or at the park with family and other friends after Mass. This visiting time is important and enjoyable as well.
And work for child-friendly liturgies. Small changes can make a big difference in making the Mass understandable and interesting to children. The Mass is the feast of God’s love for us — let’s celebrate!
(Lori Fontana works in evangelization ministry for the Diocese of Yakima.)
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