Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Everyday Grace: Children at Mass: we all come to participate
by Mary Farrell
(From the April 11, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
Recently, I overheard a mother agonizing over what to do with her youngster during Mass.
“He’s four, now,” she said. “I don’t want him to spend the whole time in the nursery. He’s old enough he ought to be able to pay attention for at least some of it.”
Some parents train their toddlers to sit still and be quiet throughout Mass. Others decide to remove children to a nursery or children’s liturgy. A few parishes allow children the leeway of remaining in the congregation though they may play, occasionally run about or make noise. Balancing the needs of young families with the needs of other members of the community is likely to be on-going and dynamic work.
Something I found helpful when my children were young was a simple explanation of the Mass. Here’s an easy four-point description of the order of the Mass.
• We gather. We are one in Christ, all members of his body. This coming together, in and of itself, transforms us.
• We listen. The stories at Mass are like the stories you might tell in your own family, stories of events you remember that made a difference in your lives. The Old Testament readings remind us of God’s faithfulness to a people over thousands of years. The New Testament tells us about Jesus and shows us examples of how Christians live as his followers.
• We give thanks. The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” In remembering how Jesus broke bread with his disciples before he died, we give thanks for his saving death. In Eucharist we are both blessed and broken. The bread feeds us so that so that we can follow the example of Jesus’ life, loving even when it costs us.
• We go forth. Having gathered, remembered and been nourished we go forth to share the Good News, to love and to serve.
When our kids walk in and sit down somewhere, they expect to be entertained. At Mass, we don’t wait for something to happen in front of us as if we’re at a movie. The action is within our own hearts and in the heart of our community. We come to participate, to have our eyes and ears opened. Our minds may drift, we may feel bored, our children may distract us, but we know change does not happen in a day. Over time, through regularity, celebrating Eucharist transforms us.
Often change comes through difficulty. I remember when a friend of mine had a three-year-old and twins aged one-and-a-half. A picture of that time in their life could have been in the dictionary to illustrate the word “difficult.” I can imagine days when just getting the family into the car for Mass would have been an almost impossible accomplishment.
What I see in this family, are not perfectly behaved children, not parents who always get what they want or need. Rather, this is a family journeying faithfully. They face the struggle with hope and openness to change. They admit when they fail, celebrate when they succeed, change course when it seems best and commit themselves to loving one another.
Perhaps this same strategy for living could be applied to taking children to church. Think of those little moments of surprise and joy that happen occasionally in family life that make your heart melt, that make you think to yourself, yes, this is worthwhile, this is the fullness of life.
I had such a moment at Mass recently, though it didn’t involve my own child. During the Eucharistic prayer a two-year-old escaped her pew and ventured right up to the front of the church. She stopped at the steps leading to the altar and looked around, eyes wide. Seeing the priest raise his hands in prayer, she gave a little giggle of sheer delight and did the same.
Keep watch for moments like this as you struggle with the hard issues of bringing your children to church. God often uses the most humble among us to lead the way.
(Mary Farrell is a Spokane free-lance journalist and children’s writer. Click here to visit her web site.)
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