Two views on small children at Mass
By The Catholic Spirit
Monday, 30 August 2010
I read with interest your editorial regarding “Small Children at Mass? We need more of them” [July 29]. I would like to offer another way to look at it.
The Sacred Liturgy of the Mass is for adults. Right? Why then, would parents subject themselves, the people around them and the children to an adult function?
I sat behind a young couple with two boys on a recent Sunday. The
children were 6 and 4. The 4-year-old insisted on sitting and the father
kept pulling the child into a standing position when the congregation
was standing. The father certainly meant well, trying to instill in the
child participation. But the child would have none of it.
The father was totally distracted as was the mother, who kept glancing
at the child. For sure, both mother and father were unaware of any
worship. Those in the vicinity were all distracted, too. Then the boy
somehow got his foot under the pew and raised a yell. He cried while
dramatically holding his foot in his hands. Of course, everyone around
felt sorry the boy got hurt, but what kind of a liturgy is this I am
attending? I am a patient individual, but at this point I was ready to
Are priests so fearful of hurting parents’ feelings that they don’t
suggest that it just might make more sense if the couple attend separate
Masses and leave the children at home? My husband and I attended
separate Masses for years while our five children were growing up. What
spiritual good does it do for the adults if all they benefit is total
frustration? How positive is the experience for the child if all they
get is reprimands?
At the church of a Baptist friend, each Sunday numerous volunteers give
children a genuine love for Jesus by reading a Bible story, reinforcing
the story with pictures and artwork, learning new songs and prayers,
depending on their age group. The teachers come away feeling positive
and happy, as do the children. The time spent with the children is the
teachers’ contribution to the church family for that week. It is not
necessary for the teachers to attend another service unless they so
What is often the result for our children at a Catholic liturgy? The
children come to hate the endless hour spent at Mass. It’s totally
boring, and for them, rightfully so. It is an adult worship. The parents
certainly don’t return home uplifted. How come something with such a
simple solution is never implemented?
White Bear Lake
The Catholic Spirit asked Father John Paul Erickson, director of the
archdiocesan Office of Worship, to respond to Eileen Berger’s letter.
“People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and
when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, called
the children to himself and said, ‘Let the children come to me and do
not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen,
I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it.’”
— Luke 18:15-17
It can at times be quite tempting to understand the Mass as a form of
entertainment, with the gestures, words and music all part of an
elaborate performance. There are many reasons for this temptation, some
of which I am sure are unique to our modern situation and others due to
some of our contemporary and rather idiosyncratic ways of worship.
But regardless of the reason for its persistence, we must resist the
temptation to understand the Mass as entertainment, to be observed from
afar and without any demands upon us, to be enjoyed according to our own
standards of convenience and comfort.
If the Mass is fundamentally a performance, not unlike a play or a
movie, then we have every reason to glare at young children who make a
scene at Mass, just as we would glare at the movie patron texting
furiously in a darkened theater.
But the Mass is not a performance. It is the total gift of self that
Christ offers to the Father in love, an offering that we who are
Christ’s body are invited to embrace and unite with our own sacrificial
gift of self. The Mass is dangerous because it will change us if it is
entered into fully and with conscious participation. It will make us one
with Christ, willingly offering our own lives to the Father and in love
to our brothers and sisters.
One of the remarkable features of grace is that God can inspire even
within young children this generosity of Christ-like love. St. Maria
Goretti stands as a shining example of this wondrous fact.
What is more, Christ speaks rather boldly and mysteriously of the need
to acquire the heart of a child if one is to enter the kingdom of
heaven. To be sure, natural comprehension of what is occurring within
the Mass is deeply important, and this kind of comprehension is often
inaccessible to young children.
But natural comprehension is not enough — we must give as God gives,
totally and without reserve. And children are, in fact, capable of this
self-gift, even within the Mass. It is not pious romanticism to
speculate how many graces have been given to families and to parishes
due to the simple prayer of a child offered in squirmy silence at Mass.
Now, to be sure, the question as to how to best handle the embarrassing
difficulty of rambunctious children at Mass is not always an easy one.
Nor is the question as to whether or not to even bring one’s very small
child or children to Mass when those particular children are prone to
disruptive behavior of some kind.
These are decisions that must be made with prudence, honesty and prayer,
accompanied by candid conversation between spouses and perhaps with
one’s pastor. The answer for one family will not be the same answer for
another. Thankfully, many parishes have cry-rooms, or special places set
aside for parents and small children to pray the Mass in close
proximity to the gathered community.
But despite its difficulties or the various tactics utilized, it is, in
fact, a grave duty of Christian parents to teach their children how to
love with Christ-like love. And the absolute best way to do this is by
bringing these children, including those who have not yet reached the
age of reason, into contact with Jesus Christ at the holy sacrifice of
the Mass, where Christ himself shows us how to love.
This, of course, should be preceded by age-appropriate catechesis in the
home about the Mass and by an attempt on the part of parents to
understand more fully the power and mystery of the Mass themselves.
“Let the children come to me . . . ” Christ calls out even today for
the presence of young hearts to be filled with his love. Let us do
everything we can to heed this call.
Father John Paul Erickson
I understand some people get frustrated or angry with parents of fussy
or misbehaving children, but I would like to share a personal experience
I had to help readers gain insight into the other side.
Several years ago, I was going through a very difficult time in my life.
I had gone through a divorce and, after a really bad experience after
an abortion, I decided to join the Catholic Church. Although I loved the
church, I was still having major problems with depression.
One Sunday at Mass, my two young children started misbehaving, but I was
in such a state of shock, I wasn’t in my right mind. This woman came up
to me and said in a very unkind way, “You need to leave.” The look on
her face was equally unkind. So I shortly left and managed to make it
home before I burst into tears.
In looking back, I’m almost glad I went through that because it’s taught
me the importance of forgiveness as well as treating people with mercy
and compassion. People coming to church nowadays have a lot of problems.
There are many hurting people out there. Some person sitting next to
you could be one day or one week away from committing suicide. I was one
of them. I realize there needs to be order in the church, but I
personally choose to pray for the parents of kids who are acting up. If a
person feels the absolute need to confront a parent, I would urge them
to do so discreetly and with kindness.
Epiphany, Coon Rapids
I read Roland Franceschi's letter responding to the editorial “Small children at Mass? We need more of them.” My family has chosen a different way.
My wife and I have seven children who now range in age from 15 down to 3
years. Roland stated that he and his wife would go to different Masses
so that they could leave their children at home when they were young. By
those standards my wife and I would have gone to Mass separately for
the last 15 years.
We believe that going to Mass as a couple strengthens our marriage and
provides a positive model for our family and for others at Mass. It
makes me sad to think small children are not welcome in a church that
promotes a culture of life.
Young children do not equal disruptive children. We believe that as
parents we have an obligation to keep our children from disrupting
others at Mass. We do not bring food, toys or books to entertain our
children during Mass.
What we have done is this: First, we sit near the front of church.
Second, one of us physically holds the children until they are about 4
years old and we are sure that they can sit still by themselves for the
duration of Mass. If they start to fuss, I, as the father, immediately
remove them from in church. I still physically hold them. I do not put
them down and allow them to run around with all the other children that
are running around. After they quiet down we re-enter the church.
They want to be in church by their mother and other siblings so it
doesn't take long before they catch on and start sitting quiet for the
duration of Mass. We get positive remarks from people almost every
Sunday and we have had pastors use us as examples of what they would
like to see more of.
St. Peter, North St. Paul
A few years ago, while living in Wichita, Kan., I remember how a wise priest handled the question of children at Mass. He said, “We welcome your children at Mass. And when they are disruptive, we welcome you removing them to the nursery.” He elicited a chuckle from the congregation and created the foundation for an atmosphere of reverent, nourishing Masses.
A letter in the Aug. 26 edition of The Catholic Spirit began with the premise, “The Sacred Liturgy of the Mass is for adults. Right?” [SEE LETTER ABOVE]
I was taken aback by this idea, and believe it is wrong. The Mass is the re-presentation of the sacrifice at Calvary, which was and is for all people, regardless of age. A Catholic church, especially during Mass, should be a place where all children of God can worship and are welcome, and where all those baptized into the Catholic faith should be allowed to participate to the extent they are able.
We are a family in Christ, and what better way to remember this spiritual reality than by seeing earthly families gathered together? We do not commune with Christ alone during Mass; it is also a communion with one another. To say some members of Christ’s body are not welcome simply because they cannot fully understand the Mass, or are a distraction to others, does not seem very Christ-like.
Who of us behaves perfectly during Mass? Small children may squirm and fidget, but my own mind might be far from where it ought to be, and my own heart filled with pride. Who is more worthy to be at Mass — me with my judgmental thoughts, or the innocent baptized child who has a lot of childish energy?
I’ve been distracted by my own child at Mass. I’ve also been distracted by the elderly who sometimes whisper too loudly. What about the mentally disabled who make noises or in some other way draw attention to themselves?
To be honest, when I am distracted by any of these, if I allow myself to become annoyed instead of gently re-directing my heart back to Christ, the problem is me — not those around me, regardless of what they may be doing. If I am trying to focus my mind and heart on the Mass as I should, the response I have to these “distractions” is one of charity, perhaps offering up a prayer for the mother who has her hands full.
But when I go to Mass with the intention of “getting something out of it” I end up irritated at those who seem to stand in the way of my goal, and miss out on what Christ may have wanted to teach me.
I believe the Mass is a wonderful place for children. Very small children learn differently than adults do — we can sit still and listen and meditate on what we are hearing, but children live in the world of the senses. In fact, it would seem that the beauty of the Catholic Mass is full of things for children — the changing colors of the vestments, the candles on the altar, the bells, the incense, the sense of ritual and tradition. These are things that appeal to children at their level, and through which they can come to love God and his church at an early age.
Don’t keep the little children away. Let them come to Jesus, just as they are, and pray that we can learn from them.
St. Charles Borromeo, St. Anthony