A few years ago when discussing young children at Sunday Mass, I asked a pastor that I had formerly worked with what he thought children mostly “got” out of attending Mass.
He smiled and said, “Well Jim, I hope they get some family time, as well as beginning to experience God’s grace within the gathering of ‘the Body of Christ.’ But if you are wondering if sitting in the assembly listening to prayers, songs, as well as Holy Scripture, not to mention the homily, all using words that they might not yet understand—then, yes, I think that there may be ways of having children experience God’s love and the coming together to pray in other ways; ways that might help them a bit more than stern looks from a dad, which seems only to distract for both of them.”
I remember thinking that the “stern looks from a dad” reference hit a bit close to home, but then he said something that I have never forgotten, “Jim, we may not be able to make every Mass heaven on earth for anyone, let alone a child, but we certainly should never make it hell.”
Over the years since that conversation I have noticed a number of ways parishes work at making Sunday a time that children of all ages are welcomed and encouraged to find at least a bit of heaven during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We are very fortunate here at this parish to provide several options for families with children throughout the year.
We use the Allelu curriculum to help 4– and 5-year-olds find the words to talk to God and learn about our Catholic faith as part of our Sunday school pre-school program. It is offered during the school year at our 10:30am Mass.
Five years ago when I first joined the Church of St. Edward and my then two-year-old grandson, Connor, started to come to Mass here we both discovered the blue bags, which are available in our narthex for toddlers. For those who don’t know about this somewhat unique “worship aid” it is simply a small blue bag filled with quiet play things to help our very young members find a positive experience at Mass. Connor enjoyed them so much that every time he was with us for the weekend he always wanted to know if we were going to “The Church of the Bag.”
The third way that we help make Sunday Mass a bit more like heaven for our children ages 6 through 12 is Children’s Liturgy of the Word (CLOW). Unlike the other offerings that we provide, CLOW is neither a program nor a worship aid—it is worship! It allows children who participate to experience the same readings and the same prayers as the “grown-ups” but in language that is geared for young ears and hearts.
Both Fr. Brian and I believe that this piece of our Sunday worship is so important that several times a year one of us, fully vested, walks out with the children to show the connection that exists as we all participate in the same Liturgy of the Word, just using slightly different words. Of course children return to the main sanctuary space during the Presentation of the Gifts as we all prepare to celebrate, as the one Body of Christ, in the consecration and Holy Communion.
If you need any further information or feel called to help in these important areas please call the parish office. I would be happy to help in any way possible. Let us not forget that our children are the next generation and God wants them here to be with Him and that we, as church, need them; so that all parts of the “Body of Christ” are represented every Sunday. After all, that’s what it means to be family.
Deacon Jim DeShane
Deacon, Director of Pastoral Care & Marriage Coordinator