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At my church, we've been repeatedly encouraged to bring the kids to the front row or one of the front rows whenever possible so that they can see what is going on, and participate in mass. (We don't have a nursery, child room, Sunday school, etc. - the priest says the kids should be at mass.) It's hard since you know they will do kid things sometimes, but they do pay more attention and engage more, and you can help them see what the priest and the altar servers and doing, and feel more of a connection with the people doing the readings and the choir. They learn from the reverence and kindness of the people around them. While it's been a challenging journey, it brings me great joy to see them understanding in their own way the beauty of the mass.

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As a director of religious education with 20 years of experience in Christian formation, I always recommend parents take their children right to the front of the nave. Children have an easier time engaging with the liturgy when they can clearly see what is going on; they are more likely to misbehave if they are bored. Nothing more boring than rows and rows of people's backsides! Yes, there may still be the occasional meltdown or acting up; they are children after all. And yes, when that happens, parents should try to intervene decisively. But we have to accept that not every intervention is going to come off perfectly. However, we are the Body of Christ, correct? Living out God's mercy in the world? There has to be room for the occasional spectacular failure from which a parent can pick themselves and their children up, dust themselves off, and try again, without crushing amounts of condemnation being heaped on them by their fellow parishioners. Because the bottom line is this: children only learn how to be in church by actually being in church. Every person bothered by children's behavior in church needs to remember this: for every child distracting you in the mass, there are countless dozens not in church, many of them because their parents feel overwhelmed at the prospect of managing their children's behavior in a fairly intimate but unfamiliar setting in front of strangers. I have found young mothers weeping outside churches because they want to be inside with their children, but some person barked harshly at them because their children behaved in what was, honestly, a developmentally appropriate, if annoying, manner. Some of them never come back. Yes, we should do everything we can to honor Christ is the liturgy on Sundays by creating a beautiful, worshipful environment. But we have to build on the foundation Christ himself established: "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them."

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