Bringing Children to the Mass
From Fr Martin Boland – Dean of Brentwood Cathedral
The presence of so many parents at Mass with their babies and children is a real blessing for our parish. Seeing families with young children faithfully coming to Mass is a powerful witness and gives us all great hope for the future. At a baptism, parents are called to be “the first and best teachers of their children in the ways of faith.” By the practice of your faith, you are living this high calling. Thank you for doing so.
Parents sometimes express concern about what to do if their baby or child is behaving in a way that is distracting to others. Here are some ideas and practical tips that you might find helpful:
1 … Talk to your children about the Cathedral. Explain to them that this is a special place because Jesus is truly preset here. The Cathedral is not a playground or the front living room, but is God’s house. When we come into His house, we should behave in a special way and get to know Jesus as our friend by joining in with all the prayers, the gestures (such as the sign of the Cross, standing, kneeling, etc) and songs. We honour God when we behave and act in ways that are prayerful and respectful.
2 … Weekly Mass attendance is important. When attendance is irregular, broken or happens rarely, then it becomes more difficult for our children to learn the ways of behaving that are appropriate at Mass. If parents want their children to believe that coming to Mass is important, then parents have to show them that they believe it is important.
3 … When you come into the Cathedral, why not take time to bless your child with holy water or, if they are old enough, allow them do it themselves and learn to make the sign of the Cross? You might explain to them that we make the sign of the Cross to show that every part of us – our minds, hearts and bodies – belongs to God. Learning these simple rituals will help your child to appreciate that they are in God’s House, a sacred place.
4 … Try to get to Mass a little ahead of time. Most of us would try to get to our children to school or an important event in good time. If parents are rushing into the Cathedral at the last moment or arriving late, it becomes more difficult for them and their child(ren) to settle into this time with Jesus. If we are flustered and distracted, our children will pick up on this. Every adult has a duty to create a prayerful and composed atmosphere in the Cathedral so that, united in the Holy Spirit, we can worship God in a prayerful, joyful and reverent manner.
5 … Choose carefully where you sit. Sitting at the back of the Cathedral does not make you invisible or silent. It also makes leaving the Cathedral much more disruptive and conspicuous. If you have very young children, it is much better that you sit near one of the Cathedral exits where you can easily take your children out if need be. If you have older children, then rather than sitting at the back where they can see very little, it is much better to have them at the front of the Cathedral where they can see and participate in all that is going on.
6 … We all need to be sensible about noise at Mass. This is public worship with children and there is bound to be some noise and movement. Therefore, we must all support and encourage our parents with young children. However, we also need to be aware of where we are, the sacred things we are taking part in and to have a real respect for those around us. So, don’t rush to take your child out if there is some very “light” noise, but if a baby is crying or a child’s behaviour is disruptive, take them to the Upper Room (up the stairs opposite the Cathedral toilets), go out into the narthex or, weather permitting, have a wander outside the Cathedral. But please do return to the Cathedral when your child has settled. We want you to be with us during the celebration of Mass.
7 … Walking toddlers around the Cathedral during Mass can be distracting for the priest and the congregation. This is especially true in the Cathedral as it is an open space where people can see almost every movement. If your toddler is restless think about taking them for a wander outside the main body of the Cathedral. But, again, please come back into the Cathedral when your child has had their wander.
8 … If your child finds it difficult to sit through the whole Mass quietly, bring a “soft” toy or, for older children, colouring or religious books – these are available from the Narthex repository. Please do not bring felt tip pens to Mass as they mark the floor and are impossible to remove. Bunches of keys or “hard” toys made of plastic or metal being shaken, squeaked or banged on the floor can become very distracting. #
9 …. Try and make sure that your children eat before they come to Mass. Eating snacks during Mass is not appropriate.
10 … If your child comes to the prayer mat during the Eucharistic Prayer at the 9.30 a.m. “family” Mass, explain to them beforehand that they must watch and listen to what the priest is doing and saying. If you want to support them in doing this, please come and join your child.
11 … Parents must consume the Body of Christ when they receive Holy Communion and NOT give it to their children to play with or eat. Sometimes children ask to receive the Body of Christ. But if they see that their parents are deeply engaged and prayerful when they receive Holy Communion, the children will come to understand that they have to wait until they are older before they can receive Holy Communion.
12 … If parents are talking to each other during Mass and allowing their children to play and misbehave, this is not only disrespectful but sets a poor example to those around them. After Mass finishes, why not visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel with your child? If they are old enough, teach them to genuflect before the tabernacle and to light a candle. Explain to them that when we genuflect, we show Jesus respect, just like when people bow or curtsey before the Queen. Jesus is our King. We should show him proper respect. Then, give them a few moments in “quiet time” thanking Jesus for his friendship and love. These rituals will help your child to appreciate that the Mass is where we meet Jesus in a very special way.
13 … Coffee, tea and juice are available after the 9.30 a.m. “Family” Mass – this is a good way for parents to get to know each other and for children to make new friendships.
14 … Can we help our children to develop proper ways of behaving at Mass? Can every member of our community model that behaviour and act as good spiritual role models? Do you have any other ideas of how we might do this?
All families and children are welcome here at Brentwood Cathedral because they enrich our worship of God at Mass in so many ways and help make our wonderful community a place of friendship and joy.