Monday, October 30, 2017

Bringing your kids to church – when is the right time?

The Church has always been strong in its advocacy of being pro-life.  When couples become serious in their plans for marriage in Church, apart from the preparations given through various courses and sessions, couples are required to sign what is known as a Marriage Pre-nuptial Enquiry.  This ensures the Church that the couple who are planning to get married are truly free to marry, and certain questions are asked of them, one of which is that they are going to welcome children in their marriage, and that they will do all they can to educate and bring up their children in the ways of Christ and his Church.

Education of a child in the ways of Christ and his Church is very broad based.  It is not just about ensuring that the child is registered and goes for his or her weekly Catechism classes after their 7th birthday or thereabouts.  “Education” encompasses that the child grows and matures in a Christ-centered environment of the family, which needs to be evidently Christian in character.  This includes, but is not limited to, things like making sure that the family makes time to pray together, participate in Church activities together, has a home altar with sacramentals like Crucifixes and holy images of saints, share and tell Bible stories together, and of course, go the Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation together.  Having these as family activities provides for the growing child a Christian environment where prayer and spirituality become the norm.  If the child is hardly ever exposed to God and the reality of God through such practices, suddenly bringing him or her to church when they start their catechism classes will be like throwing a child into the deep end of the pool on the first day of swimming lessons without first having familiarized them with the concept of floating, treading water and having their heads submerged under water first. 

Many of these Christian ‘best practices’ can be a challenge for modern day families.  There seems to be a strong force that militates against these practices, and of course, the attraction of entertainment, the load of school work and the drive for academic excellence does make it difficult to ensure that some of these are even given some chance to be practiced on an infrequent basis. 

Of those practices mentioned, the one that should never be compromised on is going to Mass on Sundays and days of obligation.  Some parents have found it very difficult to start going regularly to Mass with their children when they are of school-going age.  I have been asked by parents at what age should they begin to bring their children to Mass on Sundays.  The simple answer is – from the time they can be brought out of the home.

However, these tips may help parents to make the weekly Mass outing less challenging – both for them and the rest of the congregation.

1.   Where to be seated should take into consideration the age of the children.

When you have newborn infants, it would be best to be seated at the back of the church, near the exit doors.  This way, when they are fidgety or break into their cries of hunger, you can make a quiet exit and tend to the situation at hand, without their cries piercing the chambers of the church.  As one who stands preaching at the Ambo weekly, I can attest to the fact that it is a great challenge engaging the congregation when they are simultaneously trying to listen to the preaching above the plaintive and lung-emptying cries of a tiny infant. 

If your children are younger than 7, the place to be seated will be right in front of the sanctuary where the Altar is.  There are two reasons for this – if you are a two-foot tall person, and when everybody in front of you is standing, all you see are the backs of much taller adults.  This is not interesting at all, and you will lose attention in no time.  Children at this age need visuals – they need to see the ‘action’ up front.  Let them see the colours of the vestments used, the ornate decorations around the sanctuary area, let them ask questions about what the Tabernacle is, the sanctuary lamp, and let them be curious about the servers.  These are small moments of catechesis that the parents can give, and they will be less prone to distraction and boredom.

There are some churches which have pews in a gallery located at an upper level.  These are not the ideal places for families with young children, simply because they are physically too far from the sanctuary to pique any interest. 

2.   Bring relevant and age-appropriate books to let them follow the Mass.

There are books available for the very purpose of teaching the Mass to children.  At each part of the Mass, there are often depictions of what is happening, together with clear and simple explanations.  The Mass is so different from what they see going on in life outside of Church, making explanations necessary.  Besides, being present at the Mass makes them comfortable with the supernatural life that faith gives.

3.   Come early to Mass.

Yes, I know that preparing the entire family for Mass can be as arduous and grueling as a Spartan race.  But if this is something that you know happens each and every Sunday, then perhaps what is necessary is a concerted effort put in to rouse the family up extra early to ensure that they are ready to worship God in the right frame of mind.  Getting early to Mass settles the family down well, rather than have them scrambling for seats, and usually settling for the ones that are furthest from the front, resulting in the young ones facing a wall of the backs of people. 

4.   Your interest and participation is an education by example.

Young people learn from the visual cues that they get from their parents.  If parents are engaged in worship, singing with passion and attentive at Mass, the children will learn.  When I see young people bored and fidgety, or worse, fingering their mobile devices playing games in church, I often cast an eye at their parents seated nearby.  It doesn’t surprise me when mum and dad are not giving good examples themselves.  Some parents tend to leave Mass right after receiving Holy Communion, before the dismissal and final blessing.  This may lead to the children thinking nothing of doing the same.  Unless there is a real pressing reason, fight the temptation to flee from Mass – we can all do with the blessing that we get at the end of Mass to face the challenges the coming week.  Parents, your posture and demeanor at Mass are a form of catechesis too. 

I hope that these pointers will help parents to fulfill their role of being their childrens’ first catechists in the faith.  I can appreciate the many challenges that raising children bring, but the result of having well catechized children who are well formed in their faith is priceless. 

1 comment:

  1. Tkz FR Luke for this piece which definitely clears things up. I must admit that my eyes did a double take and I Lol'ed at sitting right in front for the below 7 year-olds. That's where people usually try to avoid for fear of being in the "spotlight".