Over the years, God has provided me with many children to observe during mass and they all bring their own personalities to mass. Today I realized that the behavior of children at mass isn’t a problem with the mass or the child, but our lack of understanding how these two sacred gifts intersect. The goal of mass isn’t to wait until the are old enough to choose to go on their own or old enough to sit still. The goal also is not to give them random toys and food to keep them “seen but not heard”. We need to bring the child to mass because the child needs the mass. They need liturgy, they need the stimulation of their senses in the sights, sounds, and smells of liturgy. They need to see Jesus lifted up in Offering.
Through our work as Catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we make the sights, sounds, smells, and movements of the liturgy accessible to the child. We lift up the moment of Epiclesis with the child so we can wonder and delight with them in the gift that is being sent down from Heaven and then we offer that gift right back up to God(yes Stewardship begins in these early days). We give them the names of the sacred vessels because it is in the naming that they become “tamed” in the words of the Little Prince.
So how does all of this translate to the liturgy? If we aren’t giving them Cheerios and iPhones, what are we giving them? When we stop trying to keep them quiet and still during mass, we allow them to be in silence and awe. Every child is different and it is only through observation that we learn about that specific child and how that child will approach Holy Mass. I have spent mass walking and pondering statues with small children, I have had children sit under the pew and listen to the entire mass because though he was not yet ready for the community aspect of the liturgy, he was ready for time with his Good Shepherd. My current 2 year old splits his time during mass between practical life (he washes the pews and kneelers) to preferring to pray in isolation. When he is with the greater community, he struggles with knowing how he fits into the community. As soon as he is alone, his body calms, he focuses, and contemplates studying adult books (children often prefer real art work, real text, and real books over cartoon board books). I know the day will come when his social inhibition does not make liturgy difficult, but for now, I am blessed that I am part of his quiet. I am part of his contemplation, he shares the smiles of his time being filled by his Good Shepherd. All of this while his next younger sibling has made it his mission at only 9 months old, to share with the world how good life is and how amazing people are. His infant size body longs to bring people with him on his journey of how amazing life is. He welcomes hands, hearts, smiles, and kisses from those that are seeking God. The liturgy has a place for all children, we need to unite the child with the liturgy.