Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rules for Children at Mass (Really Rules for Parents)

A recurring discussion that one often sees, centers around bringing children to Mass. Canon law does not require any Catholic under the age of seven (Canon 11, Canon 1247) to attend Mass, but certainly there is value in younger children attending both in the grace present and simple learning of what the Mass is all about. But detractors will often counter that the distractions of children either misbehaving or simply making noise takes away from their ability to participate. While my simple answer to the latter is "Offer it up" and out of charity give parents a chance to refocus their children as needed, I do believe that as parents we have an obligation to control our children to the best we can and ensure that they are behaving. By doing so, we not only show consideration to our fellow parishioners but also properly teach our children how they should behave and show the proper reverence to the Mass and our encounter with Christ.

In that regard, the issue isn't really children at Mass, but rather parents who don't mind their children at Mass or even perhaps have difficulty in minding their children. To that end, I present the following rules that my wife and I have either employed over the years or that I have gotten from others that will better enable parents to control and focus their children.

1. Sit near the front, preferably in the front three rows. This will allow the children to properly focus on the action at the altar. For infants, you may want to sit in the back as this will allow you to quickly egress without distracting others.

2. NO TOYS! That’s not for Mass. For the young ones who have trouble paying attention, give them Holy Cards or religious books to look at (preferably about the Mass). As they get older, provide them simple versions of the missal so that they can follow along.

3. NO FOOD! That provides another needless distraction. For the really younger children, a bit of water is sometimes necessary but should be avoided. Feed them before Mass and there shouldn't be any reason that they cannot go an hour or so without food. If a child needs to nurse, then do so discreetly in the pew.

4. Sit strategically with your spouse. Alternate so that you can have maximum presence among the children. Utilize older (and responsible) children in a similar manner to keep tabs on the younger ones. But remember, the ultimate responsibility for all of your children remains with you, the parent.

5. Face front. There is no need for your children to be looking at what is happening in the back pews. They will either become distracted by others or serve to distract others. Either way, no good comes of it. And besides, attention should be to what is happening on the altar.

6. If your children do misbehave (it happens to everyone), take them out and “fix” them even if it requires a discrete swat on the behind as an "attention getter" (That is, you are using it for effect vice to inflict discomfort). Let them regain their composure and then explain to them, kneeling on one knee so that you can look them straight in the eye, what is expected of their behavior and then return to the pew with them walking on their own. Do not carry them back. The last part is important as it allows them to return under their own self-control which is what we are trying to accomplish. Don’t worry about what others think when you are taking your child out in such instances. More than likely they will appreciate you being a parent.

7. Avoid the cry room (or “penalty box” as I call it). Often the behavior in there is out of hand. Not good reinforcement for what you are trying to do. But if you do find yourself in that position, the same rules should apply there as in Church.

8. Even before they receive their First Communion, have them accompany you to the communion rail and kneel beside you. Father may opt to give them a blessing but even if he does not, it is good training.

9. Some noise by the kids is to be expected. They are kids and it is part of our “overhead” in raising new Catholics. Just use good judgment on when you need to pull them out.

10. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass seems to calm and focus children much more than the Novus Ordo. Even with God's blessing of an overabundance of Children at Traditional Latin Mass parishes, the children are, in general, better behaved. I don't know all of the reasons why this is the case but I suspect one key factor has to do with everyone else quietly focusing on the Mass. Children learn by watching others to include older children.

Part of our participation at Mass is ensuring my children learn to do the same. We should bring all of our children to Mass, letting them know what is expected with regards to behavior and rectify accordingly when such expectations aren’t met. Yes they can act up at times but that is when we, as parents, simply need to excuse ourselves with child in tow to remedy the situation and then get them “back in the game.”