TIPS FOR ATTENDING LITURGY WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mk 10:13-14
As Maronite parents and a Maronite community we are called to ensure that our children participate in the Liturgy (Mass) every Sunday. The Maronite Liturgy is the primary educator of the faith and it is never too late to start bringing children to Church.
From the above quoted passage in the Gospel of Mark, we see that Jesus called the children and rebuked those who hindered them from approaching him. No one should ever be afraid to attend the Liturgy for fear of the children with them being too loud or disruptive. Neither should others hinder children from attending Liturgy. Here are some ideas to help children during the Liturgy.
BE CONSISTENT AND ATTEND EVERY SUNDAY
The Liturgy needs to be a consistent part of family life. The sooner children attend the Liturgy the more familiar it becomes and the more they feel that this is an integral part of their lives. It is never too late to start. It is important not to become disheartened if children do “play up”. Children require perseverance and week after week as children become more familiar and aware of what they are doing, it will get easier.
MAKE THE PARISH HOME
The Parish needs to be home for you and children. Don’t just come to Liturgy on Sunday like a stranger. Attend frequently and get involved. Try and attend the same Mass so that you can build community.
Participate in the Liturgy on days other than Sunday. Come to the other spiritual and social events at the Parish. Make an effort to get to know other families with children who are the same age as your children. Take children to meet the Priest outside after Liturgy. If the Parish is home children will feel they belong as part of a wider Parish community, children will always want to come.
BE POSITIVE ABOUT CHURCH
Always be positive about the Parish in front of your children. If you are negative about the Parish in front of your child they will not want to attend. Talk positively about your faith during the week at home.
SACRAMENTALISE YOUR HOME
We are all called to build domestic Churches in our own homes. Base your home life on the Maronite liturgical year. Have an altar in your home and include reminders of the season. Place icons and statues in your home. Make time for prayer. In the week leading up to Sunday, talk about what season the Church is in and the relevant Sunday. Talk to your children about the parts of the Liturgy. You might read the Sunday Gospel at dinner during the week or in the car on the way to Church. Discuss the Gospel so that children have at least heard it before they get to Church and the homily will have more meaning. Be creative, have a pop quiz about the Gospel or get them to draw how they understand the Gospel.
PREPARE YOUR CHILDREN
Make sure children have something to eat before Liturgy. They will be more focused during the Liturgy. Dress children in special clothing that they wear only for church or other special events. This does not mean the clothes have to be expensive or extravagant, but if they are dressed in something special they will begin to understand that they are going somewhere special. Have children visit the bathroom before walking out the door of your home or into the church.
Get children in the “zone” for Liturgy while driving to Church. Say a prayer or play religious music on the way to Church. Use questioning as a technique, ask them questions such as “why do we need to be quiet in Church?” Let the children set the rules with you, they will no doubt reply something like “because we are going to Jesus’ house”
Set Expectations and have rules. Before going into the church take a moment to remind children what you are about to do. Talk to them about your expectations of how they should behave. Make sure they know what their job is at Liturgy. You might say that their job is to be quiet and to participate by sharing their voices and praying. Explain that they also need to be mindful to help others around them to pray.
The more children understand about the Liturgy, the more engaged they will be. Prepare your child for what is coming in the Liturgy so they know what is happening. Explain as much of the Liturgy as you can beforehand. One way is to watch pars of a Liturgy online from time to time and explain what is happening in the Liturgy at various times and the importance of it. You might use photos of the priest in certain positons. For example, you might show them a photo of a priest lifting the host and explain that is the consecration. I used to say to my daughter at that point in Mass, look the bread is becoming Jesus. Inspire a sense of awe in children.
WHAT TO BRING
Depending on age, toys are usually not appropriate for children at Liturgy. For very young children, if you are going to bring a small book or toy with you, try and make it religious so they know this is “Jesus” time. Any toys or books should be quiet and made of soft material so that they do not distract others.
For many with children it is instinctive to sit at the back of the Church. Imagine you are a child, it is often difficult to see at the back. Consider sitting at the front. Initially it may be difficult, but it allows children to see what is going on and not be distracted by all the people in front of them. If your child makes a noise try not to feel self-conscious. Most people do not notice and have been through it themselves. You need to distinguish between a little noise and continual noise. It is not a good idea to leave every time your child makes a bit of noise as it may encourage the child to start doing it as a way to leave. If the noise is continual and disruptive noise or a tantrum it is a good idea to quietly leave to the back of the Church or just outside, but to return immediately once the child calms down. Children should understand that they are not going outside to play.
Make sure you are leading by example and are engaged and are responding and participating in the Liturgy yourself. Modelling is very important. Encourage children to join the choir, altar serve, share the peace or bring the gifts to the altar. Make sure you are focused on the altar and engaging in the Liturgy.
After Liturgy praise your children for good behaviour. If they were disruptive, tell them what they need to improve for next time and remind them before Liturgy next time. Discuss what they heard in homily and the Liturgy.
WHAT PARISHES AND OTHERS CAN DO
Parishes should send clear messages that families and children are welcome. Clergy can make it clear from the outset to everyone by speaking to the children directly at the beginning of Liturgy and saying something like “children today you can help your parents by joining in and singing.” Clergy may also consider speaking to children directly in the homily. Parishes should have well placed signs for where the toilets are and if possible an area for mothers who are breastfeeding. Have a sign at the door explaining everyone is welcome including children.
If you see someone struggling with their children do not be afraid to offer help. I have done it many times and no one has ever refused. Often I can bring one child to sit next to me while the parent or carer settles the other child.
Never make anyone feel unwelcome because their child is loud. Try and be part of the solution and help, rather than compound the frustration of the parent or carer dealing with the child.
DO NOT GIVE UP
Routine is your friend. Perseverance and patience are key. Remember the Proverb:
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6