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Children at Mass

We are blest to have a church community with many families. And with families comes the presence of many young children. And with children inevitably comes some extra noise. I know that for some, the presence of children can be quite a distraction and a frustration. Even for parents, I know that having their own children at Mass can sometimes feel like it wipes out any possibility of praying at the Liturgy or 'getting anything out of it.'

In light of these feelings, I would like to offer a few points of reflection.

Before anything else, we should remind ourselves: why are we at Mass? What is the point of being there? While we may come up with different reasons, there really is a right and wrong answer. We come to Mass to worship God communally, to offer our lives to him in sacrifice, to be nourished by Grace, and to be united with Christ and each other through the Eucharist. We need to keep these points in mind whenever we reflect on Liturgical topics. So, the question is: can the presence of somewhat distracting children really hinder any of these goals? Maybe a child having a total meltdown can (and there is a room for parents to use should they choose to if something like that occurs). But I contend that the ordinary sounds that come from children being around cannot hinder us or God in the Liturgy as long as we keep the right mindset.

“My child or a child is distracting me from the preaching or listening to Scripture.” Let’s take a look at a Scripture passage. Matthew 19:13-14. This is that classic passage where people bring children to Jesus and the disciples speak sternly to the people who brought them. Jesus responds, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” So, does Jesus want children in his presence? Yes. It was true then, and it is true now. But consider another point: why were the disciples rebuking the people? There were probably a number of reasons, but it's probable that they were concerned that the children were hindering Jesus’ ability to preach to the people. Here he was, healing people and preaching his message when all of these children come up and distract him. And he not only tolerates them, he blesses and embraces them. In fact, he essentially tells the disciples that their presence is a lesson in itself. So, would Jesus rather have us send the children away so that we can focus on the priest’s homily better or on the Scripture readings? Seemingly not.

“My child or a child is making it hard for me to enter into prayer. It feels like I can’t connect with God or receive His Grace.” It is always good to remember that prayer is a relationship with a person. Its not an experience that we manufacture. Prayer and Grace are gifts from a person. And they are given in a variety of mysterious ways. We sometimes become limited by what our experience of prayer and grace have been in the past, such that we get frustrated when we don’t have the same experience that we associate with them. Once again, when we come to Mass, we are coming to give God glory and to receive what He wants to give us. Whatever Grace the Lord offers you at the Mass, he will certainly still bestow it and bless you with it not just in spite of the presence of children, but probably even because of them. He is not hindered by the fact that in this space of communal worship, we cannot focus in the same way that we do in our isolated spaces of personal prayer. The thing that WOULD hinder him in this regard would be lingering on the anger or frustration.

“My child or a child is making it hard for me to worship God. Shouldn’t my full attention be on God?” Here is a fun question: did Christ’s plan for us to worship him in the Liturgy somehow not account for the fact that our churches would be filled with children from his day until the end of time? Do you think God is less worshipped because the voice of a child occupies one corner of your mind? We gather together not for personal worship but for communal worship. To offer the Sacrifice as a whole people, as the body of christ. That child across the aisle or sitting in your lap isn't a hinderance to your worship of God. That child is another part of the body that is all worshipping Christ the head together. Christ is more worshipped, more glorified by their presence. God is all wise and all knowing, and in his mysterious plan for our on-going relationship with Him as a people, I think we can safely say that it not only accounts for the presence of children in our communal worship but counts on it.

Next week, I will reflect a bit more on this topic with a specific focus on the season of Advent.


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