Those who know me know I am often talking about children in Mass. I’ve often received negative comments about the fact that my kids are, well, kids, and therefore not perfectly still and quiet during the entire Mass. Maybe we wouldn’t be as noticed if we didn’t sit near or at the front, but the kids can see better that way and do a lot better when we sit close. Many have spoken about parishes not being as welcoming of children, too. So what does it mean to be truly welcoming of them?
Some think that welcoming children means having separate things for them while the adults have a quiet, distraction-free Mass. I’ve spoken with some who have wished there were nurseries for all younger children (my parish does have a nursery for toddlers, not babies, during one of the Masses) and perhaps classes and playgrounds for the preschoolers so none of them need to sit in Mass. Some think we should have Children’s Liturgy of the Word, where the children are taken out during the readings and brought back in for the Creed (really not sure how that’s licit when only a priest is allowed to proclaim the Gospel at Mass, but I guess they get around it because the kids are no longer in Mass).
As you can tell, I disagree with these ideas of “welcoming” children. Why? Well, it doesn’t seem like it truly welcomes them into Mass. It’s more like they are relegated to another area so we don’t have to see or hear them. As baptized members of the Church, these children needn’t be separated from the celebration of the Mass. In fact, families going together are exactly what is needed, I think.
So if we don’t provide separate programs for the children during Mass, how do we welcome them? We acknowledge that these are children, and not miniature adults or statues or dolls, therefore accepting that they won’t be perfectly still and quiet. We invite them to sit close to the front so they can see better. We support and encourage breastfeeding the children (it keeps them quiet, after all, and provides comfort for them in a crowded place). We encourage parents to point things out to the children during Mass. We invite them to fully participate in Mass as much as possible, and also to participate in Adoration and other prayer times. Maybe we even take a cue from our Eastern brethren and allow the children to walk around to see the statues, Stations of the Cross, etc, thereby learning more about their faith in the process. Of course, if we also started giving Communion and Confirmation to infants, as our Eastern brethren do, the whole point would probably be moot as I doubt people would insist on children going elsewhere if they were to receive the Eucharist as well. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, though, so no use wishing for it.
Welcome the little children to be in the Presence of their Lord.