"Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Mk 10:15). The Gospel Reading of the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time was quoted by some letter writers, including most of those we print below, to justify the case of having children at Mass. But not everyone agrees.
Let the children come
MY 16-MONTH old girl has been attending weekly Masses faithfully ever since she turned one month old. I do not bring food, drinks, toys or even her books to church as I want her to understand and observe the solemnity of Mass. I do not allow her to step beyond the pew to wander along the aisles and I do not bring her out of church for distraction purposes.
Having possibly done all that I can to fulfil my obligation as a Catholic mother, as well as to train my girl to observe respectful silence in church, I feel indignant that Mike McCormack should ask, "What are small children supposed to learn at a Mass?" I would think that attending Mass is not just about learning, but celebrating, observing, sharing and devoting.
As a family, it is only right that we attend Mass together. Mr McCormack is right however, in saying that the problem lies with parents. Some parents may have inadvertently allowed their children to treat our solemn Mass as one hour to entertain themselves, especially by resorting to giving them snacks and toys to last them through the hour.
Hence, I am of the view that parents need to be helped and educated. Instead of keeping small children away, involve them and engage them in the music, Scripture and the prayers. A separate room where churchgoers can still see and hear the proceedings would definitely be helpful for parents with inconsolable children. Bulletins and announcements reminding parents of the common rules of propriety would enhance an awareness of the need to observe them.
Lastly, to Mr McCormack who says he is "fully in favour of small children attending church, but not during a Mass", I say, "There are several other avenues, other than the Mass, to have a quiet environment in which to bow your head, clear all other thoughts from your mind and attempt to communicate with God."
(continued on page 2)
Parents, be considerate; others, be tolerant
I DO NOT think banning small children is a solution. Excluding children would also mean excluding their parents who will have to stay behind and care for them. The family would then not be able to honour the Lord together as a family during Mass. We should strive to be an inclusive community.
I am a parent of three children aged 9 years, 7 years and 9 months. The two older ones are able to understand and respect the need for solemnity at Mass although they do fidget at times. The youngest one however does at times cry loudly at Mass particularly during times when he is sleepy or hungry. During such times, we would take the baby out of church to avoid disturbing other churchgoers.
At the end of the day, I guess we should remember the words of St. Paul: "Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience." (Ephesians 4:2-3). As parents we should be considerate to others during Mass by teaching our children to behave and as churchgoers we should also bear with one another.
And if we could not put ourselves in the Lord's presence at Mass then maybe he is calling us to spend more time with him by staying back longer to pray after Mass or coming back later to spend time in Eucharistic Adoration.
Separately on being an inclusive church community, I realize then many of our churches are not "baby friendly". For example, there is no diaper changing station in the toilets for changing a baby's diaper and there is no place to breast feed a hungry baby. I would usually have to retreat to the car to change or feed my baby. But for those who do not drive, I guess they would have no choice but to change or feed their baby in the open. In this respect, maybe the parish pastoral councils of the various parishes could look into this for the benefit of all our babies.
(continued on page 3)
We should appreciate parents who bring them
A SUNDAY MASS is a 'noisy' form of worship. The choir, lectors and priest lead the people in singing and praying aloud. This is not the time for meditative prayer. In view of this, does it matter if a child sometimes shriek or cry? This distraction may even awaken us to concentrate at Mass.
We cast baleful glances at the active child. But we are immune to the floppy sandals, the mobile phones that haven't been silenced, the low-cut attire, the shorts and tee shirts, and the giggles and whispered chatter.
Now if toddlers or young children are picked on and are not allowed at Mass, would we be less distracted or the service quieter? Maybe, but where is the joy of hearing a little spontaneous voice singing off-key or another reciting a few words of a prayer?
I have not failed to grin at a toddler who would wait eagerly for the collection bag to come his way and put in his offering. They have more to teach us than we think. We should appreciate parents who take their young children to Sunday Mass and not to the Botanical Gardens.
(continued on page 4)
Inculcate right behaviour when young
AS PARENTS OF a toddler, we have been following discussions on the above topic with great interest. It is heartening to know that there are brethren out there who generally welcome the little ones. We also plead guilty of having given parents with noisy children a "second look" before we became parents ourselves. We also empathize with Mike McCormack's frustration as we have had opportunities to attend Mass without our little one, hoping to have a more prayerful hour with the Lord, only to scuttle out of church with a headache - no thanks to other young ones. So how do we balance out?
These are some pointers that we had suggested in a previous letter to CN in November 2005:
- Cultivate their interest in the Order of the Mass when they are young.
- Engage them in simple practices like singing the Gospel Acclamation or saying "Amen" at the appropriate time.
- Direct their attention to some parts of the Mass e.g. during the Entrance procession, the singing of hymns, the consecration of the host.
It is never too young to start inculcating in children the proper behaviour for Mass. Children learn by example. Talk to each other during Mass, SMS or read the bulletin/CatholicNews and they will follow accordingly. But engage them quietly and you will be surprised by how they will behave next time.
We have been blessed that our 23-month-old toddler has generally been attentive during Masses and are grateful that parishioners have been gracious in sparing us the "evil eye" when there were minor disruptions. I believe that our brethren can see for themselves if parents are behaving responsibly in trying to engage the child or simply allowing them to run free; and they will hence respond accordingly.
Cheryl and James Foo
(continued on page 5)
Deal with problem now
LET US REGARD this as a serious issue, and deal with it now. Ultimately, we must decide what is respectful to God and how reverently we treat the Mass and our churches. We must also not conveniently misconstrue the love of God for children to justify their misbehaviour.
Discipline comes with love. The fault lies only with parents. Whilst we may sympathize with their difficulties controlling their active children, we cannot continue to allow circuses at Mass. Yet, many times, it is the parents who treat the church like a circus. What is sad but true is that these very parents would control their children if they are at a paying concert or if a government minister is addressing some public function or if their boss is speaking at the company dinner, but not when God is talking in church.
Thus I agree that this issue needs to be dealt with on an archdiocese level with a firm directive. We have seen that left to individual churches the situation has deteriorated.
Let us consider various solutions - restrictions on children at some or all Masses, provision of adequate and AV connected areas where children are only limited to, rules or code of conduct enforceable by wardens. Let us however, openly welcome into the main church families with well behaved children. Let us build the correct culture that in church only God should be heard as we, too, hope he hears our prayers.