Father Luke Fong
If one goes by the letter of the law (as far as Canon Law is concerned), then parents would not be faulted if they simply come to Mass without their children. The laws of the Church only require children who have reached the age of reason, which is around seven years.
But this doesn’t exonerate Catholic parents from fulfilling a very binding parental duty of baptised children, where at the Marriage Pre-nuptial Enquiry, the couples promise to educate their children in the faith. This phrase “educating children in the faith” is as deep as it is broad. It is not just making sure that the children attend weekly catechism classes. Properly understood, parents are the first catechists of their children, way before they get introduced to catechism classes.
Being regular at Mass and being comfortable with prayer requires getting accustomed to the regimes and this takes great effort. Which child would attend Mass at age seven, if he/she had not been regularly exposed to this practice on a weekly basis for the first six years of his/her life?
Just getting these babes ready to go out at a specific time is a feat in itself. As a priest at Mass on Sundays, I see parents put such great effort at the pews because they want their family’s presence to make a difference to the Body of Christ. And, believe me, it does make a world of difference. It doesn’t make it any easier for these parents when the community around them cannot appreciate all that they are doing to educate their children in the faith either.
Can anything be done to help assuage the situation? While no solution is perfect, there is one thing that I do tell parents which I believe can help.
Where you should be seated at Mass needs to take into consideration the age of your children.
- When children are infants, the best place to be seated is at the back, near the exit doors. It allows you to make a quick exit if your child is crying.
- If your child is a toddler, the back of the church is not a good place to be seated, as toddlers need to be engaged. Let them see Father as he receives the gifts, prepares the altar, and raises the paten and the chalice. They will begin to ask questions – why is Father doing this or that, why is he wearing such strange clothing. These are teaching moments for every parent, and it keeps them engaged even after the Mass is over.
- Many churches have an upper gallery but I do not recommend parents with infants or toddlers to sit there. Once your child gets cranky you are not likely to make that long walk downstairs, past all the seated parishioners.
The other thing that needs to be said, and regularly too, is this: Parishioners seated around or near families with young children need to extend great charity towards them.
If you find yourself bothered by the crying of children at Mass, perhaps find another place to be seated, away from the distraction. Or, put yourself in the shoes of these parents before you start criticising them in your hearts.
Just remember that Jesus always welcomed the little children, simply because it is to them that the Kingdom of God belongs. If we make it difficult for the little ones and their families to come to Mass, can we really say that the Kingdom of God belongs to us as well?
Father Luke Fong is Assistant Priest at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.