Suggestions for parents at Mass with babies, toddlers or children

Filed in Family by on September 26, 2013 3 Comments

brentwood cathedral

The parish of Brentwood Cathedral has just posted some ideas for parents who are bringing their babies, toddlers and children to Mass each Sunday. Some of these ideas were tested in the blogosphere a couple of months ago, and this is the final result.

In a couple of days Jericho Tree will post some reflections of Fr Martin Boland, the parish priest at the Cathedral, about the whole process of thinking through these issues with his parishioners.

A Message from Fr Martin:

The presence of so many parents at Mass with their babies and children is a real blessing for our parish. It shows how vibrant, joyful and alive our community is. Seeing so many families with young children faithfully coming to Mass really warms my heart and gives me great hope for the future. You are, indeed, the first and best teachers of your children in the ways of faith. You are doing a great job.

Sometimes parents ask me about what is the best thing to do if their baby or child is behaving in a way that is distracting to others. I decided to ask the advice of parents, priests and other parishioners, and here are some ideas and practical tips that might help you:

1. Talk to your children about the Cathedral. Explain to them that this is a special place because Jesus is there. When we come into God’s house, this is “quiet time” where we speak to Jesus, our friend, in our hearts, as well, as with our prayers and songs. We show God respect when we behave in ways that are prayerful and respectful.

2. Weekly Mass attendance is important. When attendance is irregular, broken or happens rarely, then it is more difficult for our children to develop the ways of behaving that are appropriate at Mass. If you want your children to believe that coming to Mass is important, then you must show them that you believe it is important.

3. When you come into the Cathedral, why not bless your child with holy water or, if they are old enough, allow them do it themselves and learn to make the sign of the Cross? You might explain to them that we make the sign of the cross to show that every part of us – our minds, hearts and bodies – belongs to God. These simple rituals will help your child to appreciate that they are in God’s House, a sacred place.

4. Try to get to Mass a little ahead of time. Most of us would try to get to any appointment or important event in good time.

If parents are rushing into the Cathedral at the last moment or arriving late, it is almost impossible to settle your child for this “quiet time” with Jesus. If we are flustered and distracted, our children will pick up on this. If we all work to create a prayerful and composed atmosphere in the Cathedral, this will help our children.

A little time before Mass spent preparing your child for the “quiet, special time” with Jesus will help them to understand that the Cathedral is a different place to their homes, the park or the school playground. It will help them to distinguish between ways of behaving that are appropriate to different places and circumstances. Help your children to observe the way other people are preparing for Mass.

Example is always the best teacher. So, maybe you could kneel down together and say a simple prayer? You might read or, if they are old enough, get your child to read the words of the opening hymn and reflect on it? Or just sit, bow your heads and offer thirty seconds of quiet time to God?

5. We all need to be sensible about noise at Mass. This is public worship with children and there is bound to be some noise and movement. Therefore, we must all support and encourage our parents with young children. But, we all need to be aware of where we are, the sacred things we are taking part in and to have a real respect for those around us. So, don’t rush to take your child out if there is some very “light” noise or murmuring, but if a baby is crying or a child’s behaviour is disruptive, take them to the Upper Room (up the stairs opposite the Cathedral toilets), go into the narthex or, weather permitting, have a wander outside the Cathedral. But do return to the Cathedral when your child has settled. We want you to be with us during the celebration of Mass.

6. Walking toddlers around the Cathedral during Mass can be distracting for the priest and the congregation. This is especially true in the Cathedral as it is a very open space where people can see almost every movement. If your toddler is restless think about taking them for a wander outside the main body of the Cathedral. But, again, please come back into the Cathedral when your child has had their wander.

7. If your child finds it difficult to sit through the whole Mass quietly, bring a “soft” toy or, for older children, colouring or religious books – these are available from the Narthex repository. Some parents have found a post card sized photo album filled with religious postcards and pictures is effective.

Bunches of keys or “hard” toys made of plastic or metal being shaken, squeaked or banged on the floor can become very distracting. Why not put together a “Jesus” bag or rucksack that has a couple of items in them and becomes part of the weekly preparation for going to Mass?

8. If your child comes to the prayer mat during the Eucharistic Prayer at the 9.30 am “family” Mass, explain to them beforehand that they must watch and listen to what the priest is doing and saying. If you want to support them in doing this, please come and join your child.

9. Parents must consume the Body of Christ when they receive Holy Communion and of course not give it to their children to play with or eat.

Sometimes children ask to receive the Body of Christ. But if they see that their parents are deeply engaged and prayerful when they receive Holy Communion, the children will come to understand that they have to wait until they are older before they can receive Holy Communion.

10. After Mass finishes, why not visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel with your child? If they are old enough, teach them to genuflect before the tabernacle and to light a candle. Explain to them that when we genuflect, we show Jesus respect, just like when people bow or curtsey before the Queen. Jesus is our King. We should show him proper respect. Then, give them a few moments in “quiet time” thanking Jesus for his friendship and love. These rituals will help your child to appreciate that the Mass is where we meet Jesus in a very special way.

11. After Mass, make sure you bring your children to high-five or say “hello” to the priest or deacon.

12. Coffee and juice are available after the 9.30 am “Family” Mass – this is a good way for parents to get to know each other and for children to make new friendships.

13. Can we help our children to develop proper ways of behaving at Mass? Can every member of our community model that behaviour and act as good spiritual role models? If our children are to experience God’s love for them and they are to learn to love Jesus and his Church, I think we can.

All families and children are welcome here at Brentwood Cathedral because they enrich our worship of God at Mass in so many ways and help make our wonderful community a place of friendship and joy.

May God richly bless and protect you and your children.

Fr Martin

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These unsigned articles are prepared by different members of the Jericho Tree team

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  1. Bernadette Andrews says:

    Thank you for this. Full of common sense and Is relevant for any church. I will pass this on to our PP.

  2. Chelmsfordian says:

    I remember the time when my children were young & we were at Church as very difficult. Sometimes a small minority made us feel unwelcome with our – admittedly challenging – boys. That included the catechist who told one of them that he was ‘like a baby’. Yes, he was immature, but then we’re told that we’re all made in the likeness of God, so presumably God was able to embrace that immaturity?

    Our desperate measures to engage them included a range of religious texts for children, a quiet toy and colouring materials, but they were no more engaged by these than by our attempts to gloss the Mass for them. I think the main problem for my active boys was that, in contrast with our small home, the church represented a big, high, space with opportunities for moving, running, jumping & funny walks, and the other things on offer didn’t compete with that space (& yes, we did take them daily to the park.).

    I would like to know your opinion on parents taking food/snacks for very young children. For our under 4s we took milk & breadsticks, sometimes raisins, which at least kept them quiet while they were consuming them (we tried to hold out for the consecration). So when, after my children were grown, our priest spoke about, & wrote about in the newsletter, a complaint from a parishioner about too many families taking food for their children – & the very specific complaint about one family who took ‘what amounted to a picnic’ – I felt it was a very mean-minded complaint indeed about people who were in the position we had been in, & who were probably doing their level best in that difficult situation. I was disappointed in the otherwise very good priest too – what could he have known about the pressure to keep quiet and still young, active children of the non-compliant variety? It seems that we have come a very long way indeed from the early days of Christianity when communal worship would have consisted in part of sharing a meal (picnic?), to a very structured, formal approach where children are on the fringes of being tolerated.

    Our difficult time came to an end when the children grew up, but I do have in mind that there are certain parents whose children have special needs that mean that the weekly struggle to keep them from impinging on other people’s spiritual experiences continues. I hope that the Church is more tolerant of these families.

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