Kids program's scriptural foundation

In my last blog post, I talked about the need for optional kids programs during Mass. When I posted the blog post on my Facebook, I got some people telling me I was dead wrong, because Canon law demonstrates the bare minimum and not what we should strive for and  there is no scriptural foundation for age segregation. This post is an attempt to show that an argument can be made. In fairness, I’ll begin by responding to scripture that seems to go against kids programs.

Scripture that seems to go against kids programs

  1. Matthew 19:13-14 : Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “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.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
    1. an argument against kids programs goes something like this, Jesus is teaching us that he desires the children to come to him and be blessed by him. Jesus is fully and physically present during Mass; hence, we should not stop little children from attending Mass.
    2. A reply in favor of Kids programs: This passage doesn’t teach anything regarding how a parish should be structured. At minimum, Jesus is showing that children deserve the opportunity to receive the gospel. It says that the children were brought to him. In other words, Jesus is choosing a specific time and place to minister to children. By engaging children at their level, we are removing the hindrances. We are acting like Jesus and choosing a particular time and place, where children can be blessed.
  2. Deuteronomy. 29:10–14: You stand assembled today, all of you, before the Lord your God—the leaders of your tribes,[d] your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, 11 your children, your women, and the aliens who are in your camp, both those who cut your wood and those who draw your water— 12 to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, sworn by an oath, which the Lord your God is making with you today; 13 in order that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, sworn by an oath, not only with you who stand here with us today before the Lord our God, 15 but also with those who are not here with us today.
    1. An argument against kids programs: This passage shows that in the OT assembly, children were gathered together with men and women to hear Moses renew his covenant with God and we should continue to follow the Old Testament example.
    2. a reply in favor of kids programs: This scripture is narrative and not prescriptive. This means that this scripture is telling how it was, not how it ought to be. Yes children were present in the assembly, but that doesn’t mean they ought to be. We do not have to conduct Mass in a similar way to the Old testament assemblies.
  3. Joel 2:15-16:  Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
    call a solemn assembly;
    16 gather the people.
    Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
    gather the children,
    even infants at the breast.
    Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her canopy.

    1. Argument against kids programs: Here the prophet Joel is instructing the Israelites to gather all people including children and infants into the assembly so that the congregation may be sanctified. Hence, we should follow Joel’s advice and allow infants and children into Mass.
    2. reply in favor of kids programs: The book of Joel is a prophecy and as such it uses metaphorical language to convey a point. The main point here is not that  children and infants should be in assemblies, but that all of Israel needs to repent in order to avoid God’s wrath.
  4. Ephesians 6:4: And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
    1. Argument against kids programs: This passages shows that parents specifically fathers have a duty to raise their children in the faith. Thus as such children should attend Mass with their family so that they can receive the instruction and disciple from the father.
    2. reply in  favor of kids programs: Yes parents, especially fathers, do have a duty to instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; however, kids programs should not and are not a substitute for  this duty, but merely help fulfill this duty. As we will see, scripture is very clear that churches also have the duty to instruct.

Scripture in favor of Kids programs:

  1. Leviticus 10:8-11: And the Lord spoke to Aaron: Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tent of meeting, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations. 10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.
    1. argument in favor: This passage shows that Aaron and his sons were also given the duty to teach the people of Israel, which presumably means children as well. Hence, at least in the Old Testament, the church shared the responsibility of teaching children
    2. reply against: yes the church has a duty to teach, but this duty is fulfilled when the whole assembly is gathered together.
  2. Ephesians 4:11–13: the gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
    1. Argument in favor: this passage shows that in the New Testament’s model of discipleship, each believer is given a different gift and each member of the body works to equip the saints. Hence, members of the church body help equip children to work in ministry, it is not just the sole responsibility of the parents.
    2. Reply against: yes, but there is no reason  why this can’t take place during Mass, we don’t need separate kids programs.
  3. Titus 1:5, 2:1-10: 1:5 I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done; 2:1 But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2 Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.3 Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. 9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.
    1. Argument for: In verse 5, Paul explains to Titus that he is to put the churches in order. Presumably then the rest of the letter is Paul giving Titus advice on how the church should be ordered. In chapter 2, Paul gives Titus tailored messages to different groups. This shows that Paul recognized the importance of having a different message for different groups based on age and wanted to have his church ordered that way. More specifically Paul instructs Titus to allow the older woman to instruct the younger. Kids programs extends these instructions to allow the older generation to present a specialized message to the younger generation. One that they can understand.
    2. reply against: This passage says nothing about specialized instruction for children. If anything it is implying that older women should be mentors to younger women. Furthermore, these specialized instructions can be given to an entire congregation together by simply reading the letter. There was no need to separate back then and there is no need now.
  4. 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things”
    1. argument in favor: the bible attests to the fact that children are unique and cannot be expected to think and behave like adults. Hence the bible is the source of the recognition of the need to teach a different message to children
    2. reply against: yes children are unique, but they are capable of comprehending adult things and can only learn through exposure to Mass.

Verdict: There is no biblical passages that outright justifies separate kids programs during Mass. However, Titus 2 and Ephesians 4 helps make a convincing argument that there is room for separate age appropriate instruction. The big question is whether such separate instruction is beneficial during Mass or whether it is better to keep the children with the parents? I think ultimately it depends on the parents’ and kids’ relationship. For instance, some parents may not be knowledgable about the faith, or may not have the teaching gift and thus separate kids programs can help them. Another way of thinking about it is that kids programs allow parents time to worship without distraction, which in turn helps them to be better instructors to their children. When parents are spiritually thriving so are their kids.

Your kid's kicking me doesn't sanctify me

Lately I’ve been a little lazy on Sunday morning and have not managed to make it to the 8:45am Mass. Luckily my parish offers multiple times to attend Mass including a 10:35am Mass.  Now somehow the 10:35am has become unofficially know as the “family mass,” which means there are a lot of families with young kids attending. Because of  this, I have gotten exposure to the challenge of paying attention with loud annoying kids in the background. Normally it is the typical crying, screaming, and running around, but two Sundays ago, I sat next to a family with a kid, who was maybe about 2 years old.  My sympathies are with the mother, who tried everything to keep her unruly kid in check. This included the usual toys such as action figures. Somehow he had made it to the seat next to my wheelchair and was laying on the seat with his stomach down. His legs and arms were flailing. He had managed to kick me not once but twice. Having enough, I grabbed his foot and whispered “no” The mother, who was rightfully paying attention to Mass, finally realized what he was doing, scoped him up and scolded him telling him he would get time out. This is unfortunately one of the many instances that has gotten me thinking about the Catholic church’s need for kids programs during Mass.
When talking about kids programs, two very common objections come up.

  1. I don’t want to abandon my kid, after all did Jesus not tell us to let the little kids come to him? The Mass is a community celebration, and kids are a part of our community by virtue of their baptism, so they deserve to be there.
  2. If we let our kids go into separate programs, we are teaching them that they don’t belong in the sanctuary, that they don’t belong to Mass and we cannot teach them the proper way to behave during Mass.

I will address the first objection in a minute, but I have a few questions for people, who espouse the second objection. Where in my story above did the little boy learn anything about the Mass or learn proper behavior and respect? If anything he learned that Mass is a boring place, where he gets in trouble. Now  maybe there are 5 star parents out there, who have taken an active role in their child’s faith formation at an early age. I have seen those parents and those children and obviously kids programs are not for them. The sad reality is that more and more often parents simply don’t have time to make faith formation a priority. Instead just getting to Mass is a big accomplishment. I firmly believe that if you make church a place where children want to come, parents in turn will find it easier to come to Mass.
The first objection is a cultural lie that Catholics have been taught. Cannon law even contradicts it.

“Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age” (CIC 11).

So children under 7 years of age are not obligated to  go to Mass. Cannon law goes on to state:

But, by their baptism, children also have certain rights: “Since they are called by baptism to lead a life in keeping with the teaching of the gospel, the Christian faithful have the right to a Christian education by which they are to be instructed properly to strive for the maturity of the human person and at the same time to know and live the mystery of salvation” (CIC 217).
“According to their own vocation, those who live in the marital state are bound by a special duty to work through marriage and the family to build up the people of God. Since they have given life to their children, parents have a most grave obligation and possess the right to educate them. Therefore, it is for Christian parents particularly to take care of the Christian education of their children according to the doctrine handed on by the Church” (CIC 226).

Ok so there are two things we can learn from this. 1. Children under the age of 7 have a right to learn about their faith and the sacred mysteries; 2. the parental vocation requires parents to take a role in the faith education. However, nowhere in Cannon law does it say that the church cannot foster the parental vocation by providing optional kid’s programs during Mass. The church fosters other vocations such has priest and nuns, but when it comes to parents, the church’s response has been silent.
Even if I am able to convince churches of the need to develop quality kids programs, there are several other obstacles to the development of such programs

  1. a major culture change would have to take place within the congregation in that people would have to use and accept such services in order to justify the time and expense
  2. lack of volunteers
  3. lack of quality Catholic resources

It is my hope that more and more Catholic parishes will make children programs a priority so that parents can pay attention during Mass and so that children can learn to worship in an age appropriate way. Kids programs are one of the many ways that the Catholic church can create a more welcoming environment.

Liturgical abuses, Catholic identity,and Catholic culture

When we talk about changes Catholic parishes can take to become more welcoming, automatically people become defensive. There are two reasons for this defensive posture. The first reason has to do with culture in that this is the way we’ve always done it and there is no problem with the way we are doing it. These people do not see the church as a way to foster a relationship with Jesus; instead being Catholic is something you do just to do it and it is ritualistic. The second reason is the fear that if we change and implement strategies from other churches and other denominations, we lose what makes us Catholic. The second reason is a legitimate concern. The Catholic identity is very important and must be protected. The problem becomes when we confuse our Catholic identity with our Catholic culture. It is this confusion that can lead to liturgical abuses.

What is Catholic identity?

There are certain characteristics that I believe define a Catholic church and separate it in a good way.

  1. The Eucharist
  2. unity
  3. beauty

The Eucharist

The Catholic church teaches that the Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of our faith. We believe that it is Jesus’ body and blood made manifest in bread and wine. It re-presents  for us Jesus’ death on the cross. This miraculous event takes place during every Mass. This is the distinguishing feature of Catholic worship. In order to have a valid consecration you must have:

  1. Bread and wine in which a little water mixed
  2. the bread must be only wheat and recently made
  3. The communion may be received under  both species or only one
  4. both matter must be present
  5. sacred vestments must be worn
  6. must be celebrated on an altar
  7. must be celebrated by a Validly Ordained Male Priest
  8. The priest must have the intent to make Jesus physically present
  9. the words, “this is my body, this is my blood” must be said.
  10. Must use the Eucharistic prayer listed in the Roman missal
  11. The priest must wash his hands in water after offering the bread and wine, but before the eucharist prayer

We, as Catholics should recognize the importance of having a valid consecration. Thus any changes suggested can’t effect any of these requirements.

Unity

The definition of  the word Catholic means unity. Thus the sacrifice of the Mass should be celebrated in a uniform way in so far as it  follows the liturgical guidelines found in Cannon law and in The General Instructions of The Roman Missal. A violation of these requirements does not make the consecration invalid if the above is followed, but it does make the sacrifice of the Mass and the liturgical celebration illicit. So a typical Sunday service at any Catholic parish, you have the liturgical celebration, which includes the introductory rite, liturgy of the word. and the liturgy of the Eucharist. Each of these different stages have different elements and each element has different requirements.
The structure is as followed:

  • introductory rite
    • the entrance
    • the greeting
    • the penitential act
    • the kyrie
    • the glory to God in the highest
    • the collect
  • The liturgy of the word
    • Silence
    • the biblical readings
    • the Responsorial psalm
    • The Acclamation before the gospel
    • the homily
    • the profession of faith
    • the universal prayer
  • the liturgy of the Eucharist
    • the preparation of the gifts
    • the eucharistic prayer
    • the lord’s prayer
    • the rite of peace
    • Communion
    • the concluding rite

 
Rather than going through the requirement of each part, I will just say a few words about a few observations that I have made by visiting various parishes. I invite my readers to read the The General Instructions of The Roman Missal ( GRIM) themselves for more details.
I think a priest does the congregation a disservice if any parts are omitted or changed. For example, I believe that it is wrong to omit a part of the introductory rite in order to make room for something else. I have attended parishes that did not sing/recite an entrance chant in order to spend more time welcoming new people. The only aspects of the introductory rite that can be omitted are, the Gloria and that is only during Advent and Lent, and the Kyrie, which can only be omitted if it is incorporated into the penitential rite. Likewise I believe a priest does a disservice if he ad-libs the collect prayer or the greeting after the entrance song. Lastly as far as introductory rites go, I would like to see more reliance on using the antiphons in the missal for the entrance songs rather than automatically replacing them with another liturgical chant. There is nothing in the GRIM that says the antiphons chosen by the church can’t be played in a more modern setting.
The liturgy of the word offers another way to emphasize unity. In the Catholic church, the biblical reading come from a lectionary, which is a book of scripture assign for each day. According to the GRIM, the Homily should be “an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.” It should never be given by a lay person and it should never be omitted. All of these guidelines are designed to ensure that not only is every Catholic hearing the same readings, but that every Catholic receives a similar message. Sadly I have seen priest forsake their sacred duty by allowing a lay person to give a homily or even worse I have seen priest use their homily time to talk about unrelated scripture. Priests and churches who allow this to happen may indeed be successful at captivating an audience, but I have to question whether they really are Catholic. Do you really intend to submit to the authority of the church if you chose to deviate from the readings she has deemed appropriate? If you are  not submitting to the church’s authority in this regard, what is stopping you from not submitting to her on other issues? They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. For example, I have seen a Catholic church use the homily time to do a sort of FAQ about the Catholic faith. This is a great idea, but not to be done during Mass; because, as a Catholic parishioner I am entitled to have the treasures of the bible opened up to me and for a homily to expound on the scripture read.
During the liturgy of the Eucharist, unity can be hindered for two reasons: 1. regional gestures are added into certain parts of the Mass, or 2. the prescribed gestures are not done by the faithful. The most common violation of number 1. is hand holding during the Our Father. Rather than enter into that messy debate, I will give you readers a link to an interesting EWTN article: https://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/zlitur10.htm  .  The second one is violated most when it comes to kneeling during consecration. The GRIM says,

In the Dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by ill health, or for reasons of lack of space, of the large number of people present, or for another reasonable cause. However, those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the Priest genuflects after the Consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.

 

Beauty

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and thus it is difficult to talk about beauty and unity in the same breath. What appears beautiful to one person may not appeal to another person. I do believe that the Catholic church does have its identity firmly placed in fostering the development of religious artwork; whether it be stain glass, paintings, flowers, or statues. The GRIM says the following about beauty:

the Church constantly seeks the noble assistance of the arts and admits the artistic expressions of all peoples and regions.[108] In fact, just as she is intent on preserving the works of art and the artistic treasures handed down from past centuries[109] and, in so far as necessary, on adapting them to new needs, so also she strives to promote new works of art that are in harmony with the character of each successive age.[110]

On account of this, in appointing artists and choosing works of art to be admitted into a church, what should be looked for is that true excellence in art which nourishes faith and devotion and accords authentically with both the meaning and the purpose for which it is intended.[111]

I would feel very strange if I were to attend a Catholic church with no artwork or statues. However, I echo the sentiment of the GRIM that such artwork should be simple. I have felt the distracting effect of sitting next to a large statue of Mary during Mass.  Too often we have stripped out sanctuaries bare in an attempt to be more protestant, when the reality is that we should be fostering the next generation of Catholics to develop beautiful faith art. Authentic beauty speaks to the soul and helps it transcend.
Just like the song says that we will know they are Christians by their love, we will know they are Catholic if they love the Eucharist, promote unity, and seek out beauty. I believe a welcoming parish need not sacrifice these values.