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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- lack of volunteers
- 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.