Children in church

This is a notorious and perennially discussed talking point in many parishes, and indeed a question that the Church seems to have as many policies on as there are parishes. Our family Mass is the subject of such conversation since it is living proof that our part of London is, indeed, Nappy Valley – trying to get your buggy into our church porch is like trying to get it down the Northcote Road on a pleasant Saturday morning with coffee shops and trendy boutiques alike crammed with yummy mummies, daddies and babies. Indeed, the hubbub of noise at this family Mass (not because of particularly badly behaved children, but rather because of the sheer number of children) is quite extraordinary. I admit it – I attended this Mass once out of necessity and vowed never again. One mother told me that it is possible, with much saintly practice I’m sure, to tune into the priest and block out the cacophony around you. I suppose parents discover they need this ability in noisy, busy family life, too.

I reserve comment until I have children of my own, but I can see both sides of the question. There are some families in our parish who bring large numbers of children to Mass who don’t play with toys or read books, and behave impeccably. When the children attend Mass with school and for First Communion Presentation Masses, they are saint-like. But I think it’s too easy for us to jump in and say it’s down to bad parenting that they make such a racket on normal Sundays. There is, perhaps, a need for such a Mass. Several parents have told me in the past the only way they were able to bring their children to Mass was by attending this particular one, where they knew they would ‘blend in’ and not suffer the glares of other parishioners. One mother told me that there was a time in her life when she was ‘grateful’ for this Mass – for her it was a life-line. Parenting is difficult, every family is different, and while it’s good to have high standards in our Liturgy, it’s also good for parishes to welcome those who struggle and for whatever reason don’t have immaculately behaved children.

Thank God for the solemn sung Mass.

About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

4 responses to “Children in church

  • Jonathan F. Sullivan

    Whenever I think about this issue I settle on two general principles:

    1) Children are baptized members of the Body of Christ and, like other members, have a right and duty to participate in the Church’s liturgical life. This right and duty should be respected by the local parish.

    2) Parents have the right and obligation to teach their children to participate in the liturgy in age-appropriate ways. This right and obligation should be supported by the local parish.

    Of course prudence is called for; if my infant or toddler are making a scene I’ll take them out for the benefit of others. But dealing with the normal noise that children make is part of what it means to be a Church that embraces children and sees them as a blessings.

  • Tonia

    There’s a useful book Daring to Be Different by Sarah Johnson that has lots of tips for taking children to Mass. I think if you can get all the families with small children together at one Mass it’s less stressful for the parents and makes the other masses quieter.

    I score my 2 boys out of 10 each week for their behaviour at Mass. If they get over 7 they can pick whether we go for an ice-cream afterwards or to McDonalds.

    The active participation in the Mass by the parents is just as important as the active participation of a child. You sometimes see parents who disappear along with their children to Children’s Liturgy every week or are as involved with the crayoning as their child! I think if you can find something that keeps your child still and occupied, allows them to hear what is going on, and if possible, to face the front, then do it. Meanwhile, focus on the Mass as much as possible and if they interrupt remind them “I can’t talk now I’m praying.”

  • Ella

    We have the opposite at our Church, we are just about the only young family there but it has the same result in that if the children are noisy then it is noticeable.

    I was not sure if you are talking about having a particular Mass time which families tend to go to or having a children’s Mass.

    I have a two year old, a four year old and an under one and I prefer not to take them to children’s Mass or children’s liturgy. The older two already participate in the Our Father and Hail Mary and the four year old also joins in many of the common responses. It does mean that as a parent I can’t always listen to the readings as well but we read them the day before. If they are taken out for children’s liturgy they do not get to participate in the Mass.

    As a parent I feel it is important for my children to understand that they can participate in the Mass and that on occasions yes, they may be trouble, but that does not mean that they get to kick off and be taken out. Most of the people in our parish agree that though this can be annoying it is worth it in the end, to have a new generation of Catholics who grow up to understand and love the Mass.

  • transformedinchrist

    Thank you for your comments, some great wisdom here! Ella, I agree with your point about children’s Masses – they simply don’t make sense – children are part of the Church just the same as the next person.

    Relevant to this topic, there is a great article on ten ways of encouraging parents to help children prepare for First Communion here: I sent this out to all our parents today to encourage them at the ‘halfway point’.

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