Childhood Development and the Mass


When I take my nineteen-month-old nephew over to the holy water fount, he’ll dip his fingers in the water, make a catawampus sign of the cross, and start clapping and smiling.

My three-and-a-half-year-old nephew had recently learned the Our Father and knew that it ended in Amen, just like all prayers. But when the Our Father was recited during Liturgy of the Eucharist, he yelled “Hey, they didn’t say Amen!”

A young mother had recently shared with her five-year-old daughter the theology of transubstantiation, that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. During Mass, as the mother was returning to her pew after receiving communion, her daughter ran down the aisle to meet her and asked, “Is He inside you?” “Yes,” the mother replied. At that, the little girl knelt down to adore Jesus Christ physically present inside her mother.

It’s amazing watching young children grasp the customs and theology of our Faith. Slowly but surely they understand how we prepare for Mass, what we do at Mass, what’s taking place on the altar, and how that affects our life outside the church building.

A few years back I asked my friend’s mother how she had managed to keep her eight children in line during Mass.

“We sat in the front row. That way the kids didn’t get bored because there was always something going on. And they also didn’t dare misbehave because they were in full view of the priest and the entire congregation.”

Great idea! Obviously, until children are a certain age, they can’t control their behavior. However, once they reach that age, why not offer them an up-close-and-personal experience of the Mass? You might be surprised at how much they gain.

7 Replies to “Childhood Development and the Mass”

  1. When my daughter “c” was just shy of three we took her with us to Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. For most of the service, she was content with snacking on Cheerios and coloring, and thankfully quiet. Until Station 13.

    At that point “c” decided it was time to stand up in the pew and sing If You’re Happy and You Know It Stomp Your Feet (complete with Stomp Stomp). The teenaged girls behind us and my husband practically asphixated themselves trying not to laugh. I wondered whether I would have to scoot out with 13/14ths of an indulgence (were I eligible for one). Fortunately, we were back by Station 7 and I was able to shush “c” before we were subject to too many glares.

    C is now aware that the Stations of the Cross tell the story of Christ’s Passion. So, now she wails in sadness, starting at Station 12.

  2. Some years ago, I was dating someone with a 4 year old daughter. He started going back to Mass with me and of course brought her along. I got her a “My First Missal,” which she took to church with her, but was only four and hadn’t gone to Mass much in the past so her interest was pretty minimal.

    One Sunday, when she was really fidgeting, I opened her picture missal, pointed to the page and then up to the priest – the priest in the book and the priest in church both had their arms opened wide. I don’t know what happened, but at that moment something just clicked. She suddenly just got it. (Maybe the Holy Spirit?)

    Within a month, she insisted on sitting in the front row every week – except once when she wanted to sit back a few rows so she could get a better look at the bringing up of the gifts. (At that church, they were on a table partway up until brought to the altar.) I lost touch over the years, but I’ll never forget her smile that day.

  3. Thoughts on a disturbing observation:

    I think there are many adults that might benefit from sitting in the first few pews:(

  4. Some years ago at mass the altar server noticed after the sermon that the altar candles had not been lit. Should I light them father? “Yes, by all means.” As the server lit the candles a child in the front row began to sing, “Happy birthday to you….”

  5. One Mass my daughter refused to go up with me when I received b/c she didn’t want to see the Body and Blood up close.

  6. The anecdote about the 5 year kneeling in front of her mother is very moving. Were we all to have such faith and humility…

  7. A boy of about three was at mass and when he heard the bells ringing he tugged at his mom’s sleeve and said “Telephone Mommy!”

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