There is always some low-level controversy simmering about the presence of young children at church. Some people think the children should be left at home until they are old enough to properly behave. Others let their kids run the aisles. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
Our policy has always been to bring the kids to church. If I'm there, they are there unless there is an illness. We expect them to behave appropriately for their age, and if one who is too young to understand starts bothering the people around us or being too loud, out into the lobby we go.
Since Marian is getting a bit older--she is about 23m old--I haven't had to spend as much time out of church as I have in the past. Part of the reason is because she is quieter than she used to be. Part of it is because I probably let her get by with a little bit more because I know she is likely to settle back down. Even though she is young, she is learning the rhythms of church.
This past Sunday, Grace and I were both astonished when, at the Confiteor, Marian began, "I confess..." and at the appropriate moment, struck her breast saying, "my fault, my fault, my fault." Grace and I looked at each other and marveled at her awareness. Marian grinned.
Now I am not under the delusion that Marian is having a deep religious experience where she understands what she is doing. No. She listens and watches and mimics as toddlers do. She says and does these things because she sees others doing them. And yet I cannot help but feel that she is also marinating in the rich environment that Mass offers. She hears the words and sees the actions and learns, incrementally, the faith. She does get something out of Mass. It isn't pointless for her to attend.
We still have a ways to go before all the children can reliably behave in church and truly understand what we participate in, but it is nice to get a little sign that maybe we are on the right path.
And just so you don't think I have a preternaturally, well-behaved child
who is all holy and pious, her religious mood passed and she decided
poking at the eight year old boy in front of us was great fun. The boy
was less than amused. By the middle of the homily, I scooped Marian up
and retreated to our regular spot where she promptly knocked over all
the architectural drawings for the new building which are set out on
easels for examination. Knocking over giant pictures is also great fun.