Friday, May 1, 2015

Suffer the Little Children

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.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

I've always been very moved when my toddlers made the sign of the cross or repeated words of the prayers. Maybe they don't get it, but really who of us do fully understand. I believe that they are participating as fully as they are able and I also recall the Psalm: From the lips of infants and babies you have received perfect praise. I don't want to read too much into it, but how can it be too much when Jesus tells us they praise him?

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Also, our parish almost never says the Confiteor, so that's not a prayer my kids actually know. Isn't that sad?

Jenny said...


I should take a video of M making the sign of the cross. It is to die of cute.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Yes. You have to.

MrsDarwin said...

I like this a lot, and I feel that it highlights the value of bringing small children to Mass, every week. I know a lot of families who split up so that they don't have to take the smaller kids to Mass, and of course everyone's got their own reasons, but when Jesus says, "Suffer the children to come to me, and do not hinder them," it does sound like a) he wants the children to come to him, and b) if you keep them away from him, you are participating, a bit, in that hindering.

Emily J. said...

Amen. Re - experiencing all of this with my now 1 year old. She loves her some holy water blessing when we hit the back of the church. THe good news is my older kids finally do participate in church after years of taking them and by their own choice are lectors and peer ministers. So I'm not bothered too much when the priest makes a comment in Mass like the other day when the baby shouted out after he asked for an Amen. Everyone else said Amen and in the moment of silence afterwards, she hollered. "I think she agrees, too," he said. Got a laugh. But I still headed to the back.