Saturday, September 5, 2009

Children at Mass: A Shining Example

What you are about to read is not a dream or a product of the imagination. It actually occurred on a recent Sunday at a small chapel where the traditional Latin Mass is offered:
A family of five children with their mother and father filled a pew towards the back of the church. The oldest child was a girl of eight or nine years. The other four were boys, ranging in age from perhaps seven to four years. The girl was veiled and nicely attired in a dress. The four boys all wore dark suits and pressed white shirts. Their faces were radiant and their hair was sparkling clean. They seemed eager for what they were about to witness and one of the boys sought and received permission from his mother to hold the missal, which he did with dignity.

Before and after the service there was only a minimal amount of communication and movement as the children settled in, and later as they prepared to leave. During the Mass itself, and especially during the Consecration, the children were attentive and completely silent. They did not talk or even whisper and they did not fidget. The girl, who might have been the only child who had made First Communion, was reverent when she proceeded to the altar rail with the palms of her hands pressed together in prayer.
How is it that these children behaved so well? It’s hard to say. God may have granted the family special graces because of the parents’ obedience to the Church’s teaching on contraception. Perhaps all the family members are naturally endowed with tranquil temperaments.

In any case, the parents very likely took the time to carefully instruct the children. Moreover, the parents set a good example as they too were nicely dressed and groomed, sat quietly, and attended to the Mass.

Given the number of small children, one could surmise the family might also include a toddler and infant who had been left home with a grandmother or aunt who would attend another Mass. If so, whether they were aware of it or not, the parents followed the advice offered by Kay Toy Fenner in her 1961 book American Catholic Etiquette:
“Children should not come to church dressed sloppily in denims, jerseys, etc., unless they own no other clothing. Children should learn young to bathe and dress carefully for church and to present as neat and attractive an appearance as possible; this training will then carry over into adult life. . . .

"Children under four years of age are apt to become restless at Mass. It is not reasonable to expect such young children to behave properly throughout the service, therefore it is best, whenever possible, not to bring them. But of course they may be brought if there is no one to care for them at home. Every effort should be made to keep them from disturbing others. If they become irritable and noisy, they should be taken out.

"Children over four years can be taught to behave properly.”
Although Fenner does not mention it, if four is the age when the child is to begin accompanying the family to Mass, this makes the fourth birthday a rite of passage the child can look forward to and be prepared for -- the day when he is grown up enough take his place in the family pew. And, he will want to live up to that privilege once he gets there . . . as these five children did.

Fenner, Kay Toy; American Catholic Etiquette (Newman Press, Maryland, 1961), pp. 230-231.

Mary Cassatt's "Young Girl Seated in Yellow Armchair", from Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.


Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Never had any problem taking our 10 to Mass..

Gemma said...

Oh my goodness, Marie-Jacqueline! So many wonderful posts! I finally figured out that I can see the web version on my phone if I scroll to the bottom of the page and hit "web version" (not very tech savvy, would much rather be gardening).
Your site has the information and the inspiration I have been searching for for years! All these older posts I missed I am just now catching up on.

Marie-Jacqueline said...

Bless you, Gemma. I hope that your blog will go on for years, that you will have many readers, and that you will build up a large reservoir of posts too. I really enjoy reading yours. BTW, later today, if possible, I'm going to try to post the book list I promised. I'm playing catch-up because of the time consumed by the project I mentioned that gratefully is now behind me.