By Julie Bostick | Executive Director, Office of Laity and Family Life
When our children were young, my husband Ralph and I brought them to Mass every Sunday. When they were under five, we often sat in the back of Church, because we didn’t want the kids to “disrupt” anyone around us. We had two children, two years apart, and I would say their behavior in Mass was pretty standard for kids their age. We looked forward to attending Mass but during that time we never felt like we achieved “full and active” participation, because we were too busy taking care of the kids.
Fr. John came to our parish when our children were in junior high and he was a young and energetic pastor. He was joyful, loving and full of energy. Fr. John was a gifted homilist, so he had all of our undivided attention during his homilies.
One day he asked parents of young children to think about why they often chose to sit in the back of Church. Our church building was built in the 1800’s and it had two long rows of pews and one main aisle. He asked everyone, “If you are sitting in the back of Church, can you really see the altar and the priest? When you are sitting in the back, can you pay attention?” He let that sink in and then he asked, “If you can’t see from the back of the Church, then how do you think your young children can?”
Fr. John assured the people in our parish that he didn’t mind having “antsy” children sitting in the front pews. In fact, he shared that he was excited to see them there and he challenged all of the couples with young children to sit in the first ten rows of Church one Sunday and just give it a try. He encouraged us to not only sit there but also to use the proximity to the altar as a way to explain to the children what was happening. He said, “Point out the altar, the chalice, tabernacle and most importantly the Blessed Sacrament. Catechize the children and help them come to an appreciation of what is happening on the altar. They are not too young.” He suggested that if we didn’t feel comfortable doing that, we should look on the internet or at a Catholic Book store to find some good resources for young children explaining the Mass. As I listened to him, I thought to myself, “I wish my kids were younger, because I really would like to try this out on them.” Even though our children were now in the double-digit years, Ralph and I did move our family to the front of Church and we all noticed the difference. Our kids rolled their eyes at first and they argued with us the next week, but they came to appreciate sitting closer to the front.
When we were blessed with our first grandchild, Eliana, Ralph and I were finally able to try out Fr. John’s suggestion on a young child. It was amazing how well it worked. When we took her to Mass as a baby she just stared and looked around at all the fresh sights and sounds. Don’t get me wrong there were normal meltdowns when we had to take her to the vestibule of Church, but for the most part we were able to sit through the entire Mass in the front.
When Ellie became a toddler, I purchased a “Mass bag” and showed it to her. I filled it with a rosary, several toddler books on the Mass, and a young children’s bible. She was very excited to receive the bag and she looked forward to taking it with us to Mass. I showed her how to genuflect and we talked about the statues and the altar. When she asked questions we answered her. Now, Ellie is five years old and recently as we were walking into Church she asked me, “Geeg (that’s what she calls me), why do you like going to Church so much?” I said to her, “Jesus is my best friend, Ellie. When I go to Mass, I get to spend extra special time with Jesus.” I reminded her how she liked to spend extra special time with her friends, too. I didn’t get any further questions, so I think she understood.
Even though we wish we would have heard this earlier in our vocation as parents, we feel extremely blessed that we are able to share the fruits of Fr. John’s words with our grandchildren.