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“A charism of the Spirit in person”

by Monsignor Fred Nijem

It’s only a brief mention, but such an important one. Luke tells us that Mary had gathered with the Apostles in the upper room as Pentecost approached. The scene is described very simply in Acts 2: 13-14: “When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew, Simon the Zealot and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary His mother and his brothers.”

We are familiar with the Gospel scenes in which Mary has a significant role. The Annunciation, the Nativity, the Visitation, the Presentation, and finding her son Jesus in the Temple. We recognize these as the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. And of course, John’s Gospel pictures Mary at the wedding feast at Cana as well as standing beneath the cross of her Son. But Mary’s presence in the upper room, in Acts, is described so simply that we may miss its significance.

In the upper room Mary is gathered with fishermen, tax collectors and zealots. She is amid men who had fled in terror and fear when her Son was arrested. She is gathered with men who denied that they even knew her Son. She is in a room full of men and women, who, as of yet, did not understand the significance of what had happened in Jerusalem or what was about to happen. As we say, “they didn’t have a clue.”

Mary was gathered with people who were huddled in fear. The doors of the room were shut and locked. They gathered in prayer, but hardly knew what to pray for, and they knew even less about how to wait. For all of the above reasons, and more, it was extremely significant and important for Mary to be in that gathering.
Mary had already had her personal Pentecost many years earlier. The angel Gabriel had announced, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” (Luke 1:35). Mary had humbly accepted this Pentecost, “Be it done unto me according to your word…”. We can only imagine the maternal love and care she offered to this group, lost and adrift, in the upper room, simply by her presence. She was fulfilling the gift of Jesus when gave His mother to the beloved disciple, (and to the Church), when from His cross He said, “Woman, behold your Son”, (John 19:26).
By her prayerful presence Mary was teaching, without preaching, the Church how to wait for the Spirit. Mary was an example of those who wait for the action of God without impatience. She had already learned how to wait for nine months for the promise of the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled in her flesh. Now she was helping the Church to wait again for the outpouring of the Spirit of her Son.

Mary, as we intuit from the Gospels, must have ministered to the group in a loving and forgiving way. “Mary knew that the moment of grace would not be hastened by impatience, but rather by her love and prayer and her presence”, (Fr. George Montague, Riding the Wind). Mary would assist the Church in waiting for the expected promise of God, the Spirit promised by Her Son. “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth,” (John: 16:13).

The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ gift to His Church. And Mary is the one who helps the Church learn the ways of the Spirit. When we shut the doors of our hearts out of fear, Mary teaches us to remain open and wait for the Spirit. When we become impatient and start to think that God has forgotten us, Mary teaches us to wait for God’s time.
Again from Fr. Montague’s Riding the Wind, “The experience of Mary, then, is one of the most precious gifts of the Spirit. She is a charism of the Spirit in person. From her I learn to believe more purely, to discern the Spirit more clearly, to listen to the Word more intently, and to await more creatively the hour of the Lord’s coming.”
I find the presence of Mary in the upper room, after all the devastating events in Jerusalem, to be a consolation and inspiration. Mary does not hide away and suffer her grief in private. Rather, she shares both her grief and her hope with the Church. Mary is truly a mother for us all.

Mary at this moment, in the upper room, fulfills again the prophecy of her cousin Elizabeth, “Blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to you by Lord would be fulfilled,” (Luke 1:45). In the upper room Mary waits with the Church as God again and again fulfills His Word to us.

At Cana Mary demonstrated a faith that did not demand signs. In a moment of crisis, she unhesitatingly tells the wine steward “Do whatever He (her Son) tells you,” (John 2:6). After Jesus’s death, in a moment of heightened crisis, her prayerful presence says to the Church, “Trust in my son.”
Mary, a woman of faith, an example of prayer, gathers today with the Church in the upper room. In every age the Church will have its crises. In every age the Church must wait for the promise of the Lord to be fulfilled. In every age God has gifted His Church with Mary our mother, who teaches us to prayerfully ponder all these things, and then say “Be it done unto me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38).

A Chosen Race, A Royal Priesthood

The ancient Hebrews (Habiru) believed that Yahweh, the one true God, was their only king. He chose them and formed them into a people, brought them out of the land of Egypt, “the house of slavery,” and led them “dry-shod” through the parted waters of the Red Sea. He accompanied them during their wandering in the Sinai Desert, forgave their murmuring and idolatry, made a covenant with them through Moses, and brought them into the Promised Land of Canaan under Moses’ successor, Joshua son of Nun. Under Yahweh’s kingship, the 12 tribes of Israel—the descendants of the Habiru (literally “Dust People”)—were governed not by earthly kings but by human “judges,” from Joshua to Samuel, for 200 years.

Nevertheless, God’s chosen people increasingly longed to be governed by a human king, such as larger and more powerful nations had. They wanted their leaders to have the prestige of these pagan kings; their neighbors all knew what a king was, but they were not impressed by the mere “judges” of Israel. In response to their desire. God told the last judge Samuel, “Listen to whatever the people say. You are not the one they are rejecting. They are rejecting me as their king…Now listen to them; but at the same time, give them a solemn warning and inform them of the rights of the king who will rule them” (1 Samuel 8:7-9). Samuel bluntly told the people that an absolute monarch would draft their sons into his army and make them perform menial tasks, use their daughters as “perfumers, cooks, and bakers,” confiscate their best fields, vineyards, and olive groves, “tithe their flocks” and enslave all his subjects. “The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, ‘No! There must be a king over us. We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles’” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

God allowed his people to choose to have a king, and so Samuel grudgingly anointed Saul, the people’s choice, as king. When Saul (a “handsome paranoid schizophrenic”) proved disastrous, God decided to give his people a king “after his own heart.” Through Samuel, the last of the judges and first of the prophets, Yahweh chose David, son of Jesse, and Samuel anointed him king, while still in his youth. Later, after commanding Saul’s armies and incurring his jealousy, David was victorious over Saul and reigned as king over Judah (in the south), for 7 years, from Hebron. Then the elders of Israel (in the north) came and anointed him as their king as well. David ruled over both Judah and Israel for another 33 years, for a total of 40.

To unite the northern and southern tribes, King David captured Jerusalem, a walled Jebusite city in the center of the country and made it his capital. David was a great king, a larger-than-life figure—even in his sins, which God forgave because of his even greater repentance. David composed the core of the Psalms, centralized the cult at Jerusalem (henceforth only his court priests could offer sacrifice and only in Jerusalem). King David apparently commissioned his scribes to begin writing the records of his reign and his people. They collected and wrote down the traditions of the Twelve Tribes, creating the earliest writings of the Old Testament. David transformed Israelite worship—both the sacrificial worship that would soon grace the temple in Jerusalem and scripturally-based synagogue services elsewhere.

King David wanted to build a permanent house (temple) for God, who was thought to dwell in the tent that housed the ark of the covenant and was seen as the dwelling place for God’s kabod (“glory”) or his shekinah (“presence,” as distinct from his person). Samuel’s successor, Nathan the prophet, revealed that God would instead establish a “house” for David and his people. This is the “house of David”—his descendants—among whom God would dwell. After David, the covenant no longer simply stated: “I will be your God you will be my people”; it had an additional condition: “and if you have a king of the house of David ruling over you.” David was the model of Hebrew kingship and was regarded as the Lord’s anointed (“Messiah”). The prophets made it clear that God still reigned supreme through the earthly kings, who served as his viceroys, adopted sons, and mediators of the covenant between God and his people.

David’s son and successor, King Solomon, was famous for building the temple in Jerusalem and for his wise legal judgments and his Proverbs. But Solomon proved a fool in the end, for he had many foreign wives and tolerated their pagan worship competing with the religious system of David in temple and synagogue. After Solomon’s death (922 b.c.), the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were separated and were ruled by different kings; the house of David ruled only in the south. The expectation in Judah was for a restoration of the house of David in the north as well. But this expectation was not fulfilled. First, Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 b.c. and then Judah to the Babylonians, who had conquered the Assyrians, in 587 b.c. The prophet Ezekiel described God’s glory physically leaving the temple before it was destroyed. In their exile in Babylon, the “temple-less” priests could not offer sacrifices, but learned teachers called “rabbis” taught that where three men gathered to study the Torah, the kabod / shekinah was there with them. When, thanks to King Cyrus of Persia, who conquered Babylon and let the captives return to Jerusalem, they rebuilt the temple and walls of Jerusalem, but had remembered what they had learned in captivity: that God was present to them outside the temple as well as within it, through his inspired word.

The Persian, Greek and Roman empires came and went, but the Jews failed to become independent of any of them, except during brief periods of revolts. They longed for a king to restore the kingdom of David, the Kingdom of God. They called this expected Davidic king the “Messiah,” the Christ, God’s anointed. When Jesus of Nazareth appeared, many of his fellow Jews failed to recognize him as the Messiah, so beguiled were they by the glorious memory of King David. Although the earthly Jesus was of the house and lineage of David, he was not a worldly king but rather a carpenter from Nazareth, an itinerant rabbi who suffered greatly and unjustly at the hands of evil men. He never lived in a palace but had “nowhere to lay his head”; he did not ride a mighty steed, but rather a donkey; his only crown was made of thorns and his only throne was a cross of wood. In human terms, Jesus seemed more like the suffering servant of Yahweh described by the Prophet Isaiah than like the glorious King David. Jesus was not known to have been anointed with oil, as kings always were—except for having been anointed with oil by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, at Bethany before his crucifixion. And where was the promised kingdom? Judah and Israel remained under foreign (Roman) domination.

Some Jews expected the Messiah to be a “king-priest” like Melchizedek of old, but Jesus of Nazareth was not a temple priest (cohen) offering the sacrifice of animals; he was simply a teaching rabbi, preaching God’s word and kingdom. He was of the house of David, but not of the priestly house of Levi or the branch of that house stemming from Moses’ brother Aaron, let alone of that of the High Priest Zadok, and was therefore ineligible to offer sacrifices in the temple.

Others expected a prophetic Messiah. While Jesus was recognized by many as a prophet “mighty in words and works,” he did not lead God’s people into the promised land as Joshua, his namesake and the original “Prophet-like-Moses,” did. Like many other prophets, he was killed just outside Jerusalem for his prophesies.

Yet the disciples and apostles of Jesus steadfastly maintained that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah in the fullest sense, the true King and the Kingdom itself, the true priest and authentic sacrifice, the true prophet and the word of God. This startling claim, though rooted in his earthly life, rests on his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, where he lives and reigns at the right hand of the Father.

Coming into our world, Jesus Christ ushered in God’s kingdom on earth. The King has already come; his Kingdom has been inaugurated. But the eternal and universal k\Kingdom of the Messiah, which he will present to his Father at the end of time, is not a political kingdom, but rather a “Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love and peace.” If this Kingdom is not yet evident in the world—if holiness and grace are not clearly seen, if justice, love, and peace do not prevail—then Christians must cooperate more zealously with the Holy Spirit, not to “bring about the Kingdom”—the Messiah has already done that—but to remove the obstacles that keep Christ’s dominion from encompassing everyone for whom he died and rose again. That is the task of the Church, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession.”

Fr. Douglas K. Clark is retired and pastor emeritus of St. Matthew, Statesboro.

Planting the Seeds of Prayer

The Bible is the most widely read book in the world and in all of history. Over the years the Bible has meant many things to me. It is my daily bread. It is the window through which I am able to see into God’s heart. It is the Word that convicts me of my sins, and the same Word that holds out reconciliation and healing. The scriptures have been a delight to study and ponder, revealing a treasure trove for prayer. 

A personal lamp for my steps, the Bible is the Word of God. It is a Word that is both inspired by God but spoken and written with human hearts and hands.  It is a two-edged sword, penetrating between soul and spirit, able to discern the reflections of the heart, (Hebrews, 4:12). Scripture is the inspired word of God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and training in righteousness, (2Tim. 3:16-17). The scriptures contain the source of eternal life, (cf. John 5:39).

I would suggest that the Bible is also a kind of plow that turns over the soil of our hearts and prepares them to receive that same Word of the Lord. God’s Word is both the seed and the plow. Sometimes the ploughing is hard and painful, sometimes the plowing is smooth and effortless. It all depends on how the soil of our heart is set. 

If our hearts are baked for lack of prayer, then the plowing is difficult. If our hearts have been softened with regular prayer then the plow moves easily and separates the clods of earth to prepare for planting the seed. When a farmer plows his land, he is seeking to expose the fertile earth beneath the top soil to receive the seed. So too, God wishes to plant the seed of His word deep in our hearts. But first those hearts, hardened and made stony by the trivialities and shallowness of the detritus and entertainment of the day, must be turned over and under. 

When that planting has been done in good soil, then the Word produces fruit thirty, sixty and a hundredfold (Mark 4:8, 20). That preparation for planting can done by simply reading the scriptures every day. Keeping the Bible close at hand and doing a daily continuous reading of New Testament or the Hebrew prophets can help keep the top soil loosened. And then the seed of the word can be planted with an even deeper reading of scripture, e.g. lectio divina

While there is a lot of discussion about the Tridentine Mass, but something far more vital has been happening as a result the Second Vatican Council. Quietly, but surely, all over the world, the Bible has become the focus of study and prayer for thousands of parish groups.  Every hour of the day, somewhere in the world groups of Catholics, large and small, are opening the scriptures for discussion and prayer.  Indeed, all over the world, individuals are taking up the Word of God and making it their daily bread, “One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matthew, 4:4).

I mention this because prior to Vatican II the Bible was virtually off limits to the Catholic laity. There was concern about Catholics being infected with Protestant ideas. There was concern about the unlearned misinterpreting the Scriptures. God’s Word was not recommended for personal reading or study for the Catholic laity. But now scripture is in the hands and hearts of God’s people.

Another significant outgrowth of Vatican II is the development of the Catholic Lectionary for the celebration of Mass. The three-year lectionary cycle for the Sunday Masses and the two-year cycle for daily Masses exposes the faithful to a wide range of Scripture. The lectionary has become for many individuals and study groups the standard preparation for the celebration of Mass. Indeed, so highly thought of is the Catholic Lectionary, that it has become the weekly scripture for several Non-Catholic denominations including Episcopal and Lutheran.

The first part of Mass is identified as the Liturgy of the Word. In this part of Mass God’s Word in scripture is proclaimed. Following the proclamation of the Word, the Homily seeks to break down the scriptures for the nourishment of the faithful. It has been suggested that every time the Word is read in the first half of Mass, no matter what the reading, a simple but powerful reality if offered: God proclaims You are my people, and I am your God. On the personal level it has been suggested that each time you open the Word of God you ultimately listen for God’s voice saying:  (Your name) “I love you”.

Jesus said in His farewell discourse, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me,” (John 14:23-24).

We ask that God’s Word abide in us. We seek to make our hearts a hospitable place for that Word to rest, to make a home in us. “Remain in me as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own, so neither can you unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).

Msgr. Fred J. Nijem is retired and pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart, Warner Robins.

The Handmaiden of the Liturgy

Sacred music has long been held as the handmaiden of the liturgy of the Church, and as such, is best understood within the context of the liturgy and its purpose in the life of the Church; whenever the Church speaks of sacred music, it is always in the context of her liturgy.

Liturgy is primarily the opus Dei, the work of God, because nothing is added to the perfection or majesty of God himself by our worship of him. He is the primary agent, the source of its action. Hence in sacred scripture the Psalmist, inspired by the Holy Ghost affirms, “Thou hast no delight in sacrifice; if I brought thee an offering, thou wouldst not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a wounded heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps 51:16-17). Likewise, in the letter to the Hebrews, “And it is by the will of God that we have been consecrated, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all … [f]or by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are thus consecrated … let us therefore give thanks to God, and so worship Him as He would be worshipped, with reverence and awe; for our God is a devouring fire” (Heb 10:10, 14; 12:28b-29). Through the means of the Liturgy, God meets us, forms us by his grace, draws us deeper into friendship, union (communion), with himself for his glorification. 

Secondarily, liturgy is the Church's response to God's initial reaching out to us; we worship in response to his mercy and invitation to dwell in Charity, the friendship offered by the Most Holy Trinity. Sacred music, the music which has been “set aside” exclusively for the worship and veneration of God, forms an intrinsic part of the Church’s response to God. As Pope St. Pius X once extolled the Church, sacred music  must help move the faithful to devotion and reception of the graces given through the liturgy, accomplished by observing four main principles: 1) doing so by adding greater efficacy to the texts of the liturgy, 2) by being holy, set apart from worldly styles, 3) be true art, imparting upon the minds of the faithful the desired efficacy aimed at by the Church, and 4) it must be universal, the musical idioms of the nations adopting these principles as their standard for composing sacred music (see Tra Le Sollecitudini, Instruction on Sacred Music). In this way, sacred music serves as the handmaiden to the liturgy, aiding and assisting it.

To better understand this analogy, we have only to look at the most important handmaiden in sacred scripture, our Lady. Her response to Elizabeth during the visitation is itself a song, the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit has found joy in God, who is my Saviour, because He has looked graciously upon the lowliness of His handmaid” (Lk 1:47-48). Our Lady epitomizes the role of handmaiden to God in that she is always pointing the faithful to her Son. Although she is the most beautiful of all God created, in humility she does not draw attention to herself. Rather, her beauty and goodness are subservient to the majesty of God, offered to demonstrate his glory. Just as our Lady behaves this way in relationship to God, so too sacred music ought to relate to the liturgy.

Music can rightly be considered a language, one which communicates through logical patterns of sounds and silences, engaging the human soul’s memory and imagination at a level more instinctual and spiritual than mere human speech can. This unique power of music is further highlighted when married to the liturgical life of the Church, especially when joined to texts from scripture, fostering greater devotion amongst the faithful. This is simultaneously the work of God in us and our response to him. He enlightens our minds and hearts through the gift of Faith, deepening our contemplation and divine intimacy with him; in reverence to him we ought to strive to offer our best art to him because of love of him. It ought to have as its objective aiding hearts and minds to contemplate and to dwell in love for God, not bringing undue attention to itself.

Sacred music can rightly be considered beautiful which most perfectly accomplishes these ends, as a handmaid to the liturgy. The Church therefore developed and perpetually encourages the liberal use of Gregorian chant and polyphony as the primary music for the liturgy, complemented with hymnody. Only when music can lead one into contemplation in the silence of the presence of God does it accomplish its true purpose.

Deacon Lewis King is in the final year of his seminary formation for the priesthood. A native of South Carolina, King converted to Catholicism in 2008. He holds bachelors and graduate degrees in Sacred Music, and has been active in music ministry for over two decades.

Kids at Mass: It doesn't have to be a struggle

Sit, stand, kneel, repeat. Strange stories and stranger names. A long talk. Lots and lots of strange prayers.

From a kid’s perspective, Mass is full of strange words, weird objects, and tons of rituals they don’t understand. This can make it seem long, boring, and very difficult to get through. Many kids, when they get bored or confused, become antsy and may misbehave or become distracted.

As the second of four children, I’ve seen my parents deal with this multiple times. They’ve mastered the art of getting kids to behave in church. While I don’t have kids of my own, my own experiences—both as that bored child and as the older sibling helping my parents deal with the bored child—have taught me quite a lot about how to help children learn to love going to Mass.

Following are several tips for how to keep your child entertained and well-behaved in Mass. They are all proven effective, used by my own parents with me and all three of my siblings.

Sit in the front

This encourages kids to behave during Mass—they don’t want Father to see them misbehaving! It also allows them to see what’s happening. The front pew is best for this—they have an unobstructed view. The second pew can also work, because kids can see in between the people in the front pew. The third pew and farther back is not a good idea—your kids won’t be able to see in between the people in front of them. Instead, they’ll have to spend the Mass looking at those people’s rear ends. Not an appealing prospect!

No food or electronics during Mass

Mass should be different from the normal weekly activities. While food and electronics can keep your kids behaved during Mass, these are things they get all the time, and so Mass becomes just another boring thing to ignore. They are too much of a distraction, not just for your kids, but for you and the people around you. Many times, I have sat behind kids on an electronic device during Mass and kept having to tear my eyes away from the screen.

Instead of food or electronics, have a “Mass bag” of Christian/religious books that kids only get during Mass

These could be simplified Bible stories, or simple books by Christian authors. My parents found most of ours at garage sales. They ranged from a kindergarten reading level up to third or fourth grade. I remember getting excited when I saw the Mass bag come out, because it meant I’d get to read the books I didn’t get any other time of the week. My mom recommends getting a kid’s-size backpack, about a foot tall, instead of a full-size backpack. A bigger bag just means more stuff to keep track of and clean up later.

At Christmas and Easter, replace some or all of the books with Christian/religious Christmas and Easter books. If you have enough books, whether for holidays or everyday use, you can rotate them more often. Changing the books in the bag adds excitement for your kids, because they have new books to read.

The homily is the hardest part of the Mass for kids, so you can read a book to them during that part. My siblings and I would sit on Mom’s lap while she read a book in a whisper in our ear. After reading one book, she would tell us she had to listen to the priest.

Start collecting prayer cards and keep them in the kids’ Mass bag

This is an opportunity for your kids to learn more about the saints. You may even learn more yourself!

Many churches will have prayer cards in the narthex (the lobby). Point them out, but let your kids choose which cards they want. My siblings and I knew what we had and were careful to avoid getting duplicates!

Young children can keep themselves occupied for a long time just lining up or sorting the prayer cards. As they get older, they may try to read the cards and start asking you questions about what words mean. Don’t answer the questions during Mass—instead, tell them you’ll answer after Mass, then do that! This is an opportunity for an educational discussion about their faith.

Keep a rosary in the kids’ Mass bag

They may not know how to pray it, but it’s another faith-related thing to entertain them, and it’s an educational opportunity. Get one that’s cheap plastic, so it’s not as big a deal if it breaks. Many churches may have a supply of plastic rosaries for parishioners to use.

Be aware, many kids may wear the rosary. This is probably not very respectful, but kids will be kids. For my siblings and me, this was our “church necklace.” Just make sure they take it off before you leave church.

If you allow them to bring a doll or stuffed animal, it should not make noise or become a distraction

My little sister’s favorite doll had an annoying, almost maniacal laugh, and it didn’t take much to set it off. If my sister insisted on bringing that doll to church with her, the doll spent Mass in the car while the rest of us went inside. If she brought a doll that didn’t make noise, or if I or my other siblings brought a small stuffed animal, the doll or stuffed animal could come in. However, it had to sit and behave along with us. We would read to the stuffed animal, or help it “participate” in Mass. If we played with it in ways that were too much of a distraction, Mom took it away until Mass was over.

If your kids are not using anything from their Mass bag, quietly point out things in the church or tell them what’s happening

Tell them what you remember. This is a chance to teach them more about their faith and help them understand what’s happening. My mom would tell us about the things the priest was using during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. She would point out the chalice and tell us how every priest has their own, and they’re all different.

Have your child drink water and go to the bathroom before Mass

Both of these things could become a way to get out of Mass for a while, so have them do both beforehand. During Mass, it’s okay to make them wait until after so they—and you—don’t miss Mass.

Once you’re no longer bottle-feeding them, don’t let your child bring cups into Mass. Banging them on the pew makes a “cool noise,” and they could become noisy toys.

Let them know before Mass if it’s hospitality weekend

“Donut Day” is a great motivator for good behavior. Once or twice when I was little, my siblings and I didn’t get to go because we had misbehaved too much. If I knew it was Donut Day, I would sit in the pew and not move, not even using anything from the Mass bag!

Get a Mass guide

Many churches have these already, probably in the narthex (the lobby), but you can also buy them or find them online. These guides include all the readings and prayers—both the congregation’s and the priest’s—for the entire liturgical year. They may also include extra prayers to say on your own, explanations of what is happening and why, or a small hymnal section. These books enable kids to follow along with the Mass, understand what is happening, practice reading, and learn to pray.

Help them sing along with the music

Hold the hymnal where they can see it, and trace the lyrics with your finger. This encourages participation, and kids may look forward to it. In addition to that, art and music are highly beneficial!

When kids get bored, they’ll start asking how much longer they have to wait, or when Mass will be over. This was something my mom dealt with often with my little brother. She would answer by telling him how many songs were left. Then he’d have to pay more attention to the Mass so he could keep track of how many songs we had sung.

Let them sit on the floor or on the kneeler

When he was younger, my little brother would spend most of the Mass sitting on the kneeler or on the floor, lining up prayer cards on the pew seat. As long as he stayed in his spot between Mom and Dad and was quiet, there was no problem. Mom just reminded him to keep the prayer cards in his section of the pew. If they spread to her section when it was time to sit down, she would sit on them.

When everyone was standing, my siblings and I would sometimes walk around behind our parents and older siblings. As long as we were quiet and stayed in the pew by our family, it was okay. We were also allowed to wave at the people sitting behind us, even if it wasn’t time for the sign of peace. As long as we didn’t start talking to them, we were fine.

Don’t force your child to join a Mass ministry

Yes, it’s great to see your child in that altar server’s robe, but don’t you want them to be excited about it, too? Encourage your child to participate in Mass ministry, but don’t force it. Making them be an altar server or a part of the children’s Christmas choir when they don’t want to will not help them enjoy Mass. It may even cause them to dread going.

Instead, find out what options there are for kids to help at Mass or in the church, and see what your child is interested in. I was never an altar server—I didn’t want to be—but when the bulletin said they were looking for more lectors, I signed up because my high school didn’t have a forensic speech team like my middle school had. My first time as a lector was Palm Sunday my sophomore year of high school, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Have a copy of the readings for your child to follow along

You can get the readings from USCCB or find them in Mass guides. This turns the Liturgy of the Word into a “story time” and something to look forward to. It also gives them a chance to practice reading, and they’ll better understand what’s being read.

If your kids are the right age for Children’s Liturgy, have them go

Walk them over to the group if they’re nervous, or have an older sibling walk them over, but do not go with them unless you’re the one leading Children’s Liturgy. This encourages independence and confidence. Children’s Liturgy is a chance to have fun and meet other kids, and they’ll learn a lot!

Many times, kids will receive an activity sheet or booklet at the end of Children’s Liturgy. When they get back to your pew, have your kids put the sheet or booklet away in their Mass bag to work on later. Working on it during Mass could be too much of a distraction or, for younger kids, could lead to accidental drawing on the pews. Besides, they have their Mass bag full of books and prayer cards to keep them entertained—why not save the activity sheet or booklet for later?

Have your kids participate in the “group” prayers

They probably know or are learning the Our Father and the Creed, so have them join in. Have a written copy of the prayers if your child doesn’t know them yet, especially the Nicene Creed—that one can be a challenge! Make it fun to participate by holding hands during the Our Father. Just be careful it doesn’t turn into a game of swinging or squeezing Mom and Dad’s hands.

Make sure your kids know what they’re saying, and that they’re saying it correctly. Kids don’t know what consubstantial means, and they probably don’t know what trespasses are. They may also mishear it while they’re learning and say the wrong thing entirely (“Our Father, who does art in heaven…”).

Bring your kids up with you during distribution of Communion, even if they aren’t old enough to receive it themselves

Kids want to join in what you’re doing. You can use this as an opportunity to teach them about the Eucharist and why it’s important. Have them cross their arms over their chests in an X shape when they reach the front so they’ll receive a blessing.

Some kids will not want to wait until their First Communion to receive the Eucharist. They still have to wait, but it’s good that they are excited about it. There was a boy at my childhood parish who always put his hands out for the host when he went up with his parents and pouted when he didn’t get anything. Imagine how excited he must have been on his First Communion!

After you return to your pew, you have an opportunity to teach your kids how to pray. Tell them this is a time to sit quietly and pray—maybe describe it as talking to God.

Whatever your kids bring out, they have to put away after Mass

Do you really want to clean up if they unload the entire Mass bag? No, and neither do your kids. After Mass, your kids should put their things away themselves—it encourages responsibility. Only help if they can’t get it all to fit.

Have your child say goodbye to the priest after Mass

Ask your child to tell him what they liked and didn’t like.

For the bigger kids: If they're the right age for Confirmation but aren't ready, it's okay to wait

Being confirmed is a big deal. It’s not something you do just to “get it done” or because everyone else is doing it. It’s not a Catholic graduation ceremony. Kids need to be spiritually ready, and it’s okay if they aren’t ready at the same time as the rest of their class. Even if you don’t think they’re ready, have them participate in the prep classes with the other kids their age. That way, if they do think they’re ready, they’re able to be confirmed. If it turns out they’ll be better prepared by being confirmed in ninth grade instead of eighth grade, or sophomore year instead of freshman year, that’s okay. I was confirmed junior year.

Remember that they are kids!

Kids will goof around, misbehave, or get distracted. Full participation and understanding will come with time and practice. That’s why it’s important to make Mass something special, fun to participate in and pay attention to. If they can see and understand what’s happening, if they get things they don’t get any other time, they’re more likely to look forward to Mass instead of finding it boring. Most importantly, if they see you are enjoying Mass and participating, they will be encouraged to do the same!

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Southern Cross
Catholic Pastoral Center
2170 East Victory Drive
Savannah, GA 31404
Phone: 912-201-4049
888-295-7144 Toll-Free (in GA)

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