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A Simple Solution to Helping Children Participate at Mass

Any practicing Catholic parent will tell you that they have struggled at some point with getting their child to participate well at Mass. When children are young, often the struggle is to get them to sit still or at least not over shadow the Priest and choir with their vocal prowess. However, as they get older that vigor somehow decreases exponentially until it can be difficult to even find your child in the pew next to you due to their incredibly quiet composure.

So what do you do?

You decide that you are going to take the bull by the horns. You get up early before Mass and find the readings for the day in order to discuss them with the family before heading out the door. You get to Mass early, sit in the front so you can see Father (and Father can see you and your kids). Or maybe you cozy up to the choir in hopes that their melodious tunes will inspire an increase in your child’s/children’s participation. You make sure to grab a liturgy guide for each and every member of the family. Then finally you sweetly tell the family that if everyone participates you will spring for donuts on the way home (that one never ceases to be an exceptional bargaining chip).

And…nothing. Not a peep. No interest whatsoever. Except for maybe a slight interest in the hairstyle of the woman sitting in front of you.

So what now? Lectures? Dire consequences for not participating? Or do you just let it go, see it as a phase and think surely they’ll eventually decide on their own that they need to participate?

My husband is the Director of Music for our Catholic school and has been a Director of Music and Liturgy at other Catholic churches and he is constantly bombarded with this question. And his response?

“Make sure you and your spouse participate yourselves. Out loud. Every time. Especially the dads.”

Duh. Just like everything else in life, if we fail to be the example to our children, they have very little chance of emulating it. You may be saying, “Oh, but I do. But not too loudly because I don’t want to bother anyone.” Or “I would, but I have a terrible voice, I would embarrass everyone.” Or “I’m afraid I will not do the responses or music correctly myself.”

It doesn’t matter. No one cares. And like I tell my students in their private voice lessons, “If someone is judging your musical acumen or performance at MASS they have far bigger things to worry about than you do.” The Mass is a sacrifice and everyone in attendance is an integral part of that sacrifice.

And it goes without saying, but I will say it again, you must actually go to Mass to learn how to participate. In my years of being a professional church musician, I can tell you that the children and young adults who participate most fully are those whose parents participate. I can see it from the choir. Simply showing up does not cut it. Attending Mass often, especially more than once week if at all possible, is most helpful because it enables you and your children to become more comfortable with the liturgy.

As my elementary school band teacher said, “Practice doesn’t make you perfect, but it sure makes you a lot better.” The same goes for Mass participation. It doesn’t just happen, it is learned and needs to be practiced.

In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?” (The Priesthood 3:4:177, A.D. 387). 

So instead of telling your children to participate at Mass, lead by example. Mass is the Eucharistic liturgy and the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith  (Catechism: Part Two, Section Two, Chapter One, Article 3, 1322).

So why not participate?

Featured Art: “Una Misa” by Francisco Cabral y Aguado Bejarano