Has ‘children’s mass’ become a colossal mistake?

Has ‘children’s mass’ become a colossal mistake?

I learnt rubrics from my mother. I doubt she ever heard of that word. The word rubric comes from the Latin word for red and in the Catholic Church forms the norms for various liturgical instructions. My mother taught me when to stand, sit, kneel or genuflect at mass. 

She also taught me faith. At the Epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine during the Eucharistic prayer she would glance at us to make sure we had our hands joined and would remind us at the  time of elevation to say,” My Lord and my God.”

My father taught me charity. We were by no means a wealthy family. We were taught to live within our means yet when it came to giving to God my father never skinched, in fact I dare say he was the charity commissioner and he certainly made sure his left hand did not know what his right was giving. At every Sunday mass he gave each of us a five rupee or a ten rupee note to drop in the offertory box. In those days that was quite a king’s ransom for a kid like me.

I learnt all this because the ones who guided my feet to the Lord were my parents and they did this both at home and at mass. We went to Church as a family, came back as a family, to a family breakfast and then our treat was to watch ‘Magic Lamp’ on Doordarshan.  My Catechesis took place in school both in St Mary’s and St Stanislaus, at the hands of great Jesuits like Joe Aran and Peter Ribes; I never once went to catechism class in Church till I had to receive confirmation. That’s when family mass ended for us.

Today for pastoral reasons we have ‘children’s mass’ and this is followed or preceded by catechism class also known as Sunday School. The children’s mass is meant to be a mass where the liturgy is ‘child friendly’. At these masses the children sing in the choir or are lectors. Though liturgically not permitted, some parishes enact the Gospel or have a skit to make the liturgy easier on the senses. While I am part of the system, this simply does not sit well with me anymore.

I am unsure if a thorough evaluation of this system has been made or if anyone has weighed the consequences of such a mass on the family. While I am sure there are many valid arguments to continue with such a system, I for one am convinced that this requires a rethink for I believe we have separated children from their parents and their task  to be “ the first and best teachers of the faith” ( from the rite of Baptism). What is worse is, as these children grow, they do not wish to attend mass as a family but choose to be with people of their peer groups.

If a case is made for a more ‘child friendly’ celebration of the liturgy then how do we account for the fact that the president of the liturgy is not chosen by virtue of his ability to relate to children but is rather chosen by rotation from a team of two or four priests?

Has children’s mass then, truly killed the spirit of a family praying together or is that relegated only to prayers said at home?   I believe it has!  I truly wish that we had the courage to find solutions to meet both needs; families attending mass together and children’s catechesis that is well attended. While the present system lends its self to a better attended catechism class after or before the Eucharist, it does not solve the inevitable separation of a family praying together at mass, a sight now rarely seen even on Christmas or Easter.

And yes, I must admit that with the present system of children’s mass and catechesis, several parents drive themselves to wake up on a Sunday morning and bring their children to Church and Sunday school out of the fear that their child will not be admitted to the sacraments should they not attend. Perhaps  as some argue, if children’s mass and Sunday catechesis were not paired together it might just be another ‘sleep-in’ and ‘skip mass’ for many families . But should we operate out of fear or should we risk love and good intentions?

 All I know is that I have no memory of any Catechsim class as a child, just the memory of my parents who guided me in the faith and watched over us during mass. They were my Catechism teachers and they did it with no text book, they simply shared their faith experience and they did a fantastic job.

Fr Warner D’Souza

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23 thoughts on “Has ‘children’s mass’ become a colossal mistake?”

  • For me, children’s mass was always with my parents. Has the system changed now? I spent most of my childhood in Colaba (till 2006). My dad was a Naval officer and we went to St. Joseph’s RC church there. It was there I met the late Fr. Stephen Nazreth, my life’s biggest influence and mentor.

    Yet good Catechsises is the need of the hour father. A few years ago I had no idea why the church taught certain things which “weren’t in the Bible” – I was on the verge of losing my Catholic faith entirely. We’re bombarded on one side by our non-Catholic Christian brethren and on the other side by the new atheism movement. My peers don’t understand, for example, why the church teaches what she does on marriage, in particular, what Pope Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae or what Pope St. John Paul II taught in the Theology of the Body and on abortion. Most of them don’t know it entails automatic excommunication.

    To quote Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from his Forward of the YouCat (taken from the back cover): “Study this Catechism! This is my heartfelt desire. Study this Catechism with passion and perseverance. Study it in the quiet of your room; read it with a friend; form study groups and networks; share it with each other on the Internet… You need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents…”

    Reply
    • I come from a parish where atleast 50% of the parishners were not educated when I was young including my parents. It is not that the parents won’t be able to instill the values of a Catholic Church if they’re not educated but their thought always is that the kids will learn the prayers in English which was a big thing. I would say that thanks to the Sunday school I was able to participate in the church activities which happened because I had my friends with me. Had it been without the Sunday school I’m sure I would’ve still been behind my moms pallu not able to talk to anyone.

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  • Very well said Fr. My mother would always quote ‘the family that prayer together stays together’. I believe faith becomes happily contagious when itbis used practically at home, and outside the home. I think you’ve given the best example of your parents.

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  • Father, as a mother of 2 kids aged 12 and 9, I too have always felt the need to be with my children during mass in order to guide them through it. I find that at children’s mass, there are too many kids ( like a modern classroom) and teachers can’t be expected to pay individual attention. It’s a case of learn if you are interested, dream and be lost in your own world if you are not. My son just received communion in January, and yet I find that during the Sunday school holidays when we go for mass as a family, I still have to remind him when to do what and nudge him off and on to come out of dreamland. Sunday school is good for the kids, they learn to participate in our faith as a community, like the apostles with Mother Mary in the closed room. However, I don’t very much agree with children’s mass. Mass should be a family ritual.

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  • Christabelle Vaz · Edit

    I am SO glad that somebody from the church itself has been courageous enough to take up this topic. Thanks Fr Warner.

    I totally feel that the concept of “Sunday school followed by children’s mass” is a completely ridiculous insistence on the part of the church. & very correct, majority of the parents & kids come out of fear that their child won’t be permitted to receive First Holy Communion & later, Confirmation.

    While I endorse a few months of Catechism classes prior to Confirmation (having been a Confirmation catechist myself & witnessing tremendous changes in my children thanks to these classes), I believe that this concept of Catechism class & children’s mass is a complete farce. Kids are joking, talking with their friends, making fun of ushers & even their catechists & the little grown up kids (around 10 or 11) are engrossed in their naturally developing instincts of noticing the more appealing members of the opposite sex & whatever follows.

    I personally tried sending my 6 year old for Catechism. She went for just 4 classes & totally dislikes the whole concept already & refused to go again. Also I realized there were several issues with the catechists themselves (which I will not elaborate upon here). So I can’t really blame her. Because as long as she sits with us, we guide her as to what to do when. Whereas when she was with her class, the kids were happily playing, fidgeting, making faces at each other etc (which again, is the norm for their age). Why enforce all of this for these little ones?! In fact, the church has managed to distance younger kids from actual spirituality by forcing upon them these strict religious disciplines at such a tender age, not to mention, distance them from family mass as a whole.

    Oh & with regards to the celebrant at a Children’s mass, out of sheer respect for the Clergy as a whole, I shall not give my personal opinion here. But I will say this, NOT EVERY priest is capable of relating to children on their level. In fact, I’ve attended Children’s masses where the main celebrant has made it so disastrous that the mass lost it’s sense of sanctity & ended up with people sniggering throughout.

    Sorry for this long ranting post, but this has been weighing on my mind personally, since my little one is at the age where I have to decide on the same.

    I’m all for a few personal sessions (6-8 classes) of Catechism in each sector/zone just prior to receiving Holy Communion & later, a few months of Confirmation classes, just like we had back in the day.

    & if there are people who still wish to continue with this concept of Catechism class followed by Sunday school for kids starting at age 6, then maybe keep a couple of class rooms open for them only. I guarantee not more than this will be required. Because I’ve heard parents grumbling & even cursing the priests for this enforced ritual but not wishing to openly speak up for fear of the Parish priest etc.

    All in all, I suggest that it be a voluntary option for parents & kids. Nothing that was ever enforced upon another has ever been happily accepted or successful for that matter.

    Reply
    • Received this from another priest Fr Ivan
      Dear Fr. Warner. Thanks for your views on the Children’s Mass which has become a practice in all parishes all over the world. I have often felt like you especially when I see children talking and laughing before Mass and at times distracted even during Mass. They would never do this if they were with their parents. Sitting together with their parents would bring greater devotion to the Mass. If children’s Masses were meant to be interactive, lively and interesting then it should be done for all Masses. Initially there will be some opposition as with every change. But soon they will realize that this type of adult catechesis is more useful than the usual homilies. If we need to have a special children’s mass then parents could be permitted to sit with their children. Influenced by their parents the children would be more attentive. Besides parents could also do a follow up at home. I think there is need of more discussions on this topic.

      Reply
      • I received this from Fr Rajesh Pereira of Pune diocese. I have found its been wonderful experience and joy for parents, children and I as a priest; when the catechism classes held with the special children’s mass; (age group 8 to 15)
        Those children now young men and women are so grateful for the basic knowledge and experiences they had as children.Don’t miss out those lovely sessions for the youngsters which enlighten them for life at the time of Holy communion and confirmation.
        Fr. Louis Dmello Pune.

        Reply
  • Jocelyn M. Gonsalves · Edit

    Your words on the children’s Mass bring back memories of our days at Sunday School. At St. Andrew’s we sure had our Sunday Mass, but it was conducted by the XI Std class in teams of two each, with opening prayers, saints of the day, etc, all conducted from the first pew in front assisted with proper mics. Sunday School was from 4pm for one hour, at Carmel Convent school followed by Benediction in church.We had a short instruction by Fr. George Fernandes, and then the Adoration. Everyday Children’s Mass was at 6.30am conducted by the teams. In those days we, kids relished the Sunday School, and the Benediction. I would look forward for eagerly for the Sunday evening’s.
    The best solution to the problems today is to abolish the Saturday evening Mass. It will help out in many ways, though in the beginning there will be plenty of grumbling. But the Sunday Mass devotion WILL MAKE A COME BACK.

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  • I agree with you Father . I too have two kids and while it’s good to have children’s mass and catechism , children should be seated with their parents . Many times I have seen my son dreaming or not even joining his hands or talking to his friends seated next to him. While Sunday school teachers are seated next to the children ,its not possible for them to keep an eye on everyone. And yes many parents do different shifts like in my case so it’s not possible for both parents to attend Mass together as one has to take the kids for Sunday school at a particular time

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  • Spot On… I think on the same lines too… I feel kids knew more when they attended mass with their parents… I never attended Sunday school when i was younger whatever I learnt my mom taught me… But now inspite of attending the children’s mass every Sunday followed by Sunday school I find that the kids these days are so distracted they can’t stand straight, they don’t join their hands, they r so fidgety, they mumble their prayers, they’ve already forgotten prayers. I’m not saying Sunday school is bad I’m just saying children behave better in church when they are with their parents coz they know we r watching their every move N with regard to the homily at the children’s mass most of the times it exactly what is said at the other masses so… 🙄 Also the essence of going for mass as a family a unit is lost…

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  • Good morning, Father. For four years, I went to Sunday School in Bareilly with the Canossians. We learnt prayers, hymns and made hosts for Mass. Then we came to Bombay and I learnt serious Catechism in school courtesy the J&M. Luckily, it was Vat II and the Eucharistic Congress here, so we studied the documents as well as Apologetics in addition to the regular Catechism. Though I won Catechism prize in my final year, I remember nothing. And I never went to children’s Mass. We also did not have family prayer! The result? I have a questioning faith and a knowledge that is being better built now.And a love hate relationship because while I love what my faith stands for, I hate aspects of it. Sunday sermon done!! I do hope your post starts a conversation because to me our faith is not just listening and reading, though both are necessary, it’s being and doing and getting involved too.

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  • Beautifully put Father!! I second that. As kids, we attended catechism classes only before our First holy communion and confirmation. Whatever we learnt, about our faith, the sanctity of the church, reverence to God and how we conduct ourselves in church, our sense of dress etc all came from attending mass with our parents. Their love and guidance made all the difference. I am deeply saddened to see the kids today who sometimes take out their cell phones and watch something during the homily or even during the mass. Most parents today do not correct/guide their children and that is where the trouble begins.

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  • Totally agree with you Fr Warner. Have gone through this myself, four of us going for 3 different masses . Lets hope you find a better way going forward. Have a nice day and keep us in your prayers.

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  • Hi Fr. Jus read what others had to say about the concept of children’s mass with family. ..and i too totally agree with wat u mentioned in the article…Bulls eye…
    It jus doesnt serve the thought of parents teaching the children etc. etc. but also tat at times the children wuld drag their parents inside church who may otherwise attend a Saturday mass or attend the sunday mass as outstanding catholics.. Frankly speaking I’ve been so used to attending sunday mass with friends around since childhood, tat it feels a little wierd to attend mass with parents around…
    Thanku for bringing this up…
    Admire ur tenacity to correct things that have been followed since so many years jus like unwritten rules…

    Reply
  • Alexandria Pacheco · Edit

    So very true Father Warner… I too remember my mother especially guiding me throughout mass..just like your parents did. I seriously hope we as parents can sit with our kids for children’s mass and guide them throughout…

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  • My personal opinion is that children don’t learn/not learn if they attend a children’s mass or participate in the mass with their parents . They learn from the everyday example of their parents … they way they speak to each other, how courteous they are to all, when they see them pray and faithfully attend the Eucharistic they way they show their care and concern for the family. These are the little things that leave a lasting impression on a child’s mind. Either way the parents are the role models for their children irrespective of whether they attend a children’s mass or attend mass as a family … not the priest or the catechism teacher.

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  • Not every childs parents are good teachers with the Catholic faith like your parents who must have been well versed, Father Warner. Sometimes there is no other choice but for them to attend mass and be part of a gathering that is more understanding than the usual mass which is boring for a child. But everyone to their own. I cant speak for others. There are regular mass goers but some of them don’t even understand the meaning of mass so how can they be an example. But I love the thought of a family going for mass and I will always want that for me and my family cause as a child I didn’t have anyone to take me to church or teach me what was right from wrong.

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    • Not every childs parents are good teachers with the Catholic faith like your parents who must have been well versed, Father Warner. Sometimes there is no other choice but for them to attend mass and be part of a gathering that is more understanding than the usual mass which is boring for a child. But everyone to their own. I cant speak for others. There are regular mass goers but some of them don’t even understand the meaning of mass so how can they be an example. But I love the thought of a family going for mass and I will always want that for me and my family cause as a child I didn’t have anyone to take me to church or teach me what was right from wrong.

      And besides not ever priest is as talented as you to make the mass interesting.

      Reply
  • Children’s Mass
    Nice
    But my son sat inside the church & we parents sat out.
    & met after Mass.
    Even today he prefers going & separately, mainly with friends.
    Wish parents & children sit together for Mass at a very early age.
    This is my view.

    Reply
  • We want convenience and comforts without realizing the universal truth that a life without a Cross is no life at all. Here are six reasons to attend daily Mass as a family:

    1) Daily Mass teaches your family self-discipline
    2) Repetition makes the liturgy something familiar and loved
    3) Hearing Scripture Everyday
    4) Sacramental Grace
    5) Family Unity
    6) Renewing the Church

    Reply
  • Michael Fernandes · Edit

    Children Mass is a good initiative of the Church. However it is important that the Parents must accompany the children n it must be ensured that Children must sit slong with their Parents. For Parents r the first n formost Teachers of Faith for their Children. It is also imp that the Eucharist should be celebrated keeping in view the GIRM prescribed by the Archdiocese. This will ensure that diversions like enacting a skit during the Gospel will be avoided.

    Reply
  • I had discussed this at a monthly meeting in one of the associations in our Parish a few months back. A few of our members supported me on this. The childrens mass has split the family. In our Parish the 8.15 mass is the Childrens mass followed by Cathecism class. One parent accompanies the child for the 8.15 mass. Kids are made to sit classwise in the Church. The other parent attends the 9.30 am mass so he/ she can pick the kid up. So the couple too ends up offering different masses. After a few years the child wants to go with his friends for mass and after Confirmation there is no way a kid is going to accompany the parent after all these years.
    Would also like to mention that Eucharistic Ministers are made to sit at a designated place for Holy Mass. This means that for the entire term the EOM has to sit away from his/ her family for every mass and even on feast days.

    ” The family that prays TOGETHER stays TOGETHER” – is it not applicable to Holy Mass? Only applicable for prayer time at home?

    Reply
  • I had discussed this at a monthly meeting in one of the associations in our Parish a few months back. A few of our members supported me on this. The childrens mass has split the family. In our Parish the 8.15 mass is the Childrens mass followed by Cathecism class. One parent accompanies the child for the 8.15 mass. Kids are made to sit classwise in the Church. The other parent attends the 9.30 am mass so he/ she can pick the kid up. So the couple too ends up offering different masses. After a few years the child wants to go with his friends for mass and after Confirmation there is no way a kid is going to accompany the parent after all these years.
    Would also like to mention that Eucharistic Ministers are made to sit at a designated place for Holy Mass. This means that for the entire term the EOM has to sit away from his/ her family for every mass and even on feast days.

    ” The family that prays TOGETHER stays TOGETHER” – is it not applicable to Holy Mass? Only applicable for prayer time at home?
    On Sunday school wonder when the syllabus will be updated.

    Reply

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