This Sunday brings one of my favorite readings from one of my favorite books of the Bible. We are looking at a passage from Nehemiah, which is all about rebuilding.
Nehemiah gets permission from the king of Persia to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls around the city, which were broken and a source of disgrace. The passage we’re looking at takes place after the walls had been rebuilt. It describes a celebration of the achievement.
Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,
which consisted of men, women
and those children old enough to understand.
Ezra was a religious teacher and prophet. After the walls were rebuilt, people were hungry to learn more about their Jewish heritage and faith much of which had been lost in the midst of the civil conflict that had destroyed the walls. So he reads the Scripture of the time: the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Notice that it says, “men women and children old enough to understand.” The little children and toddlers were not included because they couldn’t understand a long service intended for adults.
Which brings me to my point.
There is something in Catholic Church culture that insists kids belong in the sanctuary for Mass. I must say I don’t totally understand it, but it is definitely a Catholic thing. Part of the thinking is that sheer exposure to the service imbues them with grace and other good things in some kind of effortless and mindless sort of way. But if they can’t understand the readings and they cannot take Communion, it is unclear what they are “receiving” Sacramentally.
Another argument suggests that kids need to “learn the Mass” and that can only happen through physical attendance. I liken it to bringing a toddler to a lecture or presentation intended for adults, because there is information you want your kids to have. Nobody would ever do that, because it obviously wouldn’t work. They must be introduced to the information in age appropriate ways if they are to learn. Everybody knows this, and yet we ignore it in church.
To this end, I will sometimes see a Mom sitting in the very front row with her child. The front row so the kids can “see the altar” (as if they’re looking ). Then, a tormented exercise is undertaken in which the kid, who can be distracted with Cheerios for only so long, becomes disruptive.
Which becomes a distraction for everyone, including liturgical ministers and the homilist. I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly difficult it is to try and preach over a crying baby.
In this exercise the parents are fighting a losing battle, and sometimes suffer the unkind, but understandably disapproving glances of the congregation. Saddest of all is the experience for the kids themselves, which can be something approaching agony. Church can easily becomes a place they grow to hate…
This is why we invest in our children’s programs. We love the children of this parish so much we want them to have a great time and learn to love the Lord too, through age appropriate messages and worship. Meanwhile their parents can devote their full attention to worship.
If you’d like to learn more about how easy it is for your kids to enjoy our programs, or to replicate them in your parish, check it out on our web site: www.churchnativity.com
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