Wednesday 10 November 2010

Rowdy children

The Catholic Herald asks the question whether special children's liturgies actually encourage bad behaviour in church. Rather than make an extended comment in the box there and irritate people, I thought that I might do so here.

In the Adur Valley we have both a regular Sunday children's liturgy and (now) pretty well-behaved children, thanks be to God. I assume that in my absence on Sabbatical, things are still the same. This is how we tackled it:

When I first became Pastor in Valle, I determined that I would try and follow the recommendation of St John Vianney that the priest himself should prepare the children for their sacraments. Now, our catechists are very good and willing, lovely people, and I was not prepared to unseat them, so I simply joined them.

Our Communion preparation sessions these days always begin with ten to twenty minutes when I myself talk to the children in the church. I meet them in the hall, and explain what behaviour is expected of them and why. Then we go into church. I start very simply, showing them how to make the sign of the cross (most don't know—itself rather, well let's just say surprising, but certainly telling), how to genuflect reverently, and generally how to behave in church. We learn all the normal Catholic things; the bits and pieces in the church, lighting candles, looking at the furnishings and talking about their purpose. Finally, we kneel down (important to kneel, I think) and pray together the traditional prayers (which most don't know); the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Act of Contrition (to get by heart for their first Confession).
Finally, their catechists take them off, after a good genuflection, to the main bit of their preparation.

My personal involvement has all sorts of spin-offs. The most important, I think, is that I get to know the children; their names, their families, their commitment and the rest. This has been terribly important, I have found. Next year, for the first time, I will be preparing for Confirmation (and, yes, I get closely involved there, too) those I prepared for First Communion six or seven years ago. My contact then and since will, I am sure, make all the difference. I am very keenly looking forward to it.

But another spin-off is that those children know how to behave in church, and in many cases they behave better than their parents. And the bonus which I had not anticipated is that their younger brothers and sisters naturally model their behaviour in church on them, as younger siblings will do. And fewer children seem to be lapsing, though there is a lot of room for improvement there.

Oh, our children aren't perfect all the time, of course, but what child is? All I can say is that I am moved that we can have 60+ children under ten in a crowded building, and not hear a sound at the Consecration.


Patricius said...

As a parent of (now grown-up) children I have always opposed the idea of separating children out, whether at meal times or at mass. How else are children to learn what kind of behaviour is expected of them? Separate meals and separate "liturgies" seem to me to be a cop-out for adults who are only interested in their own convenience and, as often as not, bad behaviour in children is a consequence of the parents' failure to engage with them.

frd said...

Father, this is also how I prepare my 1st Holy Communion children. It's a great way to encourage the catechists too. If only I could find a way to stop their badly-behaved elders from talking before and after Mass. Any ideas?

Et Expecto said...

I recommend that families with children occupy the front benches of the church. That way the children can see what is going on and will not be bored or distracted.

If you observe the few families that do follow this practice, you will see that the children are generally well behaved and often engrossed in what is happening in the sanctuary. This is often in contrast to the children who, after going to a children's liturgy, squeeze in amongst the adulds and cannot see a thing.

Pastor in Monte said...

Et Ex: Yes: when our children return, they have reserved benches in front of the front row for them to use if they want to; lots do so.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr.,that's a great help. I'm never sure what happens at the children liturgy on Sunday since I am saying the Mass. I am not convinced that having a childrens liturgy is such a good idea. I encourage parents to occupy the front benches; of course, not all do and consequently some children take to rolling on the floor at the back while the parents look on.....trying to engage the parents is always the difficulty.

St John's, Horsham said...

This is my custom too. Echoing Fr D's comment, I have been astounded at how thrilled the catechists are to 'go back to basics' and focus on things like making the sign of the cross, genuflecting etc. The children really enjoy it too.

We're in the situation of being jam-packed at two of our four Masses and, I'm afraid, it's a case of every man (or child) for himself in terms of seating (if you're lucky enough to get one at all!). This makes the Mass experience difficult for adults and children alike so I have to be gracious about behaviour to some extent. I'm thrilled they're there at all, really. But I do encourage, through the Programmes, appropriate behaviour.

Bizarro said...

Well said Patricius, couldn't agree more.

And thanks Sean for such a heart-warming post. Keep up the good work!

Miles said...

The good work continues - almost three hundred at the SP Children's Mass this Sunday past and allwell behaved I'm told!

MC Man said...

On holiday in Adelaide at the moment and I pitied the children (and adults) who had to sit through a long 1/2 hour meandering boring sermon that seemed to go nowhere,no wonder there were so few children at Mass.The standard serving on the other hand was quite superb