We parents pass on so many traditions, routines and habits to our kids:
Wash your hands before you eat.
Buckle your seatbelt in the car.
Look both ways before crossing the road.
None, however, are more important than our faith:
Put God first.
Make church a part of your life.
It’s no easy job, and it’s a great responsibility entrusted to us by God Himself when He chose us to be parents.
The Faith of our Children Series
I’m honored to be part of a group of mom bloggers sharing our hearts on “The Faith of our Children” the next four months. The theme for today’s post is passing traditions of faith to our kids.
There are many, many traditions we employ to pass on the faith to our kids, from mealtime and bedtime prayers to what they see on our walls in our homes, but I want to focus today on how we teach the importance and beauty of the Mass in our family.
My Foundations for the Mass
In my own childhood, Sunday Mass was a non-negotiable part of the week. No matter where in the world we were – Disneyland, a cruise in the Bahamas, or at a family gathering surrounded by non-Catholics who were going to have fun while we were gone – we found a church and went to Mass. (And my mother is not even Catholic! She doesn’t come with us to Mass but supports our faith when she needs to.)
In my hometown, the deep importance placed on Mass was followed closely by the weekly tradition of kielbasa breakfast at my Busia’s (Polish grandmother). Whenever we entered her house, we’d call out a phrase in Polish that means, “The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!” and whoever was home replied, “For ever and ever, Amen!”
It is those pleasant memories that are still connected with the experience of the Mass, making both positive in retrospect. I’m thankful that we were able to have such consistent routines to frame the weeks of my childhood.
Do Very Young Children Belong at Mass?
Some people believe little children simply have no place at Mass.
A friend of mine actually had someone leave a note under her windshield wipers regarding not bringing her infant and toddler to daily Mass. Another tells the story of an average day in the rear of the church, children fidgeting and busy but generally well-behaved during Mass. A parishioner in the pew behind leaned over at one point to say, “That’s why we always hired a babysitter for Mass when our children were young.”
I’m absolutely shocked.
Jesus surrounded Himself with little children in the Scriptures, and in a faith where being open to life is particularly significant, I would hope Catholics would be a bit more used to that “life” coming to Mass from day one.
I firmly believe that Mass is precisely where our small children should be!
I take great joy in the fact that my own kids have more or less averaged two experiences of Mass per week their entire lives. I feel humbled to see them learning the routines of the Mass and so proud that they know the songs better than many older kids.
How are we to raise up a generation of much-needed new priests, nevertheless your basic Mass-going Catholic adults, if we don’t expose our children to the Mass, early and often?
Family Traditions to Teach About the Mass
We instill both a love for the Mass and an attitude of learning by passing on the traditions of Mass each week:
- We sing all the songs and invite them to participate, including helping emergent readers follow along in the book with our fingers
- “Find the tabernacle” is almost a game when we’re in a new church – even my just-turned-three-year-old knows that it’s “Jesus’s little house” and that He lives there, and my 6-year-old knows to look for the red candle which always burns.
- We always genuflect – toward the Tabernacle – and teach the kids why we do so – I used to take my third grade school students over to the church the first week of school to practice a proper Mass attitude. I told them that we want the church to feel different than filing into a football game or a movie theater. This is God’s house, Jesus is present, and we need to take that minute to say to God, “I see you. I honor you. I love you. I know you are bigger than me, so I make myself small in front of you.” I made them do it right if they slacked and didn’t get their little knees all the way to the floor.
- I explain what the altar servers and priest are doing at various parts of the Mass (discreetly of course), encouraging my son already to think about serving on the altar.
- When the priest raises the host at the consecration, I try to whisper to whoever is close enough, “There’s Jesus,” and get even the littlest eyes attending to the front. This starts when my babes are still in a sling in front of me. My dad used to nudge me every Mass, right through my teenage years, and say, “The is the most important part of the Mass.” That stuck with me for sure!
- When we’re on vacation and visiting an unfamiliar church, I ask my oldest to figure out what is the same and different about that church and our church, calling his attention to some of the common features of Catholicism: the altar, candles, crucifix, Tabernacle, Stations of the Cross, Baptismal candle and font, etc. I usually ask my younger daughter to find Jesus or Mary in the church. (I’m pretty sure she thinks the priest is Jesus…we’ll have to work on that one!)
- When we leave, I instruct my toddler to genuflect and say, “Bye bye, Jesus! I love you, Jesus!” toward the Tabernacle.
Because we have high expectations for our children and give them frequent exposure to the Mass, they are some of the best behaved kids there (in my humble, ahem, unbiased opinion). They also “get it” quicker than you might think.
My favorite Mass story is from when my son was between 12-18 months. “O” cereal was still our Mass bag treat of choice, and one day I looked down to see my little guy reverently holding up one “O” at a time just above his face, bowing his head deeply, deliberately placing the cereal into his other palm, and then consuming it. He already says he doesn’t want to be a priest, but I’m hanging onto that memory in great hope!
It’s often said that if a child is raised in the Church, even if he strays, he will eventually come back to his roots. I know that is my father’s prayer for my brother, and I pray often that the foundation I lay with my kids is strong enough and the roots deep enough to sustain them through the storms and trials of life, pulling them back to their center, their faith, and the Mass.
Be sure to check out the rest of the ladies’ beautiful “traditions” posts:
- Amy’s Finer Things
- Balancing Beauty and Bedlam
- Mom’s Toolbox
- Owl Haven
- Parenting Miracles
- Smockity Frocks
- The Happy Housewife
You can find all the Faith of our Children posts here.
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
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