How many of you belong to parishes that offer Children's Liturgy of the Word? These are programs that remove the children from the Mass- typically from the beginning of the homily until the Offeratory or so. They are typically taken to a location where they can discuss the scriptures or do activities relating to the readings. In theory, this sounds great: let's keep the kids from squirming during the homily, let's help them understand what's happening, and let's give their parents a break. This seems wonderful, doesn't it?Unfortunately, here's what often happens: kids don't learn to sit through Mass and are more antsy on weeks they do not have this opportunity. They also learn that whatever parts of the Mass they miss are non-essential and/or not for them. This attitude can only serve to harm them, spiritually, as they grow. Additionally, children are not as engaged as the grow older (and outgrow CLOW) because they have learned this part of Mass is boring and not for young people.
Pastors, we need to review our nurseries/cry rooms for this same reason. We need programs to help parents sit with their kids through the Mass. It can be done and done well if parents, pastors, and parish staff work together to come up with creative solutions. Kids look at the cry room as a reward for fussing during Mass. They need to be encouraged and invited to stay and participate in the Liturgy. If you have a cry room, it should have seats and nothing else- no toys, books, or other distractions. What about an adopt-a-grandparent program? Your parishes are full of elderly widows who have snuggled dozens of children and grandchildren over the years. Invite them to meet up with families with 2, 3, or more little ones to help them sit through the Mass. Often, parents could keep little ones situated if they just had one or two extra sets of hands. Or what about using this as a service hour opportunity for your teens?
I once worked at a parish where RE classes were sandwiched between 9 and 11 AM Masses. What a disaster! There was constant pressure to finish Mass in 55 minutes to get the students to class. Catechists who attended 9 AM Mass had no set up time and were rushing in the room at the same time as the kids. Many left after communion because Mass often ran a tad over an hour. We had 60 minutes for class, but catechists were lucky to get 40 minutes of teaching time. Around 10:15 you could finally start. We dismissed at 11 which meant those who attended the later Mass were forever wandering in late. It was awful for everyone: students & catechists, parents, etc. The worst part was the disruptions from the constant stream of kids and catechists coming in late for the 11 AM Mass. Please, please, please offer classes during the afternoons/evenings of the week and avoid the temptation to fall into the Sunday morning "convenience" routine.
Curriculum choice is an enormous struggle. I won't lambaste specific publishers here, but there are a number of curriculum that I won't touch with a 10-foot pole. They are either watered down, overly simplistic, teach to the head and not the heart, or are just poorly written. Let me list some of my favorite resources here:
- Catechesis of the Good Shepherd does a terrific job at spiritually reaching the kids where they are at. Love their program and cannot promote it enough.
- While I haven't used it yet, I am very intrigued by Our Sunday Visitor's Alive in Christ and think it could be an amazing program. I was planning to adapt it at my last parish after it had been out a year or two. I continue to hear wonderful things about it.
- There are too many to list here, but St. Mary's Press and Ascension Press have some amazing books, resources, and supplements I cannot live without.
- Ignatius Press puts out a great curriculum which is very solid.
- I am smitten with the work of Matthew Kelly and the Dynamic Catholic Institute. I write my own sacramental prep curricula, but I think his could prove to be outstanding. I am eager to preview their Confirmation and other prep programs as they are released.
I see the role of the pastors, DREs, and others to truly discern what parents need and support them. They need to pray on, discern, and explore long-term implications of the programs they offer. If programs look convenient but will not be best for the spiritual needs of the kids, the pastor and DRE need the backbone (and support) to make tough decisions such as eliminating programs, changing times, etc. These changes needn't happen overnight, but if your community works together and doesn't always resort to the easiest solution, real spiritual benefits can happen for families and change can start in the hearts of your youngest parishioners.
Pastors and parish staff also need to catechize parents, particularly from the period of baptism through First Communion. Parents need tools, ideas, help and resources to raise their children in the faith. They need the parish to reach out to them after baptismal prep and prior to enrolling in 1st grade for school/RE. They need to support parents in attending parish programs by offering child care during formation opportunities as often as possible. More parents would come if it were offered as a "night out" opportunity with wine, snacks, and free baby sitting!
Well formed parents are well formed primary catechists. Well formed primary catechists will help your parish make changes that keep the family together for Masses and make Mass the #1 priority of the week. Don't make sudden changes your parish isn't ready for. Improve adult education about the Mass and gently lead parents to see Children's Liturgy of the Word as nonessential. Build programs that allow older widows in the parish to sit with the parents of six kids to help hold babies and soothe cranky toddlers. The need for nurseries will diminish as families experience the joy of peacefully worshiping together. Find RE options that make Sunday morning RE unnecessary.