Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Older children (ages 6-10) and Mass attendance

Oh, joy! Your children are old enough to not **need** toys, bathroom breaks, or snacks during Mass. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they are any less antsy or less difficult to bring to Mass. At that age, my siblings and I were whiny, leaned on Mom & Dad regularly, asked if we could go to coffee and donuts every 5 minutes, and tried to crush one another with a death grip during the Our Father (back in the good, old, hand-holding days of 1986!!). What's a parent to do?

First of all, take time to discern if your child even understands the basics of the liturgy. Can they identify and articulate the Liturgy of the Word versus the Liturgy of the Eucharist? Do they have memorized most of the prayers/responses? Can they follow along with longer prayers using the missalette? Few of these are articulated with regularity in the curricula most of your schools or religious education programs are using. This isn't bad, but we must remember that religion classes are meant to support and supplement the spirituality of the child as lived in the home and at church. Your child may learn every 2 or 3 years about the different parts of the Mass or have some of these prayers (Gloria, Nicene Creed, Our Father, etc.) touched on in various lessons, but they often don't take time to explore the meaning.

Regular Mass attendance (minimum of each Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation) are the only way for children to grasp and retain the ebbs and flows of the Mass. On a recent Sunday evening, my 8 year-old niece asked if we were "almost done" while praying after Communion. Due to custody issues, she is only able to attend Mass about twice/month but I thought, by now, she surely knew enough that after Communion we only had one more prayer and hymn to go. Guess not. You may think your children know what's going on and what to expect, but perhaps they do not.

Which parts of the Mass does each child most like? My niece enjoys any time we are singing and, up until now, very much enjoyed getting to go up with the children to put her envelope in the basket for the children's collection. (Aunt side note: apparently, age 8 and 4 months makes one too told to go up with the other kids and also too grown up for children's tithing envelopes.) She used to look forward to getting her blessing, but excitement waned this last year or two. She kept saying, "when can I get that?" and expressed an eagerness to receive our Lord's Body and Blood. Now, she looks forward to receiving the Eucharist instead of a blessing.

Find out what he/she most enjoys  about Mass and help them find anticipation for those areas. Maybe they most enjoy visiting with school friends after Mass or high-fiving the summer seminarian, but it doesn't matter. Each little thing is worth it. Help them find value in the meaningful experiences at Mass. They will build as you continue working with them.

In the weeks and months before receiving First Communion, remind your child that he/she should be doing their best to show spiritual readiness. This can be done in a variety of ways, but active participation is key. Also, they can begin to grasp this concept of liturgy as the "work of the people". Try to help your child see what work he/she is called to (singing, praying, listening, etc.) to be a full part of Mass and be ready to receive Holy Communion.

Does your child have older siblings on the altar? Remind him/her that participating in the Mass shows you that they are ready for duties that may be available to them soon such as altar serving, children's choirs, etc. If not, do you participate in a ministry they can help with? If you are an usher, see if your parish will allow your child to seat people and pass out bulletins with you. Do you serve as sacristan? Have your child with you, helping, so he/she can see the important steps that go into preparing for Mass. Sometimes, our youngest children see these ministries as "prizes" of becoming older. While helping them to see and know that Mass is always of value whether or not he/she is old enough to receive the Eucharist or old enough to participate in a ministry, I don't think it's bad or wrong to help them set long-term goals of serving in a ministry and reminding them how current attentiveness and participation prepares them for these duties.

After having a great experience with my Pre-K and K Totus Tuus students last week, I was reminded how much our youngest can get out of Mass when given proper tools. Though we didn't attend Mass, we talked a lot about the Luminous Mysteries and spent time exploring how to keep holy the Sabbath. We need to continue to this practice of offering practical, simple, spiritual tools at all ages. I was at Mass this weekend with a relative (raised Catholic) who has been struggling with our faith. He asked me the point of all these prayers, rituals, incense and sequences (this was the Feast of Corpus Christi) that he had never been taught to understand. It saddened me and reminded me how lucky I am to have explored the Mass and other parts of my spiritual life on my own. He is trying to have the faith of a child but he has the cynicism of an adult.

The best thing we can do is help our child explore his/her spiritual life as early as possible. Helping him/her build a relationship with Christ through prayer, the Mass, and Sacraments as early as possible lessens the likelihood of leaving later. That doesn't mean he/she won't have challenges. It doesn't mean he/she won't leave. However, we need to give our youngest the spiritual tools to fight those battles within when those cynical moments arise. I'll have more on that when I address Mass attendance with tweens and teens in my next post.

In the meantime, what specific challenges do you face with children of this age at Mass? Let's dialogue and help one another find solutions. Pax!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Happy Birthday!

Whew! Pentecost is nearly here and I have been an absent blogger in recent weeks. I apologize, folks.

It's with good reason, though. I have been busy getting a Vacation Bible School program ready for a friend's parish and busy job interviewing (please pray I get a position as a campus minister at a local Catholic high school). Next week I head to Indianapolis for a week to teach a Pre-K and Kindergarten program I wrote to accompany Totus Tuus. As you may have read from my earlier post, Totus Tuus is my favorite, Catholic VBS program (though they prefer to call it a camp). The only, minor downside, is that it is for grades 1st and up. Many parishes like to cater VBS to the younger set. I have had success in the past using the daily themes to write my own companion curriculum which allows the little ones to attend too. I make it clear that this is my program and is not endorsed by Totus Tuus. It's had great response in the past and, hopefully, will this time too. I am super stoked that my best friend's awesome daughters will be in this class. Her oldest will be in the 4th grade class and her toddler will be doing his best to eat the crayons and supplies while his mom assists me. I cannot wait! If you are interested, please use this blog to contact me so we can get something ready for next year for your parish. And you don't have to bring me in- I'll send you complete lesson plans and materials for a nominal donation towards my ministry.

That said, I have been working hard to bring you a Pentecost/birthday gift: another FREE SAMPLE of my Liturgical Reflections curriculum. There are 3 different .pdfs which you can access by clicking on the level you desire. Level I (marked by 1 diamond) is for the 3-6 year-old mentality, Level II is for the 6-9 mentality, and Level III is for the 9-12 year old set. I use the diamonds so those working with special needs students can give them an appropriate material that is not blazoned with "designed for ages 3-6" if they are 20 years of age. We want all of our children to feel grown up when using these. It also allows you to challenge your advanced student with something better suited to their needs.

It is my preference and desire that these reflections be used before or after Mass and not during. That said, I understand how useful it can be to have something to give your more "active" child during a long homily and respect your parental choice to use these reflections in ways best suited to your needs. Also, please note that I used the Sunday readings and not the Vigil ones. If you attend Mass Saturday evening, you may have different readings.

I really hope you enjoy this Pentecost gift. I am so eager to share it with you! All the images are stock images and I do everything via MS Publisher. It's very labor intensive to get a good layout and find proper images to meet my needs. I would love to find a Catholic, graphic designer to collaborate with as  I write 3 year's worth of these reflections for use at home, school, and/or religious education. If you know someone, please encourage them to contact me through this blog.

Each bulletin is 4 pages long. Since they are on 8 1/2 x 11, you should be able to easily print them on your home computer and staple them together for each child. Once I get an artist and funding for a better computer and printer, I'll get them printed on 11 x 17 folded into a handy bulletin for easy distribution.

Please pass this link onto your Catholic friends and family. Share it with your pastor, DRE, or theology teacher. Most importantly, print to use with your own children and provide me with feedback in the comment section. Share the Pentecost joy with everyone you meet! My goal? 500 views by Sunday morning. Do you think we can do it? As Bob the Builder would say, "Yes, we can!"

Veni, Sancte Spiritus!