Young Children at Mass !, ?, :-), :-/, etc.

With this blog post, Fr. Michael White, pastor of Nativity Church in Timonium, Maryland, initiated a robust social media discussion on young children at Mass. And big picture, we’re all right, all Catholic.

The most important principle is this:

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. (CCC para. 2223)

As long as that is respected, we can all be correct. We can all be joyfully Catholic when it comes to choices and preferences regarding young children at Mass.

Parents educate and form their children liturgically, evangelistically, catechetically, in virtues, shoe-tying, and more. Parents (or other guardians) have the first [=primary, fundamental] responsibility in discerning how they do this.

I’m a parent to two boys who are (almost) 6 and 4. Over their lifetimes, we’ve averaged attendance at 1.318321 Masses per week. [Note: total guess there, but we don’t miss Sunday Mass and usually attend at least one daily Mass a week.] They are avidly interested in Mass and somehow manage to do things like say enthusiastically, “Lord, have mercy” when a deacon takes a more generous pause than usual during the Kyrie. After Mass they want to bum rush the altar to do lots of genuflecting and bowing (I educate them about reverent gestures. A lot. :-)). By age 2, they would (on their own initiatives) walk around the house singing a through-composed Gloria from memory. And for me? I love to share how the liturgy evangelizes and how we can make this a lived, practical reality.

While I live in the Midwest, we’ve attended Fr. White’s parish, Nativity Church, two times for Sunday Mass and once for Christmas Mass at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. We’ve had one or two of our children with us during each of those trips. Our experience has been completely positive. On each occasion, we’ve showed our children the children’s ministries of Nativity and enticed them to try it out. In one case, the children’s ministries were full and the parishioners serving politely explained that they didn’t have the space/supervision for more children (a legit practical reality). That’s fine 🙂 I appreciate their attempt to serve us! In the other two visits, our kids were not interested in going. Which is totally normal (they were both 4 or under at the time)–most children of that age are naturally developmentally cautious when in new environments with new adults. Plus, they are interested in Mass–especially when it involves different sanctuaries, vestments, etc. as the visual and gesture elements of Mass are what captivate them.

This means that 3 times, we’ve had young children at Mass at Nativity, and sat as close to the front as possible (but also with unobstructed access to an exit door 🙂 ). Other worshipers, staff, ministers, everyone was welcoming. At Christmas Eve Mass, enthusiastic children’s ministry ushers did come and remind us of the opportunity with a joyful invitation. That’s hospitality. It wasn’t pushy. They smiled just as much with our toddler choosing to stay with us.

One of our visits was during the summer months, when Nativity sometimes uses lay preachers to provide adult faith formation immediately following Mass. During that visit, after Mass was over and we’d remained seated [in the sanctuary] for the upcoming talk, a children’s minister approached us to let us know that this talk was for adults/teens and they’d be happy to help check our kids into children’s ministry, show us the generously spaced atrium/glass windows [not a “cry room”] where the talk would be heard, seen on video, and watched through the glass windows, or show us to the cafe, where we could watch the talk via video and our kids could have some play space and snacks. She wore a uniform shirt, had a name tag, and was 100% pastoral, professional, and loving.

Adult faith formation isn’t Mass. As a parent I have the right and opportunity to bring my children to Mass. Adult faith formation is different–if a parish discerns pastorally that adults will be better able to enter into, hear, and respond to the Gospel message without young children, that’s a decision they can reasonably make. When a parish makes that decision without providing hospitable options and accommodations for parents, I think that’s an evangelistic loss. Parents are important. At least 1/3 of children in the U.S. are raised in single-parent homes, and those families sometimes need the options that Nativity generously provides.

The take home line from Fr. White’ blog is this:

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.

This is hospitality. This is pre-evangelization and evangelization, an accompaniment and preferential service to parents who may only be at the beginning of their own experience of the evangelizing power of the liturgy (and thus struggle to model or catechize during Mass, or become distracted by their children’s questions). Giving parents true choice in their role as the primary educators of their children doesn’t diminish the liturgy, but respects the reality that, as the Church explains, “before men [and women] can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion”–and that that conversion can be ongoing (Sacrosanctum Concilium, para 9). Parents get to decide if they send children to ministry programs during Mass or accompany them in liturgy. Parents can make that decision freely based on if their child slept well last night, if their own back is a bit too sore to hold someone during an entire Mass, or any number of factors. Most of our parishes do not give parents a variety of appealing choices as Nativity does. 

Granted, I disagree with the tone used at the start of Fr. White’s post. While it seems strongly in the Biblical tradition of deliberate rhetorical hyperbole so as to inspire a conversation (as Paul, Jesus, and rabbis would do in general), I’m cautious about how well that works for digital writing. (In my humble editorial opinion, sharing testimonies and stories of families who’ve experienced conversion and growth in relationship with Jesus Christ because of how Nativity gives parents choices and partners to form young disciples would be more influential/effective.) However, to not “throw out the baby with the bath water” on Fr. White’s rhetorical choices and writing, pastoral leaders should ponder the main point [showing love for parents with children] and discern how we are making this a reality in our own, unique pastoral settings.

The Catechism reminds us:

From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. Among the Church’s members, there are different gifts, offices, conditions, and ways of life. (para. 814)

Nativity Parish


Children’s Liturgy of the Word Guide: Explanation of the Scriptures

In speaking of the homily in general, the Church teaches, “It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the [prayers] of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.”

This is where the Children’s Liturgy of the Word Leader’s personal preparation time and prayer with the Scriptures overflows into an interactive and concrete experience of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of the children.

You may ask questions/discuss, use call/response with a memory verse or line, retell with felt figures or visuals, do action rhymes/gestures, sing songs with a tie to your theme, pass around/touch any objects from home with a connection (i.e. a non-fragile icon, etc.), use whiteboard (for elementary school aged children) for drawing key concepts, dramatizing/acting out re-telling of any of the readings, reinforcing the readings/themes from a storybook, etc.



General Instruction of the Roman Missal, para. 65


“Christ Preaching,” Rembrandt [Public domain]

Children’s Liturgy of the Word Guide: Proclaiming the Gospel

gospel-881290_640The reading of the Gospel is “the high point of the Liturgy of the Word,” and like all other Lectionary Readings, we trust in the inspired power of the Word of God present among us to speak through the Scriptures–even to children who otherwise might outwardly appear “inattentive.” LWC will always include the Gospel reading, and like the First/Second readings, it should not be paraphrased or proclaimed from a Bible storybook.

In Practice:

Proclaim from the Ambo/Lectern or Standing using the Lectionary with Children standing. Children can learn that this is set apart from other readings due to the action of standing.

Begin with: “A reading from the Holy Gospel according to…” Children learn (and often enjoy) repetition. Hearing this each week becomes a cue.

Encourage response: “Glory to you, O Lord.”  Children can cross their head, mouth and heart while saying these words quietly to themselves: God be in my mind. God be on my lips. God be in my heart.

Proclaim from the Lectionary at Ambo/Standing.

End with: “The Gospel of the Lord.”

Encourage response: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” Because this involves the children’s response, this response can be repeated for emphasis/practice.

Afterwards, can immediately ask if anyone noticed the difference in response (“Thanks be to God” vs. “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”–and what the difference means/shows 



General Instruction of the Roman Missal, para. 60



Children’s Liturgy of the Word Guide: Acclamation Before the Gospel

Through our acclamation before the Gospel [Alleluia–except during Lent] we stand to greet our Lord Jesus Christ who is about to speak to us, and declare our faith in His words present in the Gospel. Like other Readings, always proclaim from the Lectionary as a visual/symbolic cue for the children, and from the ambo/standing. [All remain standing at the end of the Acclamation in preparation for the Gospel.]

Practical Ideas for the Acclamation


Sing the Alleluia using any simple tune or a common children’s one (i.e. A-le-lu…). Repeating more than with adults is a good way to release energy (voices/movement) before the Gospel, and emphasize this preparation for the “high point” of the Liturgy of the Word.


Encourage actions or gestures as part of the Alleluia song, or spontaneous (i.e. raising hands in praise, etc.)


The Lectionary contains a Scripture verse for the Alleluia. Taking a pause from the singing/movement to speak this is optional, but if done could become part of your memory-theme for the day or a memory verse for the children if appropriate.


Reverence can be shown to this reading by setting it off from other readings with marks of honor, i.e. doing a mini-procession carrying Lectionary with children following around the room, or through the standing children, before returning to Ambo. Note: if doing this, carry the Lectionary lower than a Deacon/Priest typically does to avoid visual confusion of roles (same guidance as for K-2 Leaders leaving Mass with the Lectionary).


Use “Bible book” hand gestures to have have children show in “Bible” where Gospels are located [i.e. New Testament]. Encourage “Bible hands” or “prayerful hands” during your reading of the Gospel as a way to help give active-learners something to do/focus on. Can suggest a gesture/word combination to perform when heard, etc.


As with other readings, can draw attention to a simple, concise theme to listen for. Can have children name all four Gospel evangelists as preparation to listen for which Evangelist the Gospel comes from this week.


Children’s Liturgy of the Word Guide: Responsorial Psalm

Psałterz florianski1.jpg
In the responsorial Psalm, we are joined with Christ using His “prayerbook” to respond to God’s Word we have heard proclaimed. Singing expresses the authentically human, emotion-filled, power of prayer. After the Responsorial Psalm, the liturgy continues with either the Second Reading or the Acclamation Before the Gospel.

Practical Ideas for the Responsorial Psalm


Use the “Bible Book Gesture” (mentioned in Liturgy of the Word post) to show where in the Bible the Psalms come from.


Sing the Psalm to any tune you’re familiar with–it doesn’t have to be the “right” tune. Feel free to repeat the refrain more than typical with adults, so that the children can join in. Spoken verses of the Psalm alternated with the refrain set to a tune and actions often engages children.  


You may use the Psalm designated for your specific Sunday, or any Psalm from the same liturgical season (especially one you can put to a tune) to emphasize a theme. Searching on YouTube beforehand by psalm title and Catholic Mass can be useful for reminding you of tunes you “know” and have heard, but can’t generate on the spot.


Gestures or sign-language can be used during the Psalm to help the children participate more [this is especially important if neither you nor any Assistants/Helpers can sing the Psalm].



Wawel Castle scriptorium – Polona, Public Domain, Link

Children’s Liturgy of the Word Guide: Proclaiming the First and Second Readings

Jesus the Word of God
Reading from the Scriptures at Mass is not the equivalent of reading from a textbook, catechism, or summary of Bible stories. As Catholics, we believe that “Christ is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.” Soak that in for a moment, and consider–how incredible a blessing this is for each of us, and affirmation of Christ living in every baptized believer. “To read in the liturgy is a great privilege of our prophethood, priesthood, and kingship in baptism with Jesus Christ.”

LWC will always include either the first or second readings (one can select one or both). Though children often squirm or struggle to listen to the proclamation of the Scriptures–trust in the power of Christ, speaking to each child directly as you proclaim. Allow for that potential, rather than substituting a paraphrased Bible story for the Scriptures.

In Practice:

  • Proclaim from an Ambo/Lectern or Standing using the Lectionary. Children who may not pay attention to the words of Scripture, can learn that this is set apart, sacred reading (unlike any other reading) by your unique use of the distinctive looking Lectionary and place/stance of proclamation.
  • Begin with: “A Reading from ….”. Children learn (and often enjoy) repetition. Hearing this each week becomes a cue.
  • Proclaim from the Lectionary (not a photocopied sheet). If you (especially with the K-2 group) need to use the adult Lectionary or a Bible for teaching/preaching purposes, this is a good reason for an exception, as both of these books convey similar solemnity to this sacred proclamation.
  • End with: “The Word of the Lord” / “Thanks Be to God.” As this involves the children’s response, this response can be repeated for emphasis/practice. (Loud, quiet, etc.)

Optional Idea:

Sometimes you may find it fruitful to give a short reflection, connection to your theme, emphasis on what to remember, or do an action, rhyme, or short song after a reading (to practically help children take a “break” from listening/stillness). However, this should not be so long that the general shape of the liturgy is lost for the children. For example, your preaching section (after the Gospel and before the Prayers of the Faithful) should be longer than any optional/short activities, so that the “shape” of mostly-readings followed by preaching is discernable over time for the children.


Sacrosanctum Concilium [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy] 1963, no. 7

Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, What Happens At Mass, 44


“Jesus the Word of God,” Lamb Studios Design, Life of Christ (CC-BY-2.0)

Children’s Liturgy of the Word Guide: Introducing the Liturgy of the Word


The reading of and listening to the Scriptures during liturgy is a privileged, sacred moment in the life of every baptized person and is “of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy” as our Church fathers taught at the Second Vatican Council. The Church teaches that the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist “are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship,” and indeed speaks of a “double table of the Word and Eucharist” where we feast on the Bread of Life. In addition to being fed, we actively reverence the Word of God, venerating the Scriptures as we venerate the Lord’s Body.

Practical Ideas for Preparing to Proclaim


Light the candle on the altar; announce that this reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world or that God’s word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Can invite children to say the verse with you or repeat.


Make a Bible (book) gesture [hold hands like a book; with pinky fingers adjacent link binding and palms pointed up]; explain that the first reading comes from the Old/New Testament and show that this is the left/right hand (respectively). Can have children raise up that hand and wave it to reinforce where the first reading will come from.


Walk Lectionary from the stand on the altar around to children and allow them to touch the cover and silently ask God to help them listen to the Holy Spirit about to speak to them through these Scriptures, while on your way to the ambo to proclaim.


Introduce your theme or one-sentence message of the day (i.e. a phrase for them to remember that you might ask them to repeat during your preaching time, etc.). Or, suggest a word or phrase to listen for (in the readings) that ties into your message theme; can suggest children make a gesture when they hear this word/phrase (i.e. when you hear the word “Lord” raise your hands in praise or when you hear “Moses” clap your hands).



Sacrosanctum Concilium [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy] 1963, para. 24, 5

Synod on the Word of God, Apostolic Exhortation (Verbum Domini) 2010, para. 68

Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 103

John 8:12

Psalm 119:105