Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on the topic of introducing children to the traditional Latin Mass and making it fruitful for them. The first part is available here. NB: This article (and its companion piece) have been published, in rewritten form, as chapter 20 in my book Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass.
In my last post, I spoke of things we can do at home to dig furrows in the soul for planting the seed of the Mass. Today I will highlight things we can do to make attending and assisting at Mass more fruitful for everyone, especially the children.
The thing I recommend most strongly is that you bring your family to a High Mass (Missa Cantata) or even a Solemn High Mass (Missa Solemnis), if this is available in your area. It may seem counterintuitive — such a liturgy is longer and more complicated, and it is probably at a later time of day, when children are more likely to be tired and cranky. Still, if you can manage to work it out practically, the High Mass is a fuller celebration of the rite, with more going on to pay attention to and be shaped by. There is more activity happening in the sanctuary — processions, incensations, bows and genuflections, the carrying of this and that, vessels being handed around, the sacred choreography of the ministers — with the chanting of prayers and readings, and plenty of music along the way. When it’s done well, it is a feast for the senses that helps sustain interest and foster curiosity. A Low Mass, as beautiful as it is for adults who have learned the art of prayer or simply find comfort in the peace and quiet, is much harder going for little ones who, not surprisingly, find anywhere from 35 to 55 minutes of almost total silence a rather large bucket to fill. So, while a Low Mass almost cries out for following along in a book, at a High Mass (particularly a Solemn High Mass) one can let oneself go and just watch.
Also, if a home is singing-friendly, and the chapel or parish you attend is singing-friendly (sadly, this is not always the case), children will quickly pick up simpler Gregorian chants such as the commonly-used settings of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, and ad libitum chants like the Salve Regina and Adoro Te. At our college chapel, the singing of the Ordinary of the Mass always includes the congregation, and it delights me to hear how many little voices down below are joining in the singing (one can tell because of how those high-pitched voices poke out a bit). Over time, one catches such children singing a snatch of chant while playing with Lego bricks or making mud pies. Again, we are in the realm of imaginative associations that grow, over time, into strong cords of allegiance.
Beyond this, whether you are attending a Low Mass or a High Mass, it is well worth your effort to get hold of a user-friendly children’s missal and teach your child how to use it. There are a number of decent missals for tiny children (of the “See Father go to the altar—he is praying to God for us” type), and, of course, there are excellent missals for adults (to include young adults), but an age group that has been terribly neglected, in my opinion, are the children who are too old for the kiddie board books and too young for a full-scale Angelus or Baronius missal with thin pages and tiny print.
This is why I decided to create my own print-on-demand intermediate missal for the traditional Latin Mass that has all the unchanging prayers, with clear indications of when the child should turn to a parent or older sibling for the propers of the day, and accompanied throughout by gorgeous full-color illustrations. This missal is available in two versions: A Traditional Missal for Young Catholics (available at Lulu for $18.50) and Missal for Young Catholics (available at Amazon for $12.49). The content of both is identical. The reason for the difference in price is simply that the Lulu edition is printed on thicker and glossier paper with a thicker cover.
I’ve seen this missal keep my children and the children of other families occupied for many hours in church, whether they are reading the prayers (and surely, at times, praying them intently) or looking at the pictures, which are real art, with all its rich detail and fascination. What I like best about this resource is that it focuses the child’s mind on the liturgy itself — on its prayers, gestures, symbols, and mysteries — rather than on some other more or less pertinent subject ranging from superheros to saints’ lives. I’m not saying that one should never bring other kinds of books to church — far from it — but when a child is ready to enter into the letter and spirit of the Mass and linger there, we should smooth a path for this transition to happen. (For more information and photos, see this post.)
Another missal I cannot recommend highly enough, in the adolescent or young adult category, is the St. Edmund Campion Missal & Hymnal. Talk about a work of art! This is a great missal to use for Sundays and Holy Days. I can imagine older children responding well to the exquisite beauty of its illustrations and photos, the elegance and clarity of its layout. It is a book that utters a silent message about the unchanging and sublime worth of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. (If you are interested in reading more, check out my review at NLM.) NB: Corpus Christi Watershed announced that they are sold out of this missal and are working on a 3rd edition, no release date. Meanwhile, I recommend checking out the new Sunday missal from St John Cantius, which Steve Skojec reviewed here not long ago.
If you have boys, get them into an altar boys’ guild as soon as they are old enough. One of the best ways to become familiar with the traditional Mass and to see the great reverence with which its every gesture is imbued is to watch it close up and be involved in the ceremonial. Often, too, boys find in such a guild a healthy combination of discipline, camaraderie, and fun.
For very small children, how about adding “Soft Catholic Mass Quiet Toys” to your arsenal?
Parents reading this blog: please share freely whatever you have found successful in helping your children appreciate the treasure of the Mass and receive more benefit from assisting at it.
Preparing for Communion
The traditional Roman Rite itself contains powerful prayers to help us prepare for communion, namely, the ones prayed by the priest between the Agnus Dei and the “Ecce, Agnus Dei.” But these prayers may not always speak directly to children, and, in any case, different people find different things advantageous to prepare their minds and hearts for receiving the Lord.
A prayer that has worked wonderfully in our family over the years is the Byzantine prayer before communion. Years ago, we attended Byzantine liturgy fairly regularly, so we memorized it at that time. But then we found that praying it in the quiet space before communion at the Tridentine Mass, or even doing so while walking up for communion at an Ordinary Form Mass, had a unique ability to focus our attention on the Lord. When the children were much smaller, my wife or I would lean over and say the prayer very quietly together with our children at the appropriate time. Later, all that was necessary was a reminder, and they could pray it themselves. But another way to learn it is to print it on a card and keep it in a missal or prayerbook.
O Lord, I firmly believe and profess
that you are truly the Christ,
the Son of the living God,
who came into the world to save sinners,
of whom I am the first.
Accept me as a partaker of your mystical supper,
O Son of God,
for I will not reveal the mysteries to your enemies,
nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas,
but like the thief, I confess to you:
Remember me, O Lord, when you shall come into Your kingdom.
Remember me, O Master, when you shall come into Your kingdom.
Remember me, O Holy One, when you shall come into your kingdom.
May the partaking of your Holy Mysteries, O Lord,
be not for my judgment or condemnation,
but for the healing of soul and body.
O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me.
O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned without number.
This prayer works well after communion, too.
My wife and I have found that the time right after Mass, particularly if we do not (or are not able) to stay for very long at the church in thanksgiving, can be an important moment of family prayer — a way of reminding ourselves that our Lord is still sacramentally present among us and that we should carry the spirit of the Mass out of the church into our lives. A car ride home that is full of chit chat and banter may not be the best way to use those few minutes of transition. (Of course, if your drive is a lot longer, take my suggestion as pertinent only for the first few minutes.) We will often pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or just keep silence for a time.
If the Mass you attend is followed by a lot of socializing, spend some minutes giving thanks in the church, and afterwards enjoy the socializing. This, too, is extremely healthy and welcome — children who are happily playing or talking with their friends after Mass are, in an oblique way, strengthening their long-term attachment to the Mass and the Church.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism who has written many books and publishes on a wide variety of sites. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Visit his personal website at www.peterkwasniewski.com, his Substack “Tradition and Sanity,” his publishing house Os Justi Press, and his composer site CantaboDomino.