By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
While preparing for my class on worship with children, I read an article about Pope Francis in which he said that children’s tears are the “best sermon.” He explained that “children cry, they are noisy, they don’t stop moving. But it really irritates me when I see a child crying in church and someone says they must go out. God’s voice is in a child’s tears: they must never be kicked out of church.”
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
This passage always comes to mind when I see parents struggling to calm a child during Mass. I admit that I am one of those worshipers who labors to keep my composure and focus on the celebration when there is a crying or playing child at the liturgy.
A child’s awe and wonder, a gift of the Holy Spirit, is a divine source of their desire to be in relationship with our God.
There were instances when the presence of a disruptive child became a cause of division within the worshiping community. Parents are in a dilemma whether to bring their child with them to fulfill their Sunday obligation or to let them participate in the Mass only when they learn to behave themselves. Perhaps, we should ask ourselves: Which option is better? A church full of crying children or a quiet and empty church?
As baptized Christians, we have a shared responsibility in molding children’s engagement in the liturgy. We have to accompany and guide them on their paths as they discover the beauty and gifts of the liturgy.
Children’s participation should not be something taken as added attendance in the assembly or to merely make the celebration more festive. Everyone must realize that the presence of a child in the liturgy is an essential gift to the whole community.
It gives life to the community. A child cannot and should not be excluded from worship. It reminds us of our interdependence with one another.
In the liturgy, children need us, and we need them. Joan Patano Vos writes, “the role of adults in the church is not to ‘put’ God into children. Rather, we help to shape an environment where they feel at home and in and with the divine presence. And then we need to pray with them.”
Children remind us of the sacredness of our humanity. A child’s knowledge of liturgy does not come from a database. As children grow up and become members of the worshiping community, we need to help them realize their God-given gifts. We should encourage them to use those gifts to the fullest.
We need to guide them in sharing their gifts with the whole community. Parents who let their children be present and participate in the community worship affirm those gifts.
As Diane Apostolos-Cappadona writes, “the child learns to worship through experience from the very first moments in the church. The child’s first ‘understandings’ come through the senses: one sees the flickering candles, the smoke of incense, and the colorful movement of celebrants in procession; one hears the music of the choir and the chanting priests and readers; one kisses icons, the cross, the gospel book…one feels one’s head anointed with oil or splashed with water; and one tastes the wine and bread of holy communion. By age two, children will be imitating many of the things seen and heard.”
We have to be patient, kind, understanding and loving with our children as they take time to grasp and express faith in worship the way we hope they will. A child’s awe and wonder, a gift of the Holy Spirit, is a divine source of their desire to be in relationship with our God.