Helping Children Enter into the Traditional Latin Mass – Part 1
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on the topic of introducing children to the traditional Latin Mass and making it fruitful for them. The second part is available here.
Parents today are sometimes worried that if they attend the traditional Latin Mass exclusively, their children will not know what to do with themselves during Mass and get so bored that they’ll hate going, or at least not come away from it with the spiritual goods they need. And yet, every child-saint we know of grew up in the ambiance of the traditional Latin Mass — there was no other for nearly the whole history of the Western Church. We wonder: How did the little Thérèses or Padre Pios of the world feel so drawn to the Mass? Was something different back then? Were children better catechized? Were parents more on the ball?
Lest we be too hard on ourselves, it’s only fair to recall a few advantages that people enjoyed in the past.
Often, families would not even take children to Mass until they had grown to an age where they could sit still, read a book, and appreciate the pageantry or pray a Rosary peacefully. When older kids went to church, the youngest ones stayed at home, watched over by a relative or housemaid.
The further back one goes, moreover, society at large tended to be much more formal, polite, and respectful. Everyone knew how to sit still and keep quiet for long periods of time without seeking to be entertained or pleased. This attitude of self-control carried over into churchgoers and children. One could realistically count on the majority of people getting into uncomfortable, fancy clothes, riding in a bumpy carriage to church, and sitting there in the freezing cold for a two-hour service — the sort of thing that happened every winter throughout Europe and America. The comforts, conveniences, and distractions of our age have made it much harder for us and for our children.
It helped, too, that the Church before the Council seemed – more or less – to have her head screwed on straight. She had one liturgy celebrated across the world, one doctrine taught everywhere, and one moral code inculcated rigorously, if not always heeded (such is fallen human nature). Whenever the unity and certainty of the Catholic Church is loud and clear, the faithful — including children and young adults —can respond with an intuitive assent and trust. Where there is ambiguity, doubt, or pluralism, the response called forth becomes progressively weaker, and this, unconsciously. The saints of the past grew up in a Church that was certain of herself, her faith, and her worship. We are living in rougher times, when parents need to become, in a sense, the guarantors of a faith of which the shepherds are sometimes ashamed. This is no easy task, since children are strikingly able to detect the most subtle discrepancies and hypocrisies.
Last but not least, Catholic churches used to be built in a grand and magnificent manner, with beautiful images and symbols everywhere you looked — so much for children to wonder at and learn from. Fortunately, there are a sizable number of such beautiful – let us call them European-style – churches in our country. If you happen to be able to attend Mass regularly at one of them, thank the Lord for it. The church building and its noble furnishings are already doing some of the work of catechesis for you, as they are meant to. You might be surprised, if not horrified, to know how many Catholics out there have to attend Mass at aesthetically God-forsaken structures that make prayer and contact with the loveliness of God so much more difficult, especially for children.
But the traditional Mass, in itself, is stronger than all our difficulties and dilemmas. It has the incredible strength of something ancient, deeply rooted, full of inextinguishable life, and perennially fresh, ready to form our minds and hearts if only we can get near enough to it.
Preparation in the Home
Even if cultural, societal, or artistic factors made — and, in fortunate situations, sometimes still make — a parent’s work easier, as I mentioned above, I think it’s fair to say that it will always be a challenge to initiate children into the richness and intricacy of traditional Catholic worship. It can never be taken for granted in any age that the next generation will be liturgically initiated, as if it were an automatic process.
It is a worthwhile challenge to embrace, because the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is your children’s point of contact with the greatest, longest, and deepest religious tradition in the entire world. As the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, the Sacrifice of the New Covenant supersedes Jewish worship and therefore most fully embodies all that God gave to Israel. The Mass is an act of sacrifice that, as the Roman Canon reminds us, circles all the way back to the prefiguring sacrifices of Abel, Abraham, and Melchisedech. Within the Christian tradition itself, the Rite of the Church of Rome is among the most ancient. Its single historic anaphora, the Roman Canon, is older than that of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Within the Western tradition, there is no loftier expression of the divine mysteries, no more nourishing access to them. The hard work it takes to enter into this liturgy is repaid a thousandfold in the never-depleted insights and consolations it affords. For this reason, the work of teaching another how to enter into it is a genuine spiritual work of mercy.
All of this presupposes the importance of entering into the liturgy. As Dom Gueranger and the original liturgical movement emphasized, we need to get to know and love the prayer of Holy Mother Church, and doing so requires an effort to become well acquainted with it. I have some recommendations along these lines, but many readers will have excellent ideas, too — and I hope they will share them in the comments below.
There are, in my view, two distinct aspects of improving a child’s hold on the Mass and the Mass’s hold on the child: remote preparation (i.e., what we do at home), and proximate aids (what we do at church). Today I will take up the former, and next time, the latter.
Remote preparation includes anything the parents do at home to fill the imagination of their children with Catholic symbols, saints, stories, and associations, anything they do to form the mind with doctrine and to form the heart with prayer. I am an adamant proponent of John Senior’s ideal of reading aloud, singing, sewing, drawing, building ships or planes, and, in general, anything deeply human, hands-on, and low-tech. These sorts of things till and fertilize the soil of the soul, so that the seed of the liturgy can be planted and bear fruit. Children who are immersed in good books and develop a habit of enjoying the world of the imagination will not only be better prepared for their school studies but, more importantly, will find the liturgy easier to enter into. Good resources include Marigold Hunt’s outstanding books ([easyazon_link asin=”1928832644″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]A Life of Our Lord for Children[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link asin=”1928832326″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]The First Christians[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link asin=”192883292X” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]St. Patrick’s Summer[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link asin=”1933184000″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]A Book Of Angels[/easyazon_link]), Fr. Inos Biffi’s [easyazon_link asin=”1568546122″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]An Illustrated Catechism[/easyazon_link] (which contains simple but profound reflections on the Creed, the sacraments, the commandments, and prayer, accompanied by neat illustrations), Fr. Demetrius Manousos’s [easyazon_link asin=”1892331446″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]Know Your Mass[/easyazon_link], and Fr. William Kelly’s [easyazon_link asin=”0988510685″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]The Mass for Children[/easyazon_link].
The “domestic church” at home has to be strong. The family culture should be deliberately related in some way to the liturgy. For this purpose I especially recommend the books of Mary Reed Newland, such as [easyazon_link asin=”1887593330″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]We and Our Children: How to Make a Catholic Home[/easyazon_link] (in the original version published by Angelico Press) and [easyazon_link asin=”1933184272″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]The Year & Our Children: Catholic Family Celebrations for Every Season[/easyazon_link], and a newly released book that is set to become a classic of its own, [easyazon_link asin=”1622821769″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]The Little Oratory[/easyazon_link] by David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler. (To learn more, see my review at NLM.) These books have lots of great, practical ideas about how to bring the riches of the liturgy and the observance of the liturgical calendar into the home so that one is more “in sync” with the liturgy when one attends it. For the benefit of older children, I would also recommend occasionally listening with the whole family to a talk by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. There are so many available. “The Meaning of the Mass” is a particular favorite of mine.
For families that homeschool, it is crucial that there be some study of Latin, even if it be as simple as studying the prayers of the Ordinary of the Mass, so that an opportunity is created to think and talk about what they are saying. I have found it to be the case that the traditional Mass prays perfectly for (or about) everything we could ever need to pray for (or about), and does so in the most beautiful, humble, and fitting manner. It is the supreme school of prayer. I’m not saying that people need to become Latin experts to appreciate the TLM, but rather that some exposure to and comfort with this language will pay big dividends when it comes to praying at Mass without a missal, following along in a missal, serving at the altar, or someday singing in a choir or schola.
To capitalize on the natural love children have for singing and to foster an instinct for sacredness and Romanitas, it is so important to sing Catholic songs at home, especially simpler Gregorian chants. The familiar Salve Regina works especially well, but one could include the “Ave Maria,” “Salve Mater,” “Adoro Te,” “Ave Verum Corpus,” and “Veni Creator Spiritus.” Don’t worry if only one person in the family can sing well; that’s enough to start a tradition of daily singing, and people do get better over time. Highly recommended is Veronica Brandt’s A New Book of Old Hymns (and, in general, I recommend Veronica’s posts at Views from the Choir Loft, such as her review of Know Your Mass and her suggestions for teaching children Latin prayers).
In addition to singing, or in lieu of it if you are afraid to sing yourself, make sure you have some good sacred music recordings of chant, polyphony, and traditional hymnody. Of the superabundance of fine recordings out there, let me just mention a few. My favorite disc of hymns is [easyazon_link asin=”B006PTFGOK” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]A Vaughan Williams Hymnal[/easyazon_link]. My favorite set of chant recordings, by a long shot, is [easyazon_link asin=”B004FWZ5KE” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]Gregorian Chant for The Church Year[/easyazon_link], a set of six CDs for only $30.13 (at the time of this writing). The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles are wonderful, too, and when you buy their CDs ([easyazon_link asin=”B00C6705WI” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]Angels and Saints at Ephesus[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link asin=”B009UECNXO” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]Advent at Ephesus[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link asin=”B00HAH7HG6″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]Lent at Ephesus[/easyazon_link]) you are supporting their traditional monastic way of life. For polyphony, I can recommend just about anything recorded by the Tallis Scholars, the Cambridge Singers, the King’s College Choir, the Oxford Camerata, or The Sixteen. (I am beginning to sense here the need for a separate article, or series of articles, on “How to Build Up Your Very Own Classical Music Library.”)
In any case, playing such recordings on Sundays helps accentuate the specialness of the Lord’s Day and, once again, bolsters and expands the imaginative associations that Catholics ought to have as part of their inheritance, effortlessly inoculates the young against later abuses they are bound to encounter, and, best of all, provides a stream of beautiful music and lyrics that children uncannily memorize and spontaneously reproduce if they hear it often enough.
I welcome suggestions from readers in the comments about things they have done at home to prepare the family for a more fruitful encounter with our Lord in the Mass.
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.
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 $18.87) and Missal for Young Catholics (available at CreateSpace 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, although now we are moving into the adolescent or young adult category, is the St. Edmund Campion Missal & Hymnal. Talk about a work of art! This is, hands down, my favorite missal to use for Sundays and Holy Days, and 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.)
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.