When I was around eight, soon after I received my first Holy Communion, I remember being in the pew on Sunday morning with my Mass book. It was a lovely and solemn, white, leather-bound book with classic images of a chalice and a host. The Mass parts were listed simply and clearly and I followed along pretty well, and after not too long I had all the parts memorised.
It’s good for children to have their own little Mass books. It helps them to not feel as lost while adults alter between standing, sitting, and kneeling all while repeating line after line of seemingly insignificant phrases. It can be incredibly daunting, but mostly incredibly boring, to watch and listen and have no idea what’s going on. So I was happy to have my Mass book; it made me feel involved and special. It was a way that I could participate without having to burden my father by asking a billion questions about what was going on (although I asked plenty of questions anyway, I’m sure).
The only thing missing from my Mass book were images. It was so plain and simple that I only used it when I couldn’t remember something I was supposed to say. I used it like a script and once I had it memorized I didn’t give it any attention. What I like about the CTS publication, My Simple Mass Book , is the beautiful imagery, which is at once reverent and joyful.
The illustrations show a congregation of smiling participates who are clearly enjoying Mass as a celebration. It also shows images of the Saints and angels in heaven, which is an important reminder to children that the Mass we celebrate here on Earth is a taste of the Heavenly Banquet.
Mass is a joyful event, a time to celebrate the power of the Eucharist in which we receive Christ’s flesh. So it’s frustrating when I see a congregation full of people who seem to just recite memorised lines. If the congregation knew what they were missing out on – the intimacy of Christ’s True Presence – then they would never turn it down.
The heart of the problem is evangelisation, and evangelisation begins with the family.
“Family is the original cell of social life’ and it ‘is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honour God, and make good use of freedom” (CCC 2207).
In the Rite of Baptism, parents and godparents are given a lighted candle, an expression of the child’s faith, and it is “entrusted to [them] to be kept burning brightly’. Parents are God’s stewards, protectors of His children, called to form them in the faith. While CTS’ new Mass book for children is far more interesting the one I grew up with, it is still important to guide a child in its use and its significance.
“When a family itself shares in this Eucharistic communion, it finds further encouragement to realise this mutual love within the home, and the mother and father clearly need to take the lead in this. Mother Teresa says: ‘Love starts at home. For your love to be real, it cannot waver at home'” (The Family’s Mission to Love).
Parents are entrusted with ensuring that the greatest gift, life, will thrive in union with God in heaven. It is the parents’ responsibility to cultivate a child’s faith and show them the joy of obedience to the Father.
Although this can seem overwhelming, the good news is that we are all called to rely upon God with our entire lives; He provides for us in our need. There are many resources for parents to grow in their own faith so that they can pass it on to their children. Staying close to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and having a consistent prayer life is essential. Plus engaging children in family prayer teaches them that we are called to be in communion with God and with each other and it gives them an example of how to pray on a regular basis.
Cultivating a child’s faith is about being generous with love and showing a him or her the beauty of prayer and the power of sacrifice, but what this looks like in each family will be different.
“Every child is different. Every parent is different. Being a parent is not about learning a set of rules and putting them into practice like a robot. It’s about living in the messy reality of everyday life. It’s about loving your children as best you can – with all your strengths and weaknesses, and with all their strengths and weaknesses”. (Being a Parent Today).
My Simple Mass Book presents the texts of the Order of Mass, illustrated in an attractive, modern and child-friendly style.