Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Preparing another generation of believers

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published June 27, 2014  | En Español

I flew back from Rome last week in the company of a wonderful toddler who became the center of attention for all of us sitting around him. He was about 18 months old and just learning how to talk—and he practiced his new skill for most of the flight home! His volume control was not yet quite working, and so everything that he voiced or garbled was full-throated—to the great embarrassment of his parents who vainly tried to quiet him. I managed to find his sounds fascinating and very funny.

Babies in public can be just charming as was this youngster. Their parents sometimes might wish that they were not quite so entertaining with their antics.

Our Cathedral has a special Mass for young parents and their children. I just love to celebrate that particular Eucharist. It could be that I don’t spend a lot of time with little ones and their antics are quite amusing for me. The 10:30 a.m. Mass takes place in Kenny Hall (which usually starts about 10:35 a.m. to accommodate those who are just getting settled into it as a Mass of “motion”).

Most of the youngsters who come to this Eucharist have a very short attention span—and so too do their parents and grandparents who are attempting to pray and at the same time to tend their little ones. Those multitasking performances are almost as beguiling as the playfulness of the children. It is very important to teach children “church etiquette,” and patience is always primary to that task. Like the training that kids need at home before graduating from the children’s table to the adult table, the process is fraught with spills, mistakes and slipups.

Bringing children to church is an important part of their formation in the faith. These little ones need to be trained in how to behave within the midst of the community. They must be taught the prayers that we offer together at the Eucharist and how to participate in the Church’s worship.

Most of them are easily distracted by things around them—the alignment of the chairs or the kneelers on the pews. They can be fascinated by the windows or maybe the hymn books in the racks. Yet they watch their parents kneel and bless themselves with holy water. They may quickly grow bored with the bags of Cheerio bribes and soon want to share in Communion as their parents carry them in arms as they receive the Eucharist. The toddlers open wide their little mouths or stretch out their hands hoping to be given that which is so central to our faith.

Each one of those lessons helps to prepare them to take their place within the assembly. And their best and most appropriate teachers are always their parents and grandparents, who show them by their own reverence and devotion that these actions are addressed to Someone far greater than any of us can ever fully appreciate.

It is a vitally important part of a child’s religious formation to be introduced to church participation, and the occasional disruption to the solemnity of the moment is the price that the community must pay as we prepare another generation of believers to take their places within the assembly.

I urge us all to be patient with these little ones as they learn how to behave in church—even if their antics might induce a smile when we should be paying attention to our prayers. I’m sure the Father is smiling along with us in those moments.