There are many parts of the Mass that can be mentioned here to help children understand what’s going on in the Mass, but I will focus more broadly on three things: prayer, Scripture, and the family meal.
Pope Paul VI said, “The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer.” We cannot expect ourselves or our children to perfectly pray the Mass, but we can deepen our understanding and practice of prayer. St. John Damascene said, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” Anytime your child is reminded of God, either through vocal prayers, a song, the crucifix, or any other way his attention is drawn to God, he is involved in prayer.
Make prayer the crux of your family life. Simply bringing your children to Mass places them in the presence of Christ. Even if it’s a battle to get them there, it’s a fight worth pursuing. Here are ways to increase family prayer:
- Surround your home with the sacred. Invest in religious art and items to be placed around your home. These things appeal to our senses and can raise our hearts and minds to God.
- Set up a home altar. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but a space that is solely dedicated to prayer. Gather at your home altar for your family prayer together.
- Pray together. Establish a routine of family prayer. This looks different for every family. It may consist of a morning offering on your way to school, a family Rosary in the evening, or a blessing before bedtime. The types, times, and structures for family prayer are limitless so don’t feel like you have to explore all options before choosing the “perfect” style of prayer for your family. Just get started and your family prayer will grow and flourish.
The Liturgy of the Word is the first part of the Mass. Reading Scripture at home will enhance your children’s understanding of who God is, how he works, and his relationship with his people. They will begin recognizing the readings at Mass because you have first introduced them to God’s Word at home.
St. John Chrysostom said, “Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible; children about to go out into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge.” Here are ways to incorporate Scripture reading at home:
- Read the Bible at meals. Choose a meal that is less rushed that allows a few minutes to read a passage from Scripture.
- Listen to God’s Word. There are many resources available today for audio versions of Biblical readings. There are dramatized readings of the Bible, recordings of the readings for Mass, and podcasts of Bible stories. Turn these on in the car, while getting ready for school, or while waiting at the doctor’s office.
- Read Sunday’s Mass readings ahead of time. It’s great for us and our children to hear the same Bible passages multiple times. Repetition is a great mode for learning. Aristotle wrote, “Frequent repetition produces a natural tendency.” How wonderful for our children to have a natural tendency towards Scripture!
Lastly, prioritize time around your family table where you share a meal, conversation, relationship, and communion. This will help your children understand that this time together is special. It is at the family table where they can learn etiquette, sitting in one place, listening, responding, and the importance of nourishment. Conversation around the table is where the family can learn about each other. Then during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, they have a grasp of the significance of the sacred meal, the spiritual nourishment it provides, and communion with our Lord. It is around the altar, the table of the Lord, where we come to know Christ more deeply. Here are ways to make family meals more meaningful:
- Make time for family meals. Schedules are busy, but prioritize this special time together. This may mean prayerfully discerning the level of commitment to outside activities.
- Have stress-free meals planned. Dinner time can be a little hectic and it can feel like the exhaustion has set in before you even sit down to enjoy conversation. Have some easy meals on hand so the time spent together is more conducive to bonding. Simplify the meal but super-size the conversation.
- Put away technology. The use of electronics is one of the biggest distractions to human connections and relationships. During meal time, commit to disconnecting from technology and re-connecting with the members of your family.
St. John Paul II calls all parents in Familiaris Consortio to be “the first heralds of the Gospel for their children.” Your home and family are called upon to be the first school of Christian discipleship for your children. Through the practice of prayer, reading Scripture, and gathering around the family table, you are providing opportunities for your family to deepen their understanding of the Mass and preparing their hearts to receive the greatest gift of all, Christ himself.