WAS GOING TO WRITE a more confident answer to the title of this article, until a recent Mass with the most beautiful singing and the noisiest children. It brought it home that music is not an instant fix. Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s article last week Music as a Character-Forming Force sheds some light on the subject.
“To think that children will automatically grow up into adults who have a sense of what is and is not fitting, appropriate, noble, beautiful, is as naïve as thinking that they would behave morally or turn to God in prayer with no discipline and no religious education.”
When we teach our children to behave during Mass we are laying the foundations for good habits. There’s the positive side of teaching them the beauty of what is happening there and the negative side of what shouldn’t happen there. This takes time, patience and much repetition, but it is worthwhile!
The music of the Mass is a big help towards this positive side. Children aren’t big on abstract ideas. They have a more concrete world with lots of emotional turbulence. Music is the language of emotions. You can speak to children with the music to communicate the difference between music for dancing around and music for that difficult concept of being quiet and still. Anticipating what music they will hear at Mass and running through it at home can be a huge help. Song is much more effective when you have a go at singing it yourself – get into how it feels.
Bring liturgical music into the daily rhythm with some of the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office. There is so much Gregorian chant available, it can be overwhelming, but maybe starting with the Marian antiphon for the season and picking up bits slowly. Children are great with daily rituals.
Reading St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul we find that as a very young child she did not attend Mass. Her mother would go to an early Mass and then the rest of the family to the main Mass, bringing home the pain bénit or blessed bread (a sacramental, not the Blessed Sacrament). Many of us today cannot arrange something like that, but it is a comfort to know that even saints sometimes didn’t sit still through Mass as young children.
Sometimes it might seem a parent spends all of Mass outside. As our pastor frequently points out, you don’t need a line of sight to the altar to fulfil your Sunday obligation. Taking disruptive children outside is a normal part of teaching children how to behave. It isn’t a sign of a bad child or a problem, but part of the answer.
It may feel like forever, but children do grow up. The days are long but the years are short. Today’s toddlers are tomorrow’s altar servers and choir members. Then we can look back and whisper a “Thanks be to God.”