Explaining Mass to Children
While out on a family jog last month, we found a baby bird literally in the middle of the street and took it home.
Only days old, the altricial newborn was barely thumbnail size, had no hair and its eyes were firmly shut. After unsuccessfully trying to find a shelter or sanctuary that would accept the bird, my family decided to care for it themselves. The kids collected grass clippings to recreate his habitat while my wife fashioned an improvised heat lamp. They gave the hatchling a name—Elliott—and fed it milk and mushed-up bugs they found in the backyard.
Elliott held strong but, after two days, gave up the ghost.
Matthew, 6 and Zoe, 4, are only now beginning to grasp the concept of death. Elliott was their introduction.
I don’t think that any adult explanation of the Mass can exclude the mention of death—Jesus’ death on the cross, his resurrection that overcame death and his teaching that he is:
“the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.”—John 6:50
So how do we explain the Mass to children? If death is too profound, what about original sin, concupiscence, eternal punishment, substitutionary atonement, transubstantiation and sanctifying grace? Undoubtedly, a four year olds’ head would be left spinning!
Nonetheless, instilling a love and reverence for the liturgy should begin at an early age.
So what did we do?
The Mass has a dual character, it is both a commemorative meal and a re-presentation of Christ’s sacred sacrifice. The later, in my opinion, is a little deep for my little ones. I can teach them that “Jesus died for you,” but would they comprehend the profundity of that statement?
Instead, for now, we chose to focus on the Mass as a sacred meal, a communal banquet, a family supper. At Mass, we are all nourished from the same table regardless of gender, age, race or economic class. In fact, the Book of Revelation describes our final destination as a banquet, a wedding feast no less:
“Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’”—Revelation 19:9
It is a family dinner. My children can understand that. We have our family meal every evening which is also preceded by hand-washing, thanksgiving and prayer. We can point to those similarities to help explain the Mass.
Feathering the Nest
This doesn’t mean we will forever evade conveying Christ’s once and for all sacrifice on the cross that is perpetuated at Mass. We are only delaying it until they are ready to grasp the concept.
So for now, we are teaching the vocabulary that will facilitate the future conversation. We tell them who is the priest, deacon and acolyte; where is the altar, tabernacle and ambo; what is the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei.
We add to their inventory weekly and review previous vocabulary words. This way, when we do have “the talk,” the Sacrament can take precedence, since the lexicon is already assimilated.
Arts and Crafts
As a graphic designer and dad, I’ve created a few art activities that will help teach the Mass to children. At the bottom of my weekly newsletter, I will post a link to an art activity/lesson for the next 10 weeks of summer.
The first one is a paper doll priest project where children color an image of Fr. Alejandro and his vestments, cut them out and dress him in the proper order.
There is an accompanying story/play: Follow Fr. Alejandro as he vests for Mass to learn the names of his garments. The craft is available in both English y Español.
Print for your little ones or for yourself. Please share the link with other Catholic moms, dads, catechists, homeschoolers and youth ministry leaders!
How about you? How did you teach the Mass to your children? Did you use any resources? Books? Videos? Share and let’s learn together!
Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.
I like the cut out priest with vestments and will show them to my grandaughter who is 3yrs old.
When teaching children, I do not shy away to explain that God made everything and He can do anything. I tell kids that God wanted to come into the world He made and He wanted a mother so He came as a baby instead of a grown up man. He could have come as a man but He wanted a family to grow up with and to play and have fun like other kids. When Adam and Eve sinned, death entered the world and they left the garden wearing animal skins. Sin is so bad that it closed the gates of Heaven and Jesus dying on the cross opened Heaven for us. Baby Jesus grew up and died for us on the cross. Many children love to kiss the crucifix and try to make Jesus feel better and I think it is such a natural way to intoduce the Mass to them. When children are a bit older I tell them God is outside of time and then came into time to grow up as a man and God at the same time. He also is outside of time because He is God so when He offers the Mass it goes up through time and time attaches to it throughout history. So then I explain that Mass is the one eternal sacrifice that goes up through time and we get to take part in it and see the one same sacrifice in an unbloody manner. The Mass is really the best prayer as we get to take part in the prayer of the 3 Persons in one God, it is the prayer of the Trinity. Sorry this comment is so long. The cross is so important that as making the sign of the cross also teaches the 3 persons in one God I came to this site as I really like the cut out to color and the cards that explain the Mass.
Thanx for “ALL” the news letters regarding “The Mass Explained”, I’ve enjoyed all of them and would love to have the “App”… but have no ipad. So far we only have an iMac computer or an iPhone. So my question , first of all, is… when does an app or program come out for our home computer?
I also noticed you explained the Father Alejandro vestments in both English and Español, so does the app come in Español also?
“AND”, is there a way to recieve the news letters in BOTH English and Español??
Appreciate your work
Thank you so much for reading “ALL” the newsletters and for taking the time to write! Unfortunately the software I used to create the app, only exports apps for iOS not for MacOS. In other words, it’s only for iPad. It will not be available for desktop computers or for iPhones.
Also, the app is presently only in English. It is my hopes to translate it to Spanish…one day.
I looked around and found a plug-in that allows this website to be translated. Please look at the sidebar at right and scroll towards the bottom. There is a pull-down menu where you can select a language. It isn’t perfect, but it should help relay the content.
Thanks so much, Raul!
Thanks for the great information! I plan to refer parishioners to your site in our parish bulletin.
Wow, Monica, that would be great. Let me know if you need any images, text or graphics to accompany your post in the parish bulletin!
Thank you so much for the tips on explaining the Mass to children, especially the lexicon! There are many adults who have no idea where or what an “ambo” is, and forget about expecting them to know where the narthex of the church is located. I remember learning the names of vestments and such, when I was in Catholic school 50 years ago, but wonder if that type of lexicon is addressed in our faith formation classes for young children! As editor of our parish bulletin, you’ve given me a great resource for the Faith Formation column during summer break.
Thank you, Monica, for reading the newsletter and for being a faithful commentator (or is it commentress 🙂 I went to public school and the religious training I received was at home and in CCD. When I went through CCD, their main concern was memorization. We had to memorize the prayers and be able to recite them perfectly. But there was little or no instruction on what the words I was asked to say, meant. Rest assured that when my children go through CCD, if that is the way they are still teaching, my wife and I will round out their learning by giving them the “why” not just the “what.”
Explaining the Mass to children is great. So many of my peers fell away from the Church because they lacked understanding. They had fides, but not the ratio that would have helped them stand firm when evangelized by local fundamentalists.
Amen Christian! Thank you for reading this newsletter and for taking the time to write! If one were to know what transpires at Mass and were asked to leave the Church by an Evangelical*, we could only echo the words of St. Peter “to whom shall we go.” It is the “source and summit” of our faith.
*I do not mean to vilify Evangelicals! Often the information they know about what Catholics believe is only what has been told to them by others. It rarely is first-hand knowledge from the Church. So they are trying to “save” us from a misconception. Believe me, if we “worshipped” Mary and believed that a man (not in persona Christi) can forgive sin, and that “everything” the Pope said was infallible, then I would have left too!
For children, as for adults, mass is an experience to be entered into, not something to be explained. If the experience is one of reverence and awe, (I’m not talking about some dumbed “children’s” mass), then they may not “understand” it, but they will remember it. The incense, the stained glass windows, chant etc. And if they are open to the workings of the Holy Spirit, as they get older, they will begin to ask questions. But they won’t believe because you explained it to them. Liturgy is the primary source through which the faithful (young and old) learn and grow in their faith. As a pre VC II catholic, my memories are those of processions, Holy Thursday vigils, stations of the cross, May processions, novenas etc. These are all the sacramentals the laity actively participated in, and the post VC II liturgists determined had to go so the laity could more actively participate in the liturgy.
Hey Dominic. Thanks for writing! To be honest, I read your comment three times to make sure I understood it properly. You say that Mass is “not something to be explained.” Do you believe there is ever a need for liturgical catechesis?
The way I see it, there is a difference between “understanding” and “belief.” I understand the hypothesis that aliens built the pyramids in Giza. However, I do not believe it.
I can teach my children about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They will then understand it. It is up to the Spirit and their openness to him to convert their understanding into belief.
So, while I wholeheartedly agree that “Liturgy is the primary source through which the faithful (young and old) learn and grow in their faith,” I do think that catechesis is still necessary and vital.