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!