Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why We [Don't] Use Church Nurseries

Linking up with Auntie Leila.

Okay, first I want to clarify that this is not meant to make parents who do use church nurseries to feel guilty. You have to do what you have to do to survive, after all! I've already clarified that I'm a really grateful for cryrooms, so I don't expect that all children will be able to sit through Mass (especially small children).



But that being said, I think there's something missing from the church nursery/children's Liturgy of the Word phenomenon. They both can accomplish good, and I believe that they are done with the best intentions, but I think that they are less than ideal.

(Pictures from our rest stop at St. Meinrad's Archabbey on a recent road trip. So gorgeous!)

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Sometime when Maria was a baby, we did a church swap with some dear non-Catholic friends of ours. I'd been to non-Catholic churches before, but I had never visited one with my children.

One of the appeals of Protestant/non-denomination churches for a lot of families is the availability of resources. There's free coffee in the lobby, upbeat music and messages, and...a complicated and impressive system for dropping off your children. Many of these churches have well developed programs for children (which is fantastic), but the downside is that these "children's churches" occur during the main church service. As a result, there aren't many children in the actual church service. 

Incidentally, in churches like this, I think the "children's church" concept actually makes sense. These church services are geared for a particular age group, and if the focus is learning about Jesus and the Bible and doing some praise and worship - well, the kids can accomplish that just as well (or even better!) in a children's church service.

Likewise, if you go to a church like this, a church nursery makes total sense. The point of these church services is to hear the sermon, and to receive words of formation and encouragement. If you're pacing with a screaming baby or toddler, you can't hear the message.

But the purpose of the Mass is different.

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Mass isn't about feeling certain spiritual things. It's not about hearing a great message. It's not about singing and hearing fantastic music. It's nice when these things happen, but Mass isn't about them.

Mass is about encountering the living God, receiving Him into you in the Eucharist, and worshiping Him in union with the rest of the assembly and the Communion of Saints. Mass is about partaking in the ongoing heavenly liturgy, and it is the closest we get to heaven on earth. In the liturgy of the Mass, the immeasurable love and sacrifice of Christ on the cross is made present again. We don't just remember what happened then. We are literally present at that original sacrifice, as the Eucharist makes it present again. 

Aside from the Mass, we can't experience any of these things.



Part of the beauty of the Mass, too, is that every member of the Church matters. From the tiniest newborn and newly baptized baby right on up to the oldest, dementia-suffering person, each person's presence matters. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are all perfectly united to each other and to all the rest of the Church - both on earth and in heaven.  

We listen to the Scriptures and encounter Christ in that. We listen to the homily and are instructed and encouraged. But even the Scriptures aren't about personal fulfillment - they are a part of the work of Christ. They are a part of what unifies us as one in the mystical, Eucharistic body of Christ. 

The Mass matters. The Mass has eternal implications.

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Young children understand this better than we'd think. One of my primary focuses during Mass in their first three years or so is helping my children to understand that Jesus is truly present at church (in the Eucharist), that He loves them, and that we are called to offer Him our love. It never ceases to amaze me how their belief in Jesus in the Eucharist is often stronger than my own. Both my girls love blowing Jesus in the tabernacle kisses. Maria is always asking to go see "Jee-us" in the "Do-do" (stroller). Children sense Jesus' presence in the Eucharist.



What makes Mass different than other types of church services is that - unlike other church services - it is not our work. It is the work of Christ, of which we are partaking. Mass is the re-presentation (i.e. the making present again) of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is made real, again. Christ is not crucified again, but we are able to be present at the foot of the cross.

And each member of Christ's body matters in that sacrifice. It was for us all that He accomplished the work of salvation.


This is exactly why church nurseries and Children's Liturgy of the Word services (that occur in the middle of Mass) don't make sense in the Catholic Church. We need those littlest ones at Mass! They, by the nature of their baptism, have a rightful place in our midst. Not only that, but Mass isn't about teaching our children. The work of catechesis happens during the liturgy simply by experiencing the liturgy. Any "teaching" can occur before or after Mass. But what is happening at Mass is not just about good behavior and learning about the Bible. It's about standing at the foot of Christ, with all the Church. It's about encountering Christ, alive today and present in the Eucharist. Nothing can take the place of that.

*Again, if you need to use church nurseries and the like for a period of time, it's your judgment call as a parent. You know your children best, and God has given them to you! The point that I'm trying to make is that you don't need to be afraid to bring your young child to Mass. They have a place there, and it's okay if they're too little to pay attention. Their presence matters, and God will work on their little hearts in ways you can only imagine!




8 comments:

  1. This is a most enlightening and engaging post. I needed this a long time ago, and I need it now even if all my children are grown. From this mom's heart, thank you so much. I will read this piece again before this Sunday's Mass, and then many times again in the future. God bless your wise heart.

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  2. Love this! While I'm grateful for a cry room (or in our parish the vestibule) during an emergency or when a certain strong-willed child is being a distraction, we stay in the pew as much as possible for all these reasons. I'm so grateful for the grace that is present no matter what - my family needs that!! - and for other parishioners who welcome our children even on their harder days!

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  3. Beautiful photos and I couldn't agree more with everything you said!

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  4. In college, I attended a church that had a nurseries/Children's Church system as a Catholic Church. I always found it very strange. The children could be a part of it until they received Communion, then they were in the regular Mass. The problem was that they didn't want to leave the fun play time for Mass and kept trying to sneak in. Some parents even tried to sneak older kids in the program and we had to turn them away. I realize now realize what a disservice we did to these children. They didn't understand being in the Mass at all, so how could they understand Communion. Now, I must admit there are times that I wish my parrish had a similar program, especially with my youngest who is super active and busy. I would often get to the end of Mass and be covered in sweat and disheveled and wonder if I had actually even heard any of the Mass because I couldn't recall a single word that had been spoken. However, at 2, even though he is still busy, he is starting to follow along He wants to kneel when we kneel and sing when we sing. He has learned the Alleluia, the sign of the cross, and has to bless himself over and over every time we pass the holy water font. He kneels down at the Sacred Heart shrine, bows his head, and whispers something. I don't know what he is saying, but I am sure it warms Jesus' heart. I realize that all the hard work is worth it for him, because these are things I could not teach him if he weren't in church.

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  5. I have to admit, I followed your link from Like Mother, Like Daughter because I noticed the pictures of St. Meinrad. It's just an hour away and across the valley from where my in-laws live. But I really enjoyed your post as well. Our priest told me, after a particularly challenging morning at Mass, that my daughters were the future of our church and their presence makes a difference. It made me feel so much better.

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  6. Good post. I defintiely think it's important for children to remain in Mass, if possible. However, the biggest reason we've never used a nusery is that when our children were young enough to "need" a nursery (ie. 1-3) or so, they were too shy/clingy to ever feel comfortable in an nursery under the care of a stranger. And by the time they were old enough to accept something like that, (3-4) they were old enough to be quiet and mostly behave in Mass. So, I never could figure it out. I'm always mystified by babies and toddlers that have no problems being left with anyone. Of course, I've also seen my share of crying babies/toddlers as well (in co-op nurseries) and it's so hard.

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  7. Oh, I love St. Meinrad's! Beautiful pictures. And I agree with everything here. We actually do use the nursery at our church for my youngest (currently 20 months old) because he was becoming such a handful that I was barely in Mass any longer. My older two (twin 4 year olds) have always been in Mass with us and, while still not perfect, mostly know what to do and how to behave. I'm planning on bringing the little stinker back into Mass when he turns 2; I'm hoping he can start learning to at least be quiet and sit for at least some part of Mass by then. we'll see. He's so completely different from his older brothers!!! What a challenge. LOL!

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