For toddlers and preschoolers, the structure of a Catholic Mass can be quite an abstract concept. Sure, they might understand that each Sunday, they travel to a large building where they sing songs, kneel, shake hands, and listen to Mommy say, “Shh, be quiet” over and over again. While your child's awareness of Mass rituals will certainly increase as he grows, it’s never too early to begin teaching him about the main components of Mass.
You’re sitting in the front row of the church when your 2-year-old points to the priest and loudly yells, “Who’s THAT?” Mortified, you realize that the time has come to teach your inquisitive tot about the people who lead a Catholic Mass. Between the priest, altar servers, Eucharistic ministers, greeters, lectors, choirs and cantors, young children can easily be confused by the responsibilities of each. To help your tot understand the individual roles, you can print out or draw pictures of those who lead a Catholic Mass, and then play a game with your child where he identifies who is on the card as well as their “job” during Mass. If your artistic skills are less than stellar, you can find printable “People at Church” cards (link in Resources).
Bells, chalice, stoup, altar, tabernacle, Body of Christ, Blood of Christ, processional cross: these are just a few of the symbolic items that those aforementioned Catholic leaders will use during a Mass. To help tot learn to recognize and understand the many objects and uses for these liturgical objects in advance of Mass, you can use picture cards, similar to the aforementioned “People at Church” cards. Then, while you are at Mass, you can point out the objects and uses to him: “See where the priest is standing? That is called the altar” or “What is the name of the cup that the priest is holding”? Of course, the meaning behind the Body and Blood of Christ may still be a little hard for your little one to grasp, but if you keep working with him, he’ll eventually understand the symbolism behind each.
As any Catholic parent knows, trying to get a toddler or preschooler to “sit still” during Catholic Mass can be a challenge. An hour-long Catholic Mass typically does not gel with a toddler’s goldfish-like attention span. Because young children crave structure, teaching them about the sequence of a Catholic Mass -- including the introductory rites, liturgy of the Word, liturgy of the Eucharist, and the concluding rites -- can promote good behavior, since they’ll know what to expect. To teach your kiddo about the different parts of Mass, you can print out different pictures that show the order of Mass and then ask him to glue them – in order – onto a piece of paper. You could also help your child create a “story book” that helps him understand Mass sequencing. To do this, print out (or draw, if you’re talented that way) pictures of the main parts of the Mass – the opening procession, greeting, liturgies, presentation of gifts, consecration, sign of peace, and so on -– and help him glue them onto small pieces of construction paper or card stock. Bind the book with string or hole punch them and place them into a small three-ring binder. Not only can you go through the book at home, but you can also have your child bring the book to church with him so that he can follow along as the Mass progresses.
If you attend Mass regularly, the chances are that your babe already understands what prayers are, or he may know that when you say or sing certain words during church, you close your hands together and make “prayer hands.” To teach very young children to understand the meaning of certain prayers, simple crafts can be helpful. For instance, because parishioners often hold hands during "The Lord’s Prayer,” you can help your child make a paper chain to symbolize the meaning of this prayer. You can also have your child trace his hands on construction paper or a paper plate and cut them out to symbolize praying hands. Even simple coloring pages depicting prayer scenes can help; as your child colors, be sure to engage him in conversation about what the parishioners are doing, who they're praying for, and why.
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