Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Book Review: We Go to Mass by George Brundage

I tend to be a tough critic when it comes to catechetical materials for kids; but I'm rather pleased with this simple board book. Each page shows a picture of the Mass with a simple accompanying text.

I'm not in love with the illustrations; but they aren't ugly as so much art in children's religious books is and they do highlight clearly the important parts of the Mass. I like the large crucifix behind the altar. I think its good that the images are drawn so as to appeal to the widest possible Catholic audience. For example, there are no female altar servers, and it isn't clear whether the girl is receiving communion by mouth or in her hand. The Mass is celebrated ad populum, so it is clearly a 'Novus Ordo' celebration, not the extraordinary form; but otherwise the book doesn't seem to take sides in what are frequently controversial matters.

I really like the text. It is simple and clear and echoes the language of the Mass: "We praise God in union with the Angels and the Saints." It doesn't water down Eucharistic theology: "We worship Jesus as the bread is changed into His Body," and "We receive Jesus in Communion, God's greatest Gift to us."

I think this will be a useful book for my girls to bring to Mass to help them follow along. It's not quite a missal; but the stage before a first missal for small children who aren't reading yet but who enjoy being read to.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

On the Lips of Infants and Babes, You have Found Perfect Praise

The other morning after one-year-old Sophie finished nursing I sat her next to me on the bed while I tried to finish my morning prayers. Bella came in and wanted me to read to her so I distracted her as I often do by reading my psalms out loud so that she felt included and could pray along. After a while she wandered off again. But I continued to pray aloud. Then when I got to the Glory Be at the end of the psalm, I noticed Sophie looking at me and rubbing her hand over her belly in a deliberate way. Was she trying to make the sign of the cross? It seemed likely. She's started doing some basic baby signs for "more" and "all done".

I decided to try an experiment. When I sat her down for breakfast, I moved her hand in the sign of the cross and folded her hands together as I prayed a blessing over the food. She beamed happily at me as we prayed. That night at bedtime I paused before nursing her to pour a little holy water in her palm and again moved her hand through the sign of the cross and then up to bless me and then down to bless baby Benedict in my belly. She laughed joyfully, clearly excited as I helped her to pray. She sat in my lap as I prayed, not anxious as she usually is at that time, crying for milk, but smiling and peaceful. When I finished praying then she was ready to nurse.

The excitement in Sophie's eyes was almost the same as when I understand her attempts to speak or to sign "more" or "dolly" or "daddy". But there is something more there as well. A divine spark, dare I say?

When Bella was about this age we began praying night prayers with her. She started to try to make her own prayer gestures, folding her hands, attempts to bless herself. It seems clear to me that children as young as one can have a desire to pray and that by helping them to use their bodies to pray, even if their lips cannot, we do them a great service which they receive with joy and gratitude.

It makes me so angry therefore when I see well-meaning people say we needn't bring young children to mass because "they don't get anything out of it anyway." And this is of children of 4 or 5 years, much older than my girls. They are so wrong. Children who are still unable to speak words may still praise God and yearn for His presence. They can and do express religious yearnings that are not mere imitation but surprise me and go beyond what I expect they are capable of doing or understanding. Two-year-old Bella loves to look at holy images, to kneel and fold her hands and pray, to bless herself with holy water and to genuflect in front of the tabernacle. When I have taught her these things she takes to them eagerly. Not out of a desire to please me and follow my orders but because she is given a language to express what is already in her heart.

So please, take your children to church. Teach them to sing and pray, help them to move their bodies in prayer, pray for them and with them. Help them to know and love God and to praise Him. It is never too early for them to learn. And you may be surprised at how much you learn as well.