Debate: Do children’s liturgies encourage rowdy behaviour?

Well-behaved children receive Communion at a pontifical solemn high Mass in Washington (Photo: CNS)

In this week’s print edition of The Catholic Herald, Andrew M Brown argues that children’s liturgy might make badly behaved toddlers worse. He writes:

What is to be done about children in church? I know Our Lord said: “Let the children come to me… do not keep them back; the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” But there’s no getting around the fact that badly-behaved toddlers are a pain in the neck, and disrupt Mass for everybody else.

As a rule, few priests dare to stand up to yummy mummies and their bellowing progeny. The trouble is, many of the parents seem to practise what the psychologist Aric Sigman calls “laissez-faire” discipline. Desperate to be friends with their children, they’re terrified of upsetting them.

Another problem might actually be children’s liturgies. They’re designed so that the youngsters don’t get bored, but do these sessions actually prepare them for what a “grown-up” Mass will, or ought to, be like? Do they instead accustom children to the idea that making a racket is part of worship?

John Medlin of the Latin Mass Society thinks he has the answer to the rowdy toddler question: it’s the Tridentine Mass. “Speaking broadly,” he assures me, “you’ll find that there’s no need for ‘quiet rooms’ or play areas – certainly not for separate children’s liturgies – at Traditional Rite Masses.

“Children genuinely pick up on the fact that something special and beautiful is happening – helped by the deportment of their parents. If tears and squawks break out, Traddie parents quickly whip the little blighter outside and calm him/her down.”

Perhaps, as John Medlin suggests, a truly reverent Mass might make children quieter. They may sense that “something special and beautiful is happening”, and adapt their behaviour accordingly.

On the other hand, young children get bored easily at Mass, especially as they are unlikely to understand exactly what is going on. Surely it is better for them to attend a liturgy that is specially designed for them, that can help them understand fully the sacrifice of the Mass.

Or are there other problems with children’s liturgy? It is, after all, more catechesis than liturgy. Is it, in fact, the best way to teach children about the Eucharist?

So, does children’s liturgy encourage rowdy behaviour? Or is it the best way to teach youngsters about the Mass?