Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Children at Mass: against Fr Michael White

An infant receiving the Blessing of Throats on the Feast of St Blase, during the
Guild of St Clare Sewing Retreat, at Boars Hill, Oxford.
I've written a fair amount on this topic on this blog; here is a piece I've done for LifeSiteNews.

It begins:

In a blog post on January 26, Fr. Michael White got himself into hot water by criticizing parents who bring their young children to Mass. 
In an article titled “Why we don’t encourage (little) kids in Church” he wrote: “There is something in Catholic Church culture that insists kids belong in the sanctuary [church?] for Mass. I must say I don’t totally understand it, but it is definitely a Catholic thing. Part of the thinking is that sheer exposure to the service imbues them with grace and other good things in some kind of effortless and mindless sort of way. But if they can’t understand the readings and they cannot take Communion, it is unclear what they are ‘receiving’ Sacramentally.”
Fr. White, who is pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, even quotes Scripture to back himself up: “Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women and those children old enough to understand” (Nehemiah 8:3).
I was puzzled by this quotation because it appears to contradict another with which Fr. White should be familiar, as it is quoted with approval by Christ (and in relation to children taking part in what amounts to a liturgical event: Christ’s entry into Jerusalem): “Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise” (Psalm 8.3: see Matthew 21.15-16).
Even more directly comparable is Joel 2.15-7:
Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather together the people, sanctify the church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bridal chamber.
“Those who suck at the breasts” are invited to the Prophet Joel’s penitential liturgy. Are they really excluded from the High Priest Ezra’s solemn reading of the Law?
The puzzle over these conflicting passages evaporates, however, when one notices that the word “children” does not actually appear in the text of Nehemiah. The Latin says simply “in conspectu virorum et mulierum et sapientium”: “in the sight of men and of women and of the wise”. Looking at the Bible Hub where multiple translations can be seen side by side, it is clear that Fr. White went to a lot of trouble to find one which mentions children. It is possible that “men and women” refers to Jews, and the extra clause refers to sympathetic non-Jews. In any case, if the meaning is unclear, we must refer back to precedents, for Nehemiah is re-enacting the solemn reading of the Law found in Deuteronomy 31.12:
And the people being all assembled together, both men and women, children and strangers, that are within thy gates.
(See also Joshua 8.35 and 2 Kings 23.1-2.) It is hardly plausible to claim that Nehemiah wanted to exclude those explicitly included by Moses.
Read it all there.

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  1. Wouldn't it be nice, if parents said they were sorry to people near them when their kids' noise or kicking the back of your pew, not being told to stop, had wrecked their prayer at Mass?

  2. It all relies on parents understanding that for many of the elderly present, just hearing what is said when no children are present is almost impossible. Age = impaired hearing and vision, and even Holy Mass is a challenge. Add to that a child crying or moving around significantly on the pew, and this will mean Mass will not be heard. This may be for some their last Holy Mass. It is necessary to be extremely considerate of others when you bring your child to Mass. The child should be old enough to be quiet, or if not, you should be considerate and responsible enough to quietly remove your child if they become too noisy. This is Common Sense and Manners 101.

  3. Your comments on the liturgy were especially relevant to the discussion, Dr. Shaw. The other thing to consider is that children will only refrain from receiving Holy Communion in the Roman Church; in the Eastern Catholic Churches, children receive that Sacrament from the time of their baptism as infants. This gives a different context as to why children are there. We must always strive to remember that the Catholic Church is not synonymous with the *Roman* Catholic Church.

  4. You are absolutely right, Kathleen. It's not the children who are the problem, it's what we as parents have turned them into. Of course, children should be at Mass, but parents should be respectful towards other members of the congregation. It is hard to see this happening in today's culture, but there are families who still seem able to keep their children quietly engaged during Mass, or take them out for a short break. The sad thing is that people seeking some solace and meaning in the liturgy are seen as anti-child miseries! There is no understanding of the sorrow a disrupted Mass can cause. Sad days, that have only recently become commonplace.

  5. Doesn't Fr. White believe that the Mass is a propitiary sacrifice offered up for the living and the dead (the living including children presumably!)?; does he think that those who don't receive Holy Communion cannot benefit from the Mass?-It sounds as though his theology should be under scrutiny, not the children.