A Language of Sound and Silence: Sensory Building Blocks to Engage Kids in the Mass
Not long ago, the little son of a friend of mine made a grand discovery: His Echo. Unfortunately for my friend, he made this discovery in Church. Each time they went to mass, her little tyke would sit patiently, waiting for a good quiet moment to let out a whoop and hear it bounce back to him from all around! Even more unfortunately for my friend, a good quiet moment often came during the Consecration.
Not the kind of participation his parents were going for…
This somewhat inopportune discovery could certainly be a source of frustration. But in a very real way, it was his first step to understanding that the sounds of his church were different than the sounds of his house. The noises, quiet, music, voices, and yes, even the echo… these were all sensory building blocks to his journey of learning the unique language of the sounds of the Mass.
When we only understand parts of a language, we can only participate in parts of a conversation. Just so, the depth of our engagement in the Mass can be affected by a limited understanding of the language going on around us. The Sacrifice of the Mass calls us to bring our whole selves to God, body and soul, senses and understanding. And our speaking and listening, our sounds and silences, are a huge part of that. It’s true that the music at our church may not be to our children’s taste (or our own, for that matter). It may also be true that there are plenty of sounds to distract from the Mass itself (a swooping bat at my home Cathedral comes to mind). But beyond all our preferences, finding the core of what these unique sounds of the liturgy are communicating, of God or to God, can break through our distraction, indifference, or annoyance to engage us on a whole new level.
Sometimes it can be a struggle to keep our kids from distracting everyone around us, let alone to help them avoid getting distracted themselves. There are many things that can distract our kids during the Mass, and some of them are beyond our control, but some of them we can help. As you seek to engage your kids in the Mass, let them in on the special language of the sounds and silences of the Mass. Why do we praise loudly at some parts and keep complete silence at others? Why is there a different style for sacred music than for popular music? Why is there always an “Alleluia” chorus before the Gospel is read? Why does the priest chant some words, and whisper others? Why might bells be rung? Why is there a time of quiet after everyone has received communion? All of these sounds and silences are imbued with deep meaning, sharing something special between us and God. You may be learning right alongside your children, and that’s okay! The more your kids come to understand the meaning of these sacred sounds and silences, the less bizarre or boring Mass will become, and the more they can come to lend their own voice to praising and loving God in the Mass.
On this feast of St Cecilia (Nov. 22), who lent all her voice and all her heart to the Lord, help your kids find their own voice in Mass by exploring this language of sacred sounds and silences together. And in finding their own voice in the context of this language, they may also discover the voice of another, speaking tenderly to them in this special celebration of encounter.
Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life,
form yourself in me,
that I may see with your eyes,
smile with your smile,
and love with your heart.
Mary, our Mother, Teacher, and Queen,
pray for us.