|photo from http://catholickey.org/ )|
Sadly, most parishes are not helping parents with this piece. Interaction with parents of young children after baptism is one of the most-neglected areas of ministry in parishes today. The basis for young children's participation and understanding of the Mass actually begins with liturgical catechesis for youth, young adults and candidates for marriage. If parents participate fully in the Mass and make the effort to teach their children to do so as well, it makes a difference - for the experience of both parents and child.
Failure to do that is possibly one of the biggest reasons families don't go to Mass. Although we tend to blame it on the culture, sports and other distractions, many parents admit it's because they don't want to fight with their kids about going to Mass. Of course Mass is "no fun" when you sit on the sidelines and only marginally understand what is going on and why. Some families go anyway, but don't seem to be fully present. As a cantor facing the assembly, I have seen quite a few families in which neither parents nor teens sing, say responses or do anything other than sit, stand and kneel, all while staring straight ahead with a bored expression. (Happily most at least do the Sign of the Cross, say the Our Father and participate in the Sign of Peace.)
More than simply helping kids to participate, though, helping then to make real-life connections so they understand the meaning of the Mass is even better. (File this under things I wish I had understood better 25 years ago!)
Dan Gonzalez, a father of two, creator of The Mass Explained app for iPad and author of The Mass Explained blog has just posted this great explanation of what he is doing with his own children. He has also posted the priest paper doll for learning about vestments, the first of 10 art and activity lessons for young children on the Mass, to which he will add to each week of the summer.