CAFE: Communicating with your child about the Mass

CAFE stands for Catholic Adult Formation Experience. Our RE Office strives to offer monthly opportunities for parents/guardians to gather together to deeper their knowledge of our faith and provide resources and tools for family spiritual development. This post covers the resources and discussion we had at one of our Sunday morning CAFE of the year. The topic was: how to communicate with our child about the Mass.

The adults who attended this CAFE began the morning by breaking into teams to answer questions about the Mass. We then moved into a teaching piece where the following topics were addressed:

  • Faith as a second language. It’s important to realize that our religious tradition has its own language, rites and rituals. As Catholics we are called throughout our lives to familiarize ourselves with our faith language and pass that language onto our children. For example, what does the word Mass mean? Grace? Atonement? Eucharist? Why do we cross ourselves on forehead, lips and chest before hearing the Gospel? What does the Nicene Creed say? What is the Gospel story, “The Road to Emmaus” about? Our faith language is one of the building blocks of our faith life.
  • Your experience of the Mass? Many of the adults in the room shared their positive feelings about the Mass – it is a peaceful, joyful, contemplative, meaningful experience.
  • Your child’s experience of Mass? Many of the adults in the room shared that their children would describe the Mass as confusing, boring and long.
  • We asked – if you could ask one question about the Mass, what would it be? The questions asked predominantly about why certain aspects of the Mass had changed from when we were children, such as the use of bells and incense. We shared that the core elements of the Mass – prayer, readings from Scripture or storytelling, Eucharist, collections for the community and those in need – have remained the same since the earliest Christians, even though we may express those components in slightly different ways throughout the centuries. Further, different cultures elevate different traditions surrounding the Mass (ex: the bells are rung three times to remind us of Peter’s betrayal) so what you were taught as a child may have been a cultural tradition more so than a Church-wide teaching.

Questions Your Children Ask

We then asked you to share with us questions your children have about the Mass. Questions included:

1) My child does not understand the readings that are read each week at Mass – what can I do to help her/him?

Our primary suggestion is to visit the Holy Family Bookstore and purchase a missal. A missal is a liturgical book to be used by laypeople (non-ordained persons) that includes all of the readings of the Mass for the liturgical year. Children’s missals are also available and recommended. You can even purchase a missal for your smartphone. Your child can then follow along with the readings being proclaimed at Mass, or your family can read the readings beforehand and discuss them. In the same way that you prepare before your child’s sporting event through practice, etc, your Mass experience will benefit from preparation.

2) My child does not understand why she/he is not able to receive the Eucharist (or “Jesus cracker” – this made us giggle) yet?

Children, like all people, love to be included, so it can be difficult for your child to understand why she/he is unable to receive the Eucharist until she/he has completed two years of sacramental preparation. One way to explain it to your child is to ask him/her about the various ways they prepare for other important celebrations in their lives such as birthdays, Christmas dinner with the family, etc. Important events take prior work and the Eucharist is the most important (the source and summit) part of our Christian life so it takes extra special preparation.

For your own knowledge, the Church teaches that children reach the “age of reason” around seven years old. This means that by this age children are able to discern the difference between right and wrong actions (and thus can participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation). This also means that children are able to understand more fully than they would at a younger age that while the bread and wine still look and taste like bread and wine, that they have transformed into the body and blood of our Lord. The preparation process takes two years because that is the minimum preparation time for our Archdiocese – in some parishes in Los Angeles children participate in three years of preparation prior to receiving the sacraments.

3) My child struggles with the violence of the crucifixion and I don’t know how to talk to her/him about it.

If your child is in first or second grade you must remember that, developmentally speaking, they are concrete thinkers. So it is not uncommon to hear questions like, “Well, who killed Jesus? What were their names? Why would they do that?” and want specific answers. As adults, we understand that the answers to those questions are complex and multifaceted. When speaking with children on this and other difficult subjects, our best advice is to draw from their current knowledge and experience. For example, we talk to children about sharing – that Jesus came to teach us how to live and one of the most important things we can do is share (if you have two coats, give one away, etc) but that there were people who didn’t want to share what they had. And there was arguing between the people who wanted to share and the people who didn’t. And the people who didn’t want to share were embarrassed and upset and thought the best way for them to not be embarrassed anymore about not sharing was to make the person who was calling them to share go away. And they made a horrible choice and decided the only way to make him go away was to kill him. This way of explaining it gives you the opportunity to talk about the unconditional mercy and forgiveness of our Lord, who forgave these people even on the cross. Remind your children that Jesus’ death, while deeply troubling, is not the end of the story. Emphasize the resurrection as a sign of hope and joy for all.

We cannot escape or wash over the violence of the crucifixion. Jesus died the way common criminals of his time were executed and it was an excruciating death. However, while children are curious at any age, it is important for us to shift their gaze from the violence of his death to the hope of the resurrection. Jesus’ death is an example of the great sin in the world and his resurrection shows us that such sin can be overcome. As your children grow and develop you can discuss with them in more detail the reasons surrounding Jesus’ death.

We closed our conversation by watching the video “Close Encounters with the Mass” – which is available on DVD & VHS in our RE library and can be loaned out to your family. It is a short video in which a child, confused about the Mass, receives a special visit from an angel, who draws the parallels between the Mass and special family celebrations.


These resources are drawn from the United States Council of Catholic Bishops website and were distributed as a handout to attendees. We invite you to click on the links below and read these resources, which will give you ample information to continue growing the faith language of your family!