‘Mundane ritual’ for children
Each time we go to Mass, my 6-year-old son, Luke, would always ask me this question: “Daddy, how many percent?” What he means is, how many percent until the Mass is over. So I would answer him, “Twenty-five percent.” Or, “Fifty percent.” Or, “Ninety-five percent.” Depending on my answer, he would either frown and complain because there’s still a long way to go before the Mass is done, or he would light up and exclaim because it’s almost over.
For him, Mass is a chore. An hour is too long for him because it means an hour of standing, sitting still and listening to words he doesn’t
understand. Sometimes we would make it interesting for him and his 4-year-old sister, Lizzy, by explaining certain parts of the Mass, or particular concepts that are central
to the Eucharist and the Catholic faith. At times, they’d respond with questions like, “Why did you eat Jesus?!” Or, “Does God have a beginning?” Or, more recently, “Why is God not made?”
But, more often than not, the Mass for them is nothing but a mundane ritual—something that people just go to
every Sunday for some reason. Theology and philosophy don’t fascinate them yet.
After the priest’s final blessing, though, Luke would always ask me if he could light candles outside the chapel. His face would brighten up and he and his sister would run to the candle racks, pick up some sticks, and start burning the wicks. That’s the only thing that fascinates him about going to church—the act of burning the sticks to ignite the candles’ wicks. In short, he’s just like any other boy his age—he likes to burn things up!
But, as trivial as it may seem, we have never dissuaded him from it, because we see it as an entry point for discussing the faith with him and his sister. The liturgy, transubstantiation, Big Bang Cosmology, etc., are, of course, still too “out there” for them to grasp. But sticks, candles, fire—ah, those are things they can see right away; those are things they can feel, touch and smell. Those are things that are palpable, immediate, and no less beautiful and attractive than high-level theological and philosophical concepts. There’s as much theology in lighting candles and praying as there is in genuflecting inside the church. In fact, isn’t fire a perfect metaphor for faith? It’s something that burns, is beautiful, and is passed on to others.
After he’s had his fill of candle-burning, I’d always whisper to Luke, “Are you done lighting them? Now it’s time to pray.” And he’d close his eyes and pray.
DANTE CUALES JR.,
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