It’s about welcoming

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | May 10, 2022

I received the wedding announcement happily earlier this year. Then I read the “adults only” part.

No children at weddings — ceremony or reception — is a growing trend. It escalated with COVID-19 because weddings had to be smaller. Not inviting children meant more adults in limited spaces.

I know children are noisy, messy, get bored and, if really young, seem to cry at the worst time. And “a children-only table” is another expense for an already costly reception. I am not here to criticize this “no children” practice — even though some might find it unusual, since the wedding rite in the Catholic Church asks, “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his church?”

Having children and adults together at any event is challenging — even Mass. However, upon reflection, I wondered if being less welcoming of children at events like weddings and funerals contributes to why so few adults attend Mass regularly.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reported that, in 2021, only 17.4% of Catholics attended Mass weekly, down from 23.4% in 2015.

Yes, COVID was a factor. For a time, churches closed and attending Mass was dispensed. People have been slow to return since dispensations were lifted. In September 2020, a CARA study found that 36% of Catholics ages 18-35 said they planned to attend Mass less frequently when COVID stay-at-home orders ended.

In December 2021, the international Catholic newsweekly The Tablet, published in London, reported on a survey, commissioned by the Iona Institute of Dublin,, that found 23% of respondents did not intend to return to Mass after COVID. The Tablet said that represented a 12% drop in Mass attendance in two years.

But COVID only accelerated an ongoing drop in Mass attendance. In 1970, CARA’s study showed 54.9% of Catholics attended Mass weekly. That dropped to 30.8% in 2000 and 17.3% in 2021.

When I was a child of 6, my grandfather died. I was not allowed at the funeral Mass. Only after my grandmother intervened, was I allowed to see Grandpa in his coffin. I’m glad she did. Before that, I imagined lots of odd things, including: “Was Grandpa a skeleton?” “Had his skin fallen off?” And “What does ‘dead’ look like?”

After I saw Grandpa, I felt better. Sad, but better. I understood more. I still didn’t understand death, but I could accept it was a mystery and not as scary.

Children understand mysteries better than we adults might think. According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2015, only a third of adult Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Yet, if you ask a child preparing for first Communion what the consecrated host is, most will quickly respond, “Jesus.”

Now can they explain transubstantiation or “body, soul, mind and divinity?” No. But they don’t have to. At that moment, they’re OK with the mystery, as long as they have an answer they accept.

Children ask lots of questions: “Why is the sky blue? Where does the wind come from?” But they are happy with nonscientific answers, as long as those make sense to them. “God wanted the sky blue” may work better than a mini lecture about sunlight, atmosphere and refraction. (At least until children get farther into school.)

If you don’t answer a child’s questions, what happens? They may ask again. Or get angry, cry or throw a tantrum. Maybe they’ll walk away.

While that may seem fine after 20 “why?” questions, is that what we really want in the end? What if they never come back? What if they don’t ask more questions?

And what happens when they become adults? Do they start asking questions again? Or do they stop caring? Or stop coming?

Certainly, we can’t blame all that on “no children at weddings.” Or on not welcoming families with children at Mass. Or people who say, “I don’t get anything out of Mass, why should I go?”

It’s not about answering all the questions, it’s about welcoming: questions, children and people who only come to Mass at Christmas and Easter.

Maybe, if we do, they’ll want to come back more.

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