Liturgy, Distraction, and Children


I would like to continue the discussion of children at worship by turning first to a conversation I had with a child outside of worship.

I was playing Legos with my 8-year old nephew.

Nephew: Uncle Tim, I want to show you Brickhead.
Me: Brickhead?
Nephew: Yeah, with the Brickhead talk show.
Me: OK.

[He takes a Lego character and removes its head.  He replaces it with a small 2 x 2 Lego brick.]

Nephew: Here’s Brickhead.  He has a talk show and all he says is, “Brickhead, Brickhead, Brickhead.”
Me: Really?
Nephew: Yeah, but that’s not why people watch the Brickhead talk show.  They watch the Brickhead talk show because of the commercials.

[He removes the legs of the Lego character and replaces them with a sloped Lego brick.]

Nephew: Now he is a vacuum cleaner and the vacuum cleaner commercials are very funny.

[He zooms the Brickhead vacuum cleaner in crazy patterns.]

Nephew: That’s hilarious.

[He giggles.]

Who among us would think that commercials for vacuum cleaners would be the reason to watch the Brickhead talk show?  I am not advocating chaos in liturgy but I wonder how many times I am at worship listening intently for “Brickhead, Brickhead” when I should be drawn to commercials.

When addressing the importance of right intention for sacramental validity, Thomas Aquinas wrote:

Although he who thinks of something else, has no actual intention, yet he has habitual intention, which suffices for the validity of the sacrament; for instance if, when a priest goes to baptize someone, he intends to do to him what the Church does. Wherefore if subsequently during the exercise of the act his mind be distracted by other matters, the sacrament is valid in virtue of his original intention. Nevertheless, the minister of a sacrament should take great care to have actual intention. But this is not entirely in man’s power, because when a man wishes to be very intent on something, he begins unintentionally to think of other things, according to Ps. 39:18: “My heart hath forsaken me.”  (Summa theologiae, III, q. 64, art. 8, ad. 3)

It is true that Scripture says on more than one occasion that believers are to love God “with all your heart” (e.g., Deut. 6:5), but Scripture also has it that God “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51).  Perhaps, then, there are times when “unintentionally thinking of other things” allows for renewed focus—an enriched focus—on worship.

In a few weeks’ time, we will hear again the summons in Joel 2:

Blow the trumpet in Zion!
proclaim a fast,
call an assembly;
Gather the people,
notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders,
gather the children
and the infants at the breast.

Surely, the presence of children here reflects the fact that redemption is God’s desire for all people.  More than that, however, the presence of each person old or young, tall or short, blind or sighted, nourishes each person. d0 Med

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