QUAERITUR: Children “playing Mass”

From a reader:

Is it ok for a child to pretend to say Mass? After reading the following post and its comments I was beginning to be concerned (HERE).
I looked it up in Canon Law and saw similar things.

Obviously it would be OK for an innocent little boy to pretend to “say Mass” in his room, but what about a boy who is older than the age of reason and already receiving the sacraments (12, 13, 14)? Obviously they will grow out of it at some point or another, but as long as they know that it isn’t real and are just playing, not actually trying to consecrate hosts, and are not trying to convince anyone that it is real (and aren’t doing it publicly, just in their room) would it be alright and not incur this “interdict” described in Canon Law? If I recall correctly, don’t you have to be at least 16 to incur an excommunication?

In my opinion, it looked like the norms were aiming for those who “celebrate” Mass publicly, trying to convince others that it is real, or, think that it is real. Is that right?

Of course the norms were not aimed at children “playing” or “pretending” to say Mass.  They are aimed at adults who scandalize the faithful and commit a sin by simulating a sacrament.

As far as the age is concerned, parents ought to be watching carefully how and what their children do at every age. If a child is getting older and starts to really think he is saying Mass, that is a deeper problem.

Also, I would discourage girls from ever doing this.  (Yes… yes… I know that under other entries some have said they did this and the world didn’t crumble into ashes.)

Bottom line: Provided everything is done with the respect and care, it is okay for little kids to “play Mass”, although … I can’t imagine it is too fun to play “Novus Ordo”.

This reminded me of a photo someone sent of himself as a child playing Mass.

Reason #1556578 for Summorum Pontificum.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Faith says:

    Lighten up. It’s play.

    We’ve had this discussion before re: girls playing the celebrant.
    I point out the fact that I frequently played cowboys and Indians as a child, and grew up to be neither.
    Also, once you give the child the offertory collection basket, and tell them to go collect the money, that’ll be end of playing priest.

  2. Darren says:

    I tried to play mass, but I could never get my friends to be serious about it. I even made a processional cross out of tinker toys!

    My parents were probably saying, “maybe he’ll grow up to be a priest.”

    I used to play with bugs too, and I never grew up to be an entomologist (but now, I wish I did)


  4. sullibe says:

    This is how my now 23mth old learned to walk. He was leading the processional with a book in his hand, one of his other three siblings carried a broom as a processional cross and the other two walked behind with books, all singing. When he’d fall, he couldn’t resort to crawling (he was LEADING and he had a book in his hand) so he’d get back up and keep at it. They processed all over the house.

  5. Shellynna says:

    Faith, I’m someone who ordinarily becomes annoyed with Traditionalist sentiments, but in this case I agree with Fr. Z. Just as I would discourage a boy from playing at being crowned “Miss America,” so I would discourage a girl from playing priest. Boys and girls should learn that there are some forms of play that may be innocent, but also may be inappropriate. That doesn’t mean a parent needs to become unglued about it. Redirection for preschoolers and an age-appropriate talk for young schoolchildren (ages 5-7) is all that is necessary.

  6. Centristian says:

    “I can’t imagine it is too fun to play ‘Novus Ordo’.”

    You’ve got to be joking. Having grown up in the 70s and early 80s the “Novus Ordo” was all we knew as kids and when we played Mass (on the rare occasion that we did) it was hysterical. We imitated the voices of the priests at our church, gave ridiculous sermons, and used tambourines and guitars (played just as badly as at Church since we were all equally talentless) as we sang the idiotic folk hymns in vogue at the time (which, sadly, are still in vogue at some parishes). At “Communion” we took turns being “eucharistic ministers” and distributed Necco wafers as “hosts” and grape juice as “wine”.

    Now, I’m not saying any of this was at all seemly or decorous, but it can’t be said that it wasn’t fun. And it had to be more “fun” than playing Tridentine Mass. Playing “Latin Mass” there are no funny sermons, no folk songs, you don’t get to shake a tambourine, and you don’t get no grape juice, baby. What exactly do the kids playing the congregation at “Latin Mass” get to do, after all? Now if we’re talking about kids playing Confirmation in the old rite…that’s another story.

  7. APX says:

    This reminded me of a photo someone sent of himself as a child playing Mass.
    The intense nature of “play Mass” seriously makes me wonder if that kid ever did become a priest. He’s got all the bells and whistles.

    I know growing up as a young girl, I never played Mass pretended to be a priest. No, instead my friends and I used to play “Communion” and pretend to be EMHC’s. Oddly enough, I’ve never had the desire to be an EMHC, nor would I ever.

  8. priests wife says:

    I agree Shelly- redirect a girl who plays the priest part. Any part (cantor, lector, congregation) but that

    I have three girls and one boy. A lot of their play revolves around princesses- so he could feel left out. I suggest he is the prince, saving the day, etc, etc.

  9. Our boys played “priest saying Mass” as well…and our girls never had the desire.

  10. disco says:

    That kid in the picture is legit with all that stuff. He’s probably better equipped than some sacristies….

  11. aladextra says:

    I’d never let my girls play priest, any more than I’d let my sons play with dolls or dress up as a fairy princess.

  12. Huxtaby says:

    I only hope that he was wearing a maniple so that no kittens were harmed! :)

  13. Maltese says:

    @Centristian: LOL!

    This photo also reminds me of some of the Novus Ordo priests I’ve seen pretending to play priests.

  14. Centristian says:

    “That kid in the picture is legit with all that stuff.”

    Not quite, disco; something’s rotten in the State of Denmark. Four altar candles and two candleabra for Low Mass? I suspect he may be a Polish National Catholic…unless, of course, he was planning on having Benediction immediately after singing a Missa Cantata.

    He does make moderate use of flowers on the altar, so that’s good, but the crucifix resting directly on top of the tabernacle is a no-no. I don’t see any altar cards, either. And no maniple! Wait a minute…this kid isn’t playing Tridentine Mass at all; he’s playing Ordinary Form ad orientem! That would explain the lectionary stand in the foreground!

    Okay, it all makes sense now. Fine young man.

  15. apagano says:

    My son (4) is concerned that the little boy in the picture is wearing Gold vestments. He said that the little boy should be wearing white, and that maybe he just doesn’t know that it’s wrong. But that maybe it is Easter or Christmas, and he didn’t have white vestments….. I think he was also a little jealous of all the stuff the kid had.

    On girls playing Priest. That’s a big no-no in our house. Our 3yr old gets to receive ‘holy communion’ (Melissa and Doug pizza toppings) at our child gate from her brother and also to be the ‘Blessed Imelda’ girl during processions. They have a blast!!

  16. Nora says:

    I remember “playing mass” (more or less – I had an old missal and had attended maybe 2 masses ever) I was a 4th grade girl, desperate to get out of the Presbyterian Church and trying to understand the Eucharist (and a whole bunch else). The only way I could think to get my head around my questions was to do the work and see what I learned from it through prayer. Perhaps had I been Catholic at the time, I would have been sufficiently informed to know that there was something amiss about a girl “celebrating mass”, but we are talking the 60’s and a child whose main exposure to the priesthood was the terrifying Monsignor Kearney. Playing mass was quite fruitful from my context however; the week that I did that every night remains vivid 45 years later.

    Having parented a long time, I am all for re-direction and distraction, but I also know there are a lot of benefits to intentionally not noticing some things, so as to avoid having to either condone or condemn.

  17. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    As a psychologist, I can tell you that one of the functions of play is to “try on” various adult identities (read: careers or vocations). That is why, if I were to have a male child aged 7 or below who wanted to “play Mass,” in the role of the Celebrant, I would encourage him. I might even make him an altar or vestaments as in this charming photograph. He might be a future Priest. However, I would make sure that he knew that he was only playing Mass, not celebrating it. “Johnny, it’s beautiful that you want to play Mass. But remember, Johnny, when you play Mass like this, it’s just for fun. Only grown up men who are ordained Priests – like Father So and So can say Mass for real.” That said, I would even play Mass with the child, as the congregation. I would not, however, allow a female child to play Mass as the celebrant.

  18. xgenerationcatholic says:

    I’m embarrassed to admit I did play mass once, and I’m female. The wierd thing is that my parents and grandparents were the “congregation.” They probably thought it was cute. But I never, ever served as an altar girl, and never wanted to, either. And I never, ever thought I could become a priest.

  19. Stephen Matthew says:

    I find the entire “playing mass” idea rather strange. It was certainly not a known play time activity among those of my aquaintance, and I have never met anyone who has any experience of this. I only ever heard of the idea in recent times on the internet. Somehow the idea of playing with holy things seems foreign to me, but then I am more than a bit odd in some aspects of my outlook, so perhaps it is just me.

  20. Daniel Latinus says:

    I used to play Mass myself when I was a little boy, and over the years I’ve heard of kids doing this. (IIRC, even a pope or two did this when he was a child.)

  21. mamajen says:

    My three year old loves going to actual mass but hasn’t really expressed much interest in pretending to be a priest at home. However, I recently gave him a children’s missal that we were reading together, which prompted him to want to pretend he was at church. He wanted me to be the priest while he sat in the “pew”. I tried to explain that ladies aren’t priests, but he doesn’t understand that yet. I certainly felt weird about pretending to be a priest, but I wasn’t sure whether to insist against it or continue to let him pretend. Thoughts?

  22. everett says:

    One of my friends who is now a priest regularly played mass as a child. Apparently he made his siblings be his congregation and would start his homilies over if they interrupted or weren’t paying attention.

  23. Supertradmum says:

    Um, we played Tridentine Mass and I was the priest, as my brother was practicing his responses to learn to be an altar boy and I had to do the priest part, being the only one around at home except one baby at the time. The boys had to practice on their own in those days-1955-56. I wore my brother’s brown robe like a Franciscan in the missions. We had stories of the Jesuits in their garb, so I figured that was ok. I would put a rosary on the belt. I never once thought I would be a priest nor wanted to be one. It was play and practice.

    After my son made his First Holy Communion at age six, he stopped playing Mass, as it became more solemn and real for him and he did not want to play Mass then. Well, he is working his way to being a priest, so something was good about all that. Play is good. I also played cowboys and Indians, but when I was really young, I thought I could grow up to be an Indian-thought it was a job. We lived across The River from a Sauk-Fox annual pow-wow. I was about five. I found out it was not a career opportunity and switched to wanting to be an airline stewardess on a rocket ship to the moon. I was very creative, but never even crossed my mind to be a priest-no!

  24. czemike says:

    I love the quote “Provided everything is done with the respect and care, it is okay for little kids to ‘play Mass’, although … I can’t imagine it is too fun to play ‘Novus Ordo’.”

    But it got me to thinking: if they were playing Novus Ordo, how could they possibly know if they are doing it right?

  25. albizzi says:

    I have 5 kids. Three of them are married. The younger is 24 y.o.
    They recently told me that their cousin Benoit loved to play mass and often they played together (with him being the priest). For example they simulated the burial of a rat (!) with my daughter playing the rat’s widow. Another time there was the baptism of the cat (!).
    Very innocent and childish.
    None of my kids had a religious vocation, but Benoit became an excellent organ player and he started a very good choir in our parish that sings all sunday an feast masses.

  26. Dustin and Jamie P. says:

    My oldest son just participated in a play Latin high mass this last Sunday in honor of Mary. It was done extremely reverently, and under no pretense that anyone was actually consecrating hosts. It was done by 9 boys (ages ranging from 4-15), 6 of whom are regular servers for the Latin mass we regularly attend. The “high mass” was attended by the boy’s families and a few friends. Several of the boys have been making plans to go to seminary together for about a year now. I think this is healthy for boys who are interested in pursuing (or desire to follow the call of God) Holy Orders. We need more traditional and conservative priests, and the only way we are going to get this is by not squelching a child’s desire to follow the whisper of God.

  27. Johnno says:

    I did this as well. My little sister served, and stuffed animals made up the congregation. We used round banana chips for communion.

    It’s all well and good. They ought to encourage young boys who do this to consider a vocation.

    You know how we have French immersion schools and all that? Maybe we could try having Religious Vocation Immersion schools, huh? It could be awesome…

    Now, moving on to that one time I play pretended to be the Head of the Inquisition…

  28. snoozie says:

    one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen……thanks for that Father.

  29. andreat says:

    Our son played Mass regularly when he was 3-4 years old. He made a thurible out of an onion bag, used a broomstick for a processional cross, wore a red paintsmock shaped like a Roman chasuble and had my husband and I walk in processions singing the Kyrie. We didn’t realise how much he was taking in at Mass until following Confirmations he started sitting on a chair and putting a teatowel across his lap for a gremial veil.

  30. anna 6 says:

    Andreat…what a clever little boy!

    Benedict 16 tells the story of how his grandmother made vestments for him and his brother when they were little boys so that they could play mass…and how they accidentally set their sister’s braids on fire with a candle in the process.

  31. oddfisher says:

    My sister and I (both girls) played “Mass” when we were children. That was pre-Vatican II, and nobody read anything dire into it. I’d be curious to know how many people who object grew up post-Vatican II when these things seem fraught with significance.

  32. gloriainexcelsis says:

    In 1941, my classmate, neighbor and future sister-in-law and I recited the responses of the Mass for her older brother. We were 10; he was 13. He wanted, from an early age to become a priest. His father built an altar in his bedroom. He seriously practiced saying Mass. We girls did not move the missal or go near the “altar.” We did read our missals and read the responses – in Latin. Having been in parochial school since first grade, learning to read from our missals, singing Latin hymns in a children’s choir, this was not difficult. The brother entered the minor seminary at age 14, as soon as he graduated from elementary school, which was the norm in those days for boys who aspired to the priesthood. He became, in the end, a wonderful Dominican priest.

  33. ejcmartin says:

    What I would like to know is, if it is okay for my five year-old to pretend to be a monk and roast coffee?

  34. APX says:

    I just had a flashback to grade 3 religion class when we were learning about the sacraments, specifically marriage. We had a mock wedding ceremony. While I was the blushing bride, and some guy was the groom. I remember some girl being the priest. I didn’t think about it at the time. I was more concerned about the “kiss the bride part” as we all know, boys have cooties.

  35. justin1 says:

    I remember when I was little doing the same thing. The funny thing was, the toy chest (makeshift Altar) was also a bench, with a back to it–so Mass was “said” (persay) Ad Orientem, before I even knew what “Ad Orientem” was. lol

  36. Hadn’t heard the B16 story before! Awesome! (Well, not for their sister Maria so much, but fire accidents will happen.)

    This is an ancient thing. St. Athanasius famously played baptism with his little pagan friends at the seaside.

  37. Puts me in mind of this adorable picture of a kid at an ordination.

  38. Kathleen10 says:

    I’m often impressed by how much you all seem to know about the different kinds of Holy Masses there are, and related information. I know so little!
    I sure hope this kid became a priest. He looks so legit. Don’t you wonder what he’s doing today?

  39. Random Friar says:

    I also “played Mass” dozens of times as an adult… as a transitional deacon waiting for priestly ordination (it looks easier from the pew!). Catholic actors are also allowed to “play” priests celebrating Mass. Acting as if it were sacramentally and substantially real is a whole ‘nother ballgame.

  40. ContraMundum says:

    What exactly do the kids playing the congregation at “Latin Mass” get to do, after all?

    I’m thinking that playing “excommunication” with the bell, book, and candle would have been loads of fun!

  41. irishgirl says:

    Miss Anita Moore-that picture was so cute! Looks like it was somewhere in Europe.
    And I never heard of the ‘play Mass’ story as told by our Holy Father Benedict XVI-poor Maria! I bet she was none too happy with her two brothers!
    I don’t know if anyone heard of a little boy in southern France called ‘Le Petit Gilles’. I have a book about him which I got from a French-Canadian priest friend in 1993. This little fellow was a mystic of sorts, and he had his own little chapel at home, with altar and vestments to boot! He died very young; and I know that when I was visiting my priest-friend in ’93, we drove past the cemetery where Gilles is buried.

  42. Gail F says:

    Fr. Z you have to give ejcmartin a gold star for today!

    I would not redirect a girl who played priest unless she did it more than a couple of times. Plenty of little boys have played at girly things a few times without being encouraged to do it and paraded on Good Morning America. A few times is nothing, don’t get worked up about it! That said, no one I know ever played mass at all, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. All kids are different, and some do a lot more play-acting than others.

    The boy in the picture looks like he is dressed up for some sort of official Church thing, not as if he’s playing. I know some Church education programs have try-on vestments, just as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program has the kids (boys AND girls) set up miniature altars and do the gestures of the mass. I have taught this program and the young children, who are at an age to absorb learning gestures and prayers, LOVE setting up the miniature altar and then putting things away.

  43. Johnno says:

    It’s kind of ironic when you realize that many grown up men and women we often discuss here also continue to ‘play pretend masses’ all the time. Except unlike the kids, they and their followers are actually convinced they are actually having a mass. So sad…

  44. DD says:

    My sister and I used to put our bathrobes on backward and play Mass. Our dad ( a carpenter) carved a little altar, on which we placed statues of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We never aspired to become priests– we just loved the Mass.

  45. discipulus says:

    My younger brother used to do this all the time. We have since moved and the pretend altar was dismantled. I think he has also outgrown this as well.

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