Children and Transubstantiation

Children and Transubstantiation

Diogenes posted the following excerpt from a pamphlet. It’s the type of thing we should be teaching in religious education and which I think I will be teaching next year.

From Elizabeth Anscombe, “Transubstantiation,” a pamphlet published by the Catholic Truth Society, London, 1974:

It is easiest to tell what transubstantiation is by saying this: little children should be taught about it as early as possible. Not of course using the word “transubstantiation,” because it is not a little child’s word.  But the thing can be taught, and it is best taught at mass at the consecration, the one part where a small child should be got to fix its attention on what is going on.  I mean a child that is beginning to speak, one that understands enough language to be told and to tell you things that have happened and to follow a simple story.  Such a child can be taught by whispering to it such things as: “Look!  Look what the priest is doing ... He is saying Jesus’ words that change the bread into Jesus’ body.  Now he’s lifting it up.  Look!  Now bow your head and say ‘My Lord and my God’” and then “Look, now he’s taken hold of the cup.  He’s saying the words that change the wine into Jesus’ blood.  Now bow your head and say ‘We believe, we adore your precious blood, O Christ of God.’”  This need not be disturbing to the surrounding people.

I knew a child, close upon three years old and only then beginning to talk, but taught as I have described, who was in the free space at the back of the church when the mother went to communion.  “Is he in you?” the child asked when the mother came back.  “Yes,” she said, and to her amazement the child prostrated itself before her,  I can testify to this, for I saw it happen.  I once told the story to one of those theologians who unhappily (as it seems) strive to alter and water down our faith, and he deplored it: he wished to say, and hoped that the Vatican Council would say, something that would show the child’s idea to be wrong.  I guessed then that the poor wretch was losing the faith and indeed so, sadly, did it turn out.

A commenter adds the following:

My 2 year old asked me what I was eating as I returned to the pew after receiving Holy Eucharist. “It’s Jesus,” I whispered. After that he would ask and then try to pry my mouth open and see. Then one Friday, after the concecration, he pointed toward the altar and said a couple of times, “See the baby.” I said “What baby?” and he replied, with an emphatic whisper, “He’s a King!” I have wondered if these two things are connected…

I will also add that one of my nephews said nearly the identical thing when he was much younger, talking about the “baby” on the altar. My nieces, Kateri and Chiara, are 4 and 2, but even they know how to genuflect and that Fr. Murphy is doing something special at the altar and Kateri prays all the prayers of the Mass very loudly, Amen, Alleluia, Lamb of God, and so on.

I’ve heard other stories about children knowing more than we think they know. I’ll let others post theirs in the comments.

  • I took my son Joseph with me to Eucharistic Adoration from the time he was two weeks old.  We would stop in for a visit when we passed our Church too.  One day, when he was four,  Joseph got two new matchbox trucks and wanted to take them to show Jesus, so we went.  He put them on the sanctuary step and told Jesus to come out (of the tabernacle) to play with him.  I didn’t see the tabernacle door open or anything but I really believe He did come out to play.

  • Henry Dieterich wrote a great piece on the Eucharist that relates a child’s ability to grasp what adults struggle with.

    “When I was in grade school, an atheist of tender years, Catholic children in the neighborhood preparing for first Communion used to tell me eagerly what they were learning. I, young fool that I was, scoffed at them, but I secretly admired their fervor. One little girl said it all: ‘It looks like bread, and it feels like bread, and it tastes like bread; but it isn’t breadble stories with the host”? 

    My older daughter has asked, “Daddy, why does Jesus live in the box?”  The best answer I could give was, “Because, he loves us.”  She seemed satisfied with that.

    It is quite a witness that they give to the others in the parish when the two of them walk in front of the tabernacle and genuflect.  Makes a daddy proud!

  • The best I’ve done is get my toddler to say grace. She’s almost 2, but for the last 6 months or so she says “Amen” at the end of grace.

    We’ve not yet gotten her to last to past the Gospel reading at Mass. It’s getting to be frustrating. I don’t know how the other parents keep their toddlers quiet during Mass. We’ve got a kid with a huge voice who likes to point to a painting of Madonna & Child yelling “Baby!”

    Oh well, gotta keep trying.

  • Perhaps the most egregious example of child abuse in this country is how we waste children’s mental capacity by assuming that their brains are similar to those of squirrels.

    As has been shown, children can learn ANYTHING that adults really want them to learn, including Latin…

  • Last Thursday I asked my students, the parents of 1st Communion kids who are learning along with their children, if any of their kids ever saw an angel as it is commoner than one would expect for them to see their guardian angels.  One of the parents said that she had taken her four-year-old to pray at the alter rail in our church.  When they got up to leave, her son waved and said good by to the alter.  She asked him who he was talking to, and he said, “Didn’t you see him?”

  • I was kneeling during the consecration with my then 4 or 5 year old son when he looked up at the now consecrated host and said, “Well, it’s not bread anymore!”  Needless to say, he was quite eager to receive his First Holy Communion. 

  • My 24 month old knows who Jesus is …he even picked him out from 10 feet away while looking at a Station of the Cross marker about 12″x 12”.

    As adults we need to focus on “why” Jesus did what he did, rather than get caught up as adults on analyzing “how” Jesus did what he did. Kids already do this..when you give them the “why” they are satisfied with that..and smartly so.

  • At age five, during the eucharistic canon, I once belted out the theme to TV’s Batman.  As Jack Handey says, the face of a child can say it all.  Especially the mouth part of the face.

  • A friend of mine, who follows no particular religion, had twins. Neither she nor her husband ever taught the girls the word “God”. However, when they started learning to say words, very early my friend found that her kids would point to any religious symbol, of any faith, and shout out “God!”. They figured out Jesus pretty quickly too. When I would visit, one of the girls would invariably sit in my lap and spend several minutes playing with my cross and saying “God!” and “Jesus!”. Mary was a bit confusing for them. They knew it was something religious, but had a hard time understanding that my Mary medal was not “God”. They KNEW it had something to do with God, but telling them that she is the mother of God, and not God, was just too confusing for them.

  • I found that when my children were very young, sitting in the front row with them so that they could see everything that was going on was a much better idea than sitting in the back so that they could be taken outside should they get antsy.  They never got antsy in the front row.  One week we arrived a little later than we usually did and ended up sitting about five rows back.  My daughter, who was about three at the time, was squirming around every time we stood.  There was a rather tall man right in front of her.  I picked her up so she could see better, but she still kept twisting about, trying to see even better.  At least she wasn’t making a fuss, so I just held her every time we stood.  When we were leaving the church, I remarked how squirmy and squiggly she was that day.  Her response was that with tall people standing in front of her like that, she couldn’t see the angels very good.  I asked what angels she meant, thinking she was looking for favorite statues and paintings, and she said, no, she was trying to watch the angels standing all around the table.  I’d never mentioned anything like that to her; I was totally speechless when she said that.


  • Oops, sorry, I should have mentioned that this incident happened at Mass… excuse but that I’m just home from work and soo tired wink

  • Meep – do keep trying! We’ll pray for you! Don’t forget to ask her guardian angel to help her, too.

    Every now and then, when I see a family with a little one having a “hard day” at Mass, I’ll often try to go over and tell the mother afterwards, in a non-condescending way, “I just wanted to tell you that I liked hearing your child during Mass, because I remember something my mother always told me, that the children are the future of the Church, and it’s good to hear them.” I mean it, too, my mother’s always said this, and it has always made me smile and I never find it irritating to hear children in church, and the mom always lights up and smiles big at this. Of course, I’ve held each of my (so far) four nieces through Mass, so I know how it goes!

  • I’m speechless.  This thread is awesome.  Oh if we all had the faith of these children.

  • I take my children (12 & 8) to Mass with me.  The battle rages in my house, since my wife is anti-Catholic.  When I returned to the faith in 1998, she threatened to leave.  It’s an on-going battle, and 5 different priests have told me to tread lightly, not try to bulldog the point.  Well, many years ago, in trying to convince my wife to allow the children to be baptized, she said only when they turn 13.  Well, my daughter is about to turn 13 and I asked if she was ready to “make the leap”.  She said “Yea, I mean, what else do I know?”.  She said this because mom is a protestant, albeit a non-church going protestant.

    Quietly, subtly, and although not officially, my kids *are* Catholic.  We pray almost every night together and say a Hail Mary for the pope.  The seeds are being planted, as these priests advised me, by ME being Catholic and by praying with them and taking them to Mass with me. 

    My children, understand – and have from the beginning – that Church is NOT a place for be fooling around and acting up.

    Of course, I always told them ahead of time that if they acted up I’d crack their skulls, so that probably helped too.  :o)

  • I read this thread with much interest yesterday.  My wife picked me up from work at 5:30 last night.  We decided that my 2 year old son was such a good boy yesterday that he would get a hamburger from Wendy’s for dinner.

    On the way we drove past one of the parish churches in our town.  We always say “Hello Jesus” when we drive or walk past a Catholic Church—our son sometimes does it when we forget. 

    So, here we are driving past the church, and just as we are, the thought pops into my head that I should tell my wife about how some kids refer to the Eucharist as “baby”.  At that very moment that pops into my head, my son says out loud, “Hi Jesus, Hi God, Hi Mary, Hi baby”. 

    He has never said that before.  I was stunned. 

  • Paul, you are an inspiration!  With your steadfast example, you’re wife will probably enter the Church very soon. I will remember your precious family in prayer today.

  • I think that Second graders can learn not only the meaning of “Transubstantiation”, but even the word.  In fact, as a DRE, I teach it myself at the First Communion retreat.  They love learning something that their parents most likely don’t know and being able to share it with them. 

  • “Oh if we all had the faith of these children.”

    Well, once many of us did. And then we “grew up”. I do remember how it was to me. I didn’t see angels, but I wrote letters to God (most of which involved nuclear war.)

    Thing is, as a kid, I wanted to know why girls couldn’t be altar servers or priests. And no one could tell me when I was a kid. I know now. So there are some benefits to being an adult in the faith, even if somewhat superficial. The obedience part is easier for me now.

  • meep,
    sounds to me like your toddler is just using different words to exuberantly say “Hi Jesus” when she yells “Baby!” I’m sure Jesus doesn’t mind. I know I love it when I hear young children being enthusiastic at mass. I think of those places in Europe where there were no kids at mass (like Ireland) and am glad to hear their joyful noise.