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Q and A with Fr John Flader: The role of grandparents

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150 grandparents honoured at St Mary’s Primary School at George’s Hall in 2019. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
150 grandparents honoured at St Mary’s Primary School at George’s Hall in 2019. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Dear Father, you wrote that we grandparents should not baptise our grandchildren when their parents have not had it done. But what can we do then? I really feel for these beautiful children growing up without any faith.

Today, when so many parents are not attending Mass, in many cases not even praying with their children, and not having their children baptised, the role of grandparents is paramount.

There are many things you can do, especially when you look after the children or they spend the night with you when their parents are away.

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If you have a meal with them, it is only natural that you will teach them to say grace before the meal.

This will involve teaching them the Sign of the Cross, with the opportunity to explain a little about the Blessed Trinity mentioned in the prayer, and also about Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for love of us.

Naturally, you need not explain all of this in the meal, but you can tell the children you will do it afterwards.

In addition to explaining the Sign of the Cross, you can explain the meaning of the prayer of Grace itself: how God is a loving Father who has given us our life, our parents and grandparents, and this food, which we have received “from his bounty.”

And if you say the Angelus or the rosary, you can teach them the meaning of these traditional and much loved prayers.

If the children are staying over, when you put them to bed you can read them stories from a children’s Bible, or the lives of saints.

Children generally love these stories and they want to hear them again and again. And of course you can teach them some prayers to say before they get into bed, prayers like the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, etc.

You can teach them to thank God in their own words for all the blessings of the day and to pray for their parents and grandparents, and for their siblings.

A good prayer to teach them for when they go to bed or wake up is the prayer to the guardian angel, for which you can explain who the angels are.

And if you go to Mass, you can take the children with you, having instructed them in simple terms about what Mass is and why we go to it to worship God and to tell him we love him, to thank him for his many blessings, to ask him for favours, and to tell him we are sorry for our sins.

After Mass you can explain something about the readings, about what the priest said in the homily and about what Communion is.

Children usually love to be with their grandparents and so they will readily listen to you. You can pass on the wisdom you have acquired over the years.

Pope Francis, in an address during the year of the family on 11 March 2015, spoke about this role:

“We are able to remind ambitious young people that a life without love is a barren life. We are able say to young people who are afraid that anxiety about the future can be overcome. We are able to teach the young who are overly self-absorbed that there is more joy in giving than in receiving.

“Grandfathers and grandmothers form the enduring ‘chorus’ of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise sustain the community which toils and struggles in the field of life…

“How beautiful is the encouragement an elderly person manages to pass on to a young person who is seeking the meaning of faith and of life! It is truly the mission of grandparents, the vocation of the elderly. The words of grandparents have special value for the young. And the young know it.”

And always, you can pray for your grandchildren, and their parents. Again Pope Francis in that same address:

“The prayer of grandparents and of the elderly is a great gift for the church, it is a treasure! A great injection of wisdom for the whole of human society: above all for one which is too busy, too taken, too distracted.”

So yes, grandparents have a vital, wonderful role, a vocation as the pope says, in the formation in faith of their grandchildren. And, who knows?, when they grow up, your grandchildren may very well want to be baptised.

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