Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Rant on 'Children's Liturgies'

About a year ago I was asked at short notice to cover the Sunday Mass in a certain parish. (Being a smaller parish there was only one Mass) I duly obliged and arrived in good time to prepare the Mass - not knowing what the set up was at that parish. As soon as I arrived I was told by the sacristan that the Mass had a children's liturgy dimension incorporated into it. Immediately my heresy/litrugical abuse radar switched on and began to imagine what such children's 'participation' might entail.
Cautiously I enquired as to what format this participation would take - only to be told that at the beginning of Mass the children would leave the Church and go to an adjoining room for some catechetical activity with a number of adults. I was suitably not impressed. I thought to myself: "How unlucky that I should have to cover this parish on this particular Sunday'. Further enquiry revealed that this happens every Sunday.
So as I walked out on the Sanctuary and spoke the opening greeting. Then - 'extra omnes' under 8 years - and the Mass continued. I waited for the children's return - but to no avail. I thought after the homily surely - no! Maybe at the offertory they would come bearing gifts - no! Surely in time for the Consecration - but no, still no sign of these to whom the Kingdom is promised. Finally just after the purification of the Sacred Vessels and just before the Concluding Prayer of the Mass - a small crowd of children began to gather at the back of the Church - holding in thier hands various little drawings. And so the procession began and I was presented with a blaze of colouring amidst the smiling admiration of so many contented parents. And what must have appeared to be a broad smile on my face was actually gritted teeth!
Every Sunday these children are extracted from the public worship of the Church to do catechesis. Now catechesis is a wonderful thing - indispensible - but these children don't get to attend Mass. As for the adults who give of their time for this catechesis - well that is to be commended, and one hopes that they attend another Mass, because they certainly haven't attended this one.
As you may guess by now - I am not a fan of 'children's liturgies'. While I have no problem adapting the Mass suitably to a lower level of comprehension for the children (though I avoid the Eucharistic Prayers for Children like the plague) by addressing them in the homily and acknowledging their presence and activity (catechetical work and art done outside of the Mass), I am a firm believer in giving the children a lived experience of liturgy in the family of the Church - something which children's liturgies sacrifice for the sake of ???? (I'm not sure of the purpose actually - babysitting??).
And when those children reach the age of 9 or 10 or 13 and it's no longer 'cool' to colour some pictures of Jesus the Good Shepherd, will they have an experience of the Mass which will keep them interested, engaged and present. Will they have been given the chance to participate in the Holy Sacrifice fully, consciously, and actively in the truest meaning of that term - i.e. by prayerful engagement with the Sacred Liturgy as best as a child can do that. If Mass is presented to them as something fun and entertaining for so many years and they don't actually get to experience it properly - what happens when they reach an age when it's no longer fun, no longer entertaining? What will hold them then?
I left that Parish that morning with the words of Our Saviour ringing in my ears: "Let the little children come to me." How sad that in too many parishes they are kept at bay during one of the most priviledged and profound encounters with Christ any of us can have this side of the grave.
End of Rant


  1. Dear Father,
    First of all, thank you for your beautiful blog. I have been following it since its beginning. Your post for today is interesting.
    I am a Catholic mom of six. I teach fourth grade at our Catholic School and also volunteer for the Elementary Religious Education program at our Parish. My fifteen year old daughter began volunteering to assist at our Parish's Children's Liturgy of the Word. What you describe above is not what Children's Liturgy of the Word is all about. The children are excused by Father right after the Introductory Rite and return immediately following the Homily. The children (ages 4 through 7) hear the Gospel for that Sunday and discuss its meaning. Yes, an activity is completed... but the activity is always meant to further the child's understanding of the Gospel and to lead the children to a deeper love of Jesus. (No, Father, not always a coloring sheet) :)
    I usually just read your posts. I could almost 'feel' the anger in your rant. It bothered me enough to comment. Please just know that not all Parishes run their Children's Liturgy of the Word the way that you described.
    Jesus, I trust in You!

  2. Praise God that there are parishes like yours. And sorry if it came across as anger. What I really feel is a sense of frustration. Keep up the good work.
    In Christ,

    Fr. B