Childrens Liturgies Of The Word

by Jimmy Akin

in Liturgy

A reader writes:

Before the first reading our parish asks for children between kindergarten and 4th grade to leave the church for the Childrens’ Liturgy of the Word. They return during the Nicene Creed.

A couple of things bother me about this. I can understand the attempt to make the liturgy more understandable to children and if it were a priest conducting it I wouldn’t have a problem. But a layperson does the readings behind a makeshift altar – lectern, candles, etc. – and, basically, does what could be construed as a homily. I know a layperson can not read the Gospel or give a homily so it doesn’t seem proper to me for children as old as ten to be leaving Mass for a substitute liturgy.

The other problem is the disruption it causes in the church with 60 or so kids filing out of the church during the first reading and returning during the Creed.

Am I making too much of this or would you consider it a liturgical abuse? It seems to me that at least those that have received their First Communion should be expected to remain in church.

I’m not a big fan of such alternative liturgies of the word, myself. One parish I know has a particularly inept way of doing them: They have all the kids gather together and be escorted out while the choir sings "Let the children come to me. . . . Do not block the way," which is unfortunate for a couple of reasons:

  1. The children are being led away from Jesus’ Real Presence while the choir is singing about their being brought to him, and
  2. The musical setting has an eerie resemblance to the tune "Camptown Races," so whenever I hear it, I want to go "Let the children come to me. . . . Doo-DAH! Doo-DAH!"

That being said, such liturgies are currently permitted under Church law. There is a document (printed in the Sacramentary) called the Directory for Masses with Children that came out in 1973. Regarding these liturgies, it says:

Sometimes, moreover, if the place itself and the nature of the community permit, it will be appropriate to celebrate the liturgy of the word, including a homily, with the children in a separate, but not too distant, room. Then, before the eucharistic liturgy begins, the children are led to the place where the adults have meanwhile celebrated their own liturgy of the word [DMC 18].

Now, I’ve highlighted "and the nature of the community permit" because it indicates that the composition of some communities do not permit the separate celebration of the liturgy of the word for children. In my estimation, what they’re referring to is having enough qualified people available to lead a second liturgy of the word for the kids. That would include an extra priest or deacon to do the gospel and the homily. The DMC does not waive the requirement of an ordained person to perform these tasks, and so parishes where an extra priest or deacon is not available to do these liturgies do not have a composition permitting their celebration.

Thus as far as I can tell, it is a liturgical abuse to have a separate liturgy of the word for the kids unless a priest or deacon does the gospel and the homily.

You may also note that I italicized "currently" in saying that such liturgies are currently permitted. I did that because the Directory for Masses with Children is waaaay too loosey-goosey for the kind of liturgy documents that the Holy See is cranking out these days. Among other things, it gives virtual carte blanche for further, unnamed "adaptations"–all in the interests of the children, of course!

There is no way the current administration in the Congregation for Divine Worship would approve such sweeping permissions for chaos and stupidity in childrens’ liturgies. As a result, the DMC is ripe for revision, and I suspect that its current iteration won’t be with us much longer. If Arinze et al., continue in office for a while, I suspect that it will end up getting revised as part of the current revamp of the Roman Missal.

One last note: Lest someone try to justify the gospel and homily reading as a further approved "adaption," that won’t work. There are limits to what that clause can bear, and one of the limits is what Rome would be willing to sign-off on if asked. There is no way Arinze would sign off on laity reading the gospel and preaching homilies in front of children, so that dog won’t hunt.

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{ 16 comments }

Ruthann March 8, 2005 at 8:16 am

I will add my two cents and agree that the “Children’s Liturgy of the Word” should be abolished. What message does it give children when they are led out of Holy Mass to go hear watered-down versions of the readings with some (often untrained) layperson? If they need clarification of the readings, maybe there could be a bulletin insert that parents could use, or maybe the readings could be discussed in Catechism or religion classes. Furthermore, I believe that children who have made their First Communion have no business leaving the Mass.
At my parish we have such a liturgy at only one Mass. The children parade out, and because they have to go outside to another building, they have to put on their coats and hats, making a mighty commotion. They are parad back in well after the homily is over, usually during the Creed, and occasionally during the Eucharistic Prayer — once during Consecration.
Our DRE is due to retire soon and I am fairly certain that the person who will replace her will do away with a lot of her old “warm-fuzzy, stuck-in-the-seventies” ways. At least I hope so.
‘thann

dcs March 8, 2005 at 9:25 am

Maybe one could take children out of church to hear readings from the Douay-Rheims instead of the ::shudder:: NAB. 😉

Zhou De-Ming March 8, 2005 at 11:44 am

I always through that “Children’s Liturgy of the Word” was just Catholic’s trying to do Protestant Sunday School for the kids. In fact, I’ve heard CLW leaders refer to themselves as “Sunday School Teachers.” It seems to me to just be another example of Catholics (the leaders of this, not the kids) as wannabe Protestants. For the kids, a lot of times they come back with coloring and craft projects; why not just stay with their family in Church?

ukok March 8, 2005 at 3:33 pm

Our new(ish) parish priest has
initiated ‘Children’s Liturgy’ (as he refers to it)in our parish…my own children don’t participate in it…I wouldn’t stop them if they wanted to, but I don’t altogether agree with sending the children out of Mass to learn about the Word of God.
Personally, I think it’s my duty as their mother, to instruct them (though i’m rather inept)and to talk with them about the Mass readings and the Gospel message at some point after Mass has ended, and I believe that it is hugely beneficial for children to remain with the rest of the congregation, to follow the readings in the Missal and to participate in prayers that they would otherwise miss by leaving until the Liturgy of the Eucharist is about to begin!(the children of our parish, leave at the beginning of Mass).
In addition to this, I believe that it’s good discipline to learn ‘right off the bat’, the behaviour that is required and expected, the reverence that should be given to our Lord…this can’t be learned or taught as well from another building next door IMVHO.
Since our conversion as a family, to Catholicism, we have the delight of witnessing such beauty in the Mass…as a former Anglican whose children used to bore terribly easily at our old C of E (my son often would pretend to be comatose in the pew), my children have ‘come alive’…they experience a real joy of knowing that Christ is Truly present in the Eucharist, if during our conversion process they had been expected to go to Childrens Liturgy, this joy at participating in the Mass, may never have been given the opportunity to fourish.
apologies, i just realised how long this got!
God Bless.

Jimmy Akin March 8, 2005 at 4:24 pm

No prob. You were concise. It’s only when a person goes on for several screens that Rule 3 gets invoked.

Eileen R March 8, 2005 at 4:26 pm

It gets really appalling when you notice the confirmation class marching out with the children’s liturgy goers, because no one has pointed out to them that it’s time to grow up.

M.Z. Forrest March 8, 2005 at 6:52 pm

I’ve visited a Catholic and a Protestant Church that do this. I think this is a wonderful idea if it is for the edification of the children. I can see this for example at a Catholic grade school mass where no one would be able to take communion. Unfortunately, I think this is for the adults; having seen the evil stares the first several weeks as I got my 2 and 3 year-olds (now 3 and 4) to fully sit through a mass, I am convinced that this is primarily done so that the adults won’t be distracted.

Fr. Terry Donahue, CC March 10, 2005 at 1:22 pm

It is my understanding that the current liturgical norms _do_ permit lay people to proclaim the Gospel and give reflections during liturgies of the Word for children.
(1) In Masses with children and only a few adults, the Directory for Masses with Children explicitly allows for lay people to preach to children after the reading of the Gospel in certain circumstances:
“With the consent of the pastor or rector of the church, one of the adults may speak to the children after the gospel, especially if the priest finds it difficult to adapt himself to the mentality of children. In this matter the norms soon to be issued by the Congregation for the Clergy should be observed.” (DMC, 24)
(2) In Masses with children and adults, the Lectionary for Masses with Children indicates that the presiding priest presents the Lectionary to the “one who will preside over the liturgy of the word with the children.” (Lectionary for Masses with Children, 8). Certainly it would be preferable for that presider to be a priest or deacon, but I would submit that a lay person is permissible, given that they are permitted to preach to children in the above case.
For a more complete explanation I would suggest checking out the following Faith Fact from Catholics United for the Faith:
Children’s Masses: May Lay People Read the Gospel and Give the Homily?
http://www.cuf.org/faithfacts/details_view.asp?ffID=37
(3) Regardless of whether the Directory for Masses with Children is too “loosey-goosey” and might be changed in the future, it is still contains the liturgical norms governing these situations, as indicated in footnote 32 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2003):
“32. Special celebrations of Mass should observe the guidelines established for them: … for
Masses with children, cf. Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory for Masses with
Children, 1 November 1973: AAS 66 (1974), pp. 30-46;”
The Directory for Masses with Children also points to the creation of the Lectionary for Masses with Children:
“It is recommended, moreover, that the individual conferences of bishops see to the composition of lectionaries for Masses with children.” (DMC, 43)

Anonymous January 28, 2006 at 3:41 pm

If possible, a priest or deacon should read the gospel and offer the homily. In the absence of another priest or deacon, a lay person may read the gospel to the children and provide a reflection in place of a priest’s homily

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margaret Huggon February 3, 2006 at 2:18 am

Your contributers have some interesting views. Nevertheless,they display a surprising ignorance regarding the spiritual development of young children (cf Directory on Children’s Masses which points out the damage that can be done to children’s relationship with God if they have prolonged exposure to what they do not comprehend ) and an arrigance which disregards the experise of those who are knowlegeable in this area. The problem often lies with bad practice and lack of training of the leaders of teh Liturgy of the Word with Children many of whom areas ignorant about the nature of the experience as are your contibutors.

bill912 February 3, 2006 at 4:47 am

“They display a surprising ignorance…and an arrigance(sic) which disregards the experise(sic) of those who are knowledgeable in this area….many of whom areas(sic) ignorant about the nature of the experience as are your contributors.” Ignorance and “arrigance”, anyone?

Jackie Zerbe April 1, 2006 at 11:12 pm

I was recently called to volunteer my time to teach the Children’s Liturgy of the Word. I do so once a month. I’m sitting now and preparing for tomorrow’s lesson. The feedback that I have received from the parents of children 3-6 regarding this liturgy is that the children benefit greatly from learning the bible stories from someone who is prepared to explain the concepts, vocabulary, imagery and meaning to them in a language that they understand. Tomorrow we are speaking about God’s covenant. I am helping the children to relate to the word “covenant” by discussing the word “promise” and helping them to see that God keeps his promises to us and we are expected to keep our promises to him. The Gospel itself is John 12:24-25 which uses the analogy of grains of wheat to explain the death and resurrection of Jesus. We will be handling paper “grains” and turning them into stalks of wheat, as we talk about how seeds “disappear” into the ground and then reappear in different form. This will help them to understand the concept of resurrection which is the basis of Easter and we need them to see that Easter is not just about bunnies and eggs.
I see what I am doing as a valuable exercize not only for my own children who are 5 and 7, but for others’ children. I feel a deep sense of commitment to this work and to the good that it does in keeping children not only present at Church, but engaged.
I wonder how those, who criticize the Children’s Liturgy, would manage themselves in explaining the concepts in the Good Book to a young child? It is important to the future of our church that young children have the same chance as the rest of us to listen with their hearts and believe, not just out of habit, but from true passion and conviction.

Paul Dlugosz May 8, 2006 at 5:01 pm

I lead the Liturgy of the Word for Children in our parish. 2 Sundays a month we lead the children to a room in the attached rectory (unfortunately we have to troop through the altar area to get there). We are dismissed before the first reading, return after the Creed. I think I present the readings and mildly interactive “homily” in a way that is appropriate to the developmental level of the children. It is not a group sharing, but directed by an adult towards learning and actions that kids can put into practice. (Father’s homilies are about actions that adults can put into practice). But we have no extra priest or deacon, so this is done by a layman. I don’t want to do anything that is not in conformity to the norms of the Church. I am not sure what advantage there would be to have the children sit through homilies meant for another age group. (We don’t make the adults sit through homilies intended for children! Does anyone think THAT would be beneficial?)Occasionally the suggested outlines we are given bend towards Political Correctness, but I certainly present the Faith, ignoring the outlines as needed. In March 2005 Jimmy Akin mentioned that he thinks the Vatican might restrict these kinds of childrens liturgies to only priests or deacons. Has the Church made any statements? I certainly would accept the guidance of the Church. Jimmy Akin’s ministry is much appreciated across the board.

Stuart May 25, 2007 at 3:13 am

Why can’t laity read the Gospel? We can read it privately, so why not publicly?

Stacy October 12, 2008 at 6:35 am

I would like to make a comment on your thoughts of Children’s Liturgy. My parish also has this practice however, we have found a way of dismissing and returning the children so that it is not disruptive to the mass. The children leave right before the 1st reading (parish sings…Children go to hear God’s word)and they return during the collection. As for the readings, 1st the readings being read are supposed to be adapted children’s reading which are broken down so that a child could understand them, second the gospel reading can be done by a lay person when a priest or deacon is not available (it is not being proclaimed from the amboy) and as for the homily, it is not a homily it is a simple reflection where you discuss the children’s understanding of the what the readings are saying to them. It is nothing more then an opportunity to better explain and engage the children in the liturgy of the word. I do however agree that children who have received their 1st holy communion should not be participating, they are now full participants in the mass and should be present for the entire mass, besides, an 8 year old child should be able to sit and listen to the readings, and homily without difficulty. I believe that Children’s Liturgy is best when aimed at children aged 4-7.

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