Father and I have recently had conversations about the Children’s Liturgy. With Father’s agreement, I thought I would write a post about what was shared in those conversations by ourselves and others.
Children’s liturgy is prized by some people and disliked by others. Certainly the intention in devising such a liturgy was good; it sought to help children hear the word at a level and in a format which would help them to grasp the message, but such Liturgies are not without problems.
The most obvious problem is that by taking the children out of Mass we divide the community, yet the idea that we can segregate part of the community is surely erroneous -I wonder how many would be happy if it was being promoted that since the feminine mode of learning is different that women should hear the word apart from the rest of the community? Separating the children from the rest of the community is just as inappropriate as segregating women.
A second problem is that while we promote parents as the principle educators of their children, we yet remove their children from them at Mass for what is, in fact, a parallel liturgy. Parents are thereby disenfranchised and given the subliminal message that catechesis of their children is the responsibility of others. Certainly the example of life that parents give is of critical importance, but the faith is lived and taught by deed and by word, and parents need to be primary in both fields.
Related to this is a third problem in that the children receive no example from their parents on how to conduct themselves in Church. This is especially true when the children return to Mass full of procured energy, since parents then spend much of their time trying to keep their young children settled, often resorting to giving them toys –or worse, food- to keep them still and quiet.
A fourth problem is that Children’s Liturgy can degenerate into a ‘performance' when the children spend time learning a song or sketch to perform, since these inevitably draw applause and turn the congregation from adoration of God to praise of the children. School Masses are often paradigms of this performance-style worship with participation deteriorating into mere activity, with situations where a class of 20 each “do their bit”: one introduces the Mass; there is one child for each stanza of the psalm; one for the Gospel Alleluia; four bringing up the gifts; a dozen or so offering ‘Bidding Prayers’ and others doing a final reflection, all to ensure that “everyone has something to do”. This is problematic because Children’s Liturgy is supposed to prepare children for integration into regular liturgy, yet performing sketches and involving as many as possible means children find the regular celebration alien to them; describing it as “boring”, i.e., not entertaining.
Father noted a fifth problem occurs when the altar is misused as a display board with children coming back into Church with a ‘Freeze’ to attach to the front of the altar with bluetack (perhaps it is this that led to the phenomena of sacristan ladies sellotaping the cloth to the altar?). Father said he has asked teachers, catechists and sacristy ladies in all his appointments if they would treat their dining table at home in the same way, and always received a rather cold reply of “that’s different Father”. He has always replied “I entirely agree: a table is just a table; the altar is sacred.”
Some will defend children’s liturgy, but others might add to this list of concerns. Indeed, as with Youth Masses, Children’s Liturgies have not kept the younger generations of the last forty years faithful to Mass and the Sacraments.
Do we employ a Children’s Liturgy in our parish? We do, and we too used to colour pictures, but we stopped doing so when the children said they “miss the Colouring Club” at Christmas and Easter when it does not take place. One or two of the catechists said they focused on this because some children were very young, that is, under five, so we also reserved participation in Children’s Liturgy for children aged 5-10.
Further, our format aims at imaging the Liturgy of the Word. We begin with the Sign of the Cross and Greeting in the Church before the children leave; once in their own room they examine their conscience, say the Kyrie and Glory be, listen to the Gospel and a short reflection, complete a simple word-search based on the reflection, and recite a simplified Creed and Common Prayer. We make all of this available as an entire page in our weekly Bulletin so that children who no longer come to Mass may be inspired at home. What we do may not satisfy all, but as Father says, “We are talking about the Liturgy of the Word in which God speaks to man, and not about a colouring club or a crèche.”