Monday 27 May 2013

The Disaster that is the Directory on Children’s Masses (DCM)

At children’s Masses I like to involve the youngsters as much as possible. They provide an introduction to Mass before the Penitential Rite; proclaim the Readings; announce the intentions for the General Intercessions; bring up the Offertory, serve the Mass and provide suitable music. I use the simple Canon (Eucharistic Prayer II) for ease of understanding, and the Collects of the Day which, pronounced with care, can be grasped by the children, especially if they are used as a focus for the preaching.

Sadly, in too many places, dramas and interpretative dance with bodily gestures is the order of the day for Mass with children. These ‘performances’ inevitably bring applause, showing we have moved from praising God to praising the children. Further, to facilitate the children being seen by the parents and the congregation, the sanctuary is used as a stage for those performances. This is disturbing because both the One who is adored (God) and the Holy Place in which He dwells (the Sanctuary) are given over to the praise of (childhood or teenage) man so that he may experience his importance.

Being honest in heart before the Lord, we have to say that we do not give the children God-centred worship: ad orientem is omitted because “the people want to see the priest”; reception on the tongue -or even just kneeling- is rejected because “it doesn’t feel consistent with our dignity”. Truly then, today’s celebrations of Holy Mass are focused on us, Divine Worship becoming the context in which we self-affirm and affirm one another. Something is very wrong when it does not occur to us that we are praising man in the context of Worship, and giving over God’s Sacred Space to man.

The damage however, does not stop at children’s Masses, the DCM also being used (improperly) for Masses with older youth up to 20 years old or more so that the same dramas, interpretative dance etc. are seen, even at Sunday Mass. I once had the embarrassment of seeing men in their sixties and seventies singing to the Advent wreathe “Candle candle burning bright, be for me an advent light...” It is uncomfortable to watch men (and women) of such an age engage in such things. Priests and Bishops too in their desire to be ‘at one’ with the children, can be found engaging in children’s songs and actions, as though they too require infantile instruction and supports. This is what leads me to say that unless the DCM is radically overhauled, I cannot see the sense of the sacred being recovered.

I support children’s paraliturgies making use of mime, drama and dance etc, since they have a way of engaging the youth, but we have to be clear that paraliturgies are more akin to acts of prayer and to devotion than to Divine Worship. If we make this distinction clear by excluding ‘performances’ from the Mass, we will give witness to the children that the Eucharist is –by nature- sacrosanct; that it is truly Divine Worship (worship offered to the Divine Father by the Divine Son and those baptised into Him). We will also be teaching them that praying at home (the excuse used by many not to attend Mass) cannot therefore substitute for the Mass. All we have to do then is make sure Mass is celebrated with reverence and solemnity rather than frivolity. Maybe then it will be experienced as unique, important and sacrosanct.

1 comment:

  1. Its amazing that we dumb down the liturgy for the children as though they haven't much insight, yet we give them quite solid information in science even at key Stage 1. We profess the capabilities of the children at OFSTED report time, but we say they need the liturgy to be play-acting. Come on Catechists and teachers, be consistent and rather than dumb down the liturgy, teach them what the signs and symbols mean so they can actively enter into it consciously, not playfully. Liturgy is a place to pray, not play.


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