Sunday, 11 May 2014
The New Translation of the Eucharistic Prayers for Mass with Children
I see that the CTS has published the new translation of Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children -the advert for which proclaims these have “more frequent acclamations all set to music for more active participation of the children”. Oh dear. I shall have to comment on that regrettable note...
First off I have to say I believe “Children’s Masses” are not good things per se, primarily because they dumb down an already chopped-down Roman Rite. Indeed, since liturgy forms and informs us, “Children’s Masses” should be of the highest quality and, as the Directory says, a preparation for participation in the community Mass. Sadly Masses with children are often replete with ad-hoc additions: dramas and dances, pre-recorded music, Collects written by the children and scripture readings chopped up between several readers for the sake of “leaving no one out”. Such celebrations do not prepare children for adult liturgy at all; rather, they form them in a mind-set in which the liturgy can be manipulated; in an attitude that as long as the basic structure is followed, anything goes.
To be honest, a simple presentation of the Missanormativa using a children’s lectionary, with simple Mass settings and the use of Eucharistic Prayer II (EPII), is quite sufficient for the forming of children in the liturgy. Yes this is a simplified ‘adult’ Mass, but it is the only way to prepare them for participation in adult Masses. It does them no harm to omit the ditty-type songs, dramas and parade of children for the readings. After all, the so-called ‘Tridentine Mass’ formed children for centuries without any adverse effect –in fact to very excellent effect in that those children learned to value the Mass as a sacred encounter with God and not as a celebration of the community’s giftedness by the community itself.
The same success has not been seen with the dumbed-down Masses we have seen in schools and youth ministries for the last forty years. It is a simple fact that although thousands of children and youth who have gone through the doors of our schools and youth services the lapsation rate from as young as school year 6 continues to rise. The youth are simply not being brought to a point where they put the Gospel and the Eucharist at the centre of their lives. Often, they are seeking the same entertainment-style liturgy in parishes that they had in schools and youth ministry; they simply do not know how to engage in God-centred worship.
As for the regrettable note referred to above, I see two problems. The first is the “more frequent acclamations”. Such use of acclamations give the impression that Mass is a concelebration of the congregation with the priest. This is a serious theological error, and may well give rise to the request for more acclamations by the people in the adult form of Mass. It is seriously wrong because while all present offer the Victim (as we were reminded by Pope Pius XII, cf. Mediator Dei  #92, 93) the consecration of the Victim is specific to the ministerial priest whose in persona Christi role in the celebration is unique. We must avoid all appearance of being co-consecrators if the liturgy is to remain an authentic expression of the community’s “cohesion and hierarchical ordering” (IG #91).
The second problem is equating saying and doing with participation in the Mass. I have written about this before, noting that there is a difference between participating in the liturgy and participating in the Mass. To participate in the liturgy means to stand, sit, kneel, and respond as the liturgy requires. It is primarily an external thing, though not exclusively so; the mind and heart should be engaged too. But it is easier to engage the inner man in a sacred silence wherein heart speaks to heart in undistracted manner. As the Instruction on Sacred Music notes, “participation should above all be internal” (Musicam Sacram, 1967, #15[a]).
Participation in the Mass, which is Christ’s Self-offering, comes with that interior disposition wherein we offer ourselves to the Father through Him, with Him and in Him; submitting our will to His and offering Him all that we are, say and do. We focus on the wrong thing if we focus on saying and doing. The man who cannot speak or move because of a stroke yet has his heart and mind focused on the Mass can be taking part far more actively than the man who leaves his guitar to the side for a moment so as to read or assist with the distribution of Holy Communion.
If the Eucharistic Prayers for use with Children are to have a truly useful role they must form children in such a way that they come to value the normative Rite in its integrity and not as something open to manipulation. As it is, many of the things admitted into children’s Masses have crept into parish liturgies, for example dance, pre-recorded music and the like. These are not authentic to the liturgy, yet they are accepted and approved by many –including Rectors, Parish Priests and Bishops who thereby fail to exercise control over the way the Missal of Paul Vi is celebrated.
If the newly translated Eucharistic Prayers for Children have the children’s voices popping up all the time during Mass we will only be forming them to think they are concelebrating, while dance, drama and pre-recorded music et al, will form them in the idea that we may engineer the normative Rite to suit personal preferences. For myself, I will continue to celebrate children’s Masses with EPII and a simplified, children’s lectionary. By this, and with the children making the normal responses, acting as readers and musicians, as offertory bearers and altar servers, practical participation will not lacking, and the Roman Rite will remain intact.