Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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A Liturgy of the Word for children
by Father Jan Larson
(From the Nov. 12, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
It was in 1973 that provision was first made for children to leave the Sunday liturgy and go to another place for their own Liturgy of the Word. They would then return to the company of the adults before the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. Many parishes around the world implemented this provision, and in those decades a number of questions arose as to how best to celebrate these special children’s Liturgies of the Word. One of the needs that became increasing clear was Scriptural readings that were translated and arranged especially for children. This need was met with the publication of the Lectionary for Masses with Children, published for use in the United States in 1993.
Other questions arose as to what children would actually do once they gathered in a place separate from the adults. It is clear from the liturgical directives that this is a time for an official liturgical rite – a Liturgy of the Word – a part of the celebration of the Eucharist. It is not primarily a time for babysitting, or for telling stories about the lives of the saints, or for religious education. Neither is this a time for arts and crafts, and particularly is it not a time for games or playing outside. In other words, in no way is this a time-out from the liturgy. It is the liturgy.
The children’s Lectionary spells out the shape of this liturgy. Children first gather with the rest of the assembly to celebrate the introductory rites of the Mass. At the conclusion of the opening prayer, the priest may formally dismiss the children and their adult ministers to the place where they will celebrate their Liturgy of the Word. This may be done by presenting the Lectionary to the adult who will preside over the Liturgy of the Word with the children, perhaps with words of dismissal. The dismissal could be “Receive the book of readings and proclaim God’s word faithfully to the children entrusted to your care” or “My dear children, you will now go to hear God’s word, to praise God in song, and to reflect on the wonderful things God has done for us. We will await your return so that together we may celebrate the Eucharist.” At the conclusion of their special Liturgy of the Word, and before the liturgy of the Eucharist begins in the church, the children return to their families. Many parishes have discovered that there is less distraction in the assembly if the children return during the taking of the collection.
Again, it is important to remember that this is a time of liturgical ritual. Thus the Lectionary reminds us, “The Church’s liturgy is first and foremost ritual prayer. The liturgy of the word is neither a catechetical session nor an introduction to biblical history.... The Mass is not an historical reenactment of the events of salvation history and care should be taken not to give the impression that the Liturgy of the Word is a play. This is not to say that dramatic elements may not be used, e.g., the readings may at times be divided into parts distributed among the children; however the use of costumes, etc., is more appropriate in the context of other celebrations or services.”
As another Christmas season approaches, the Lectionary also advises, “Care should be taken especially at Christmas and during Holy Week and the Easter Triduum not to stage the various liturgies as plays. The Christmas Mass should not be presented as a birthday party for Jesus, nor should secular notions of Santa Claus be introduced into the Christmas liturgy.”
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)