The Children’s “Liturgy”
What is a children’s “liturgy” service? Essentially, a children’s “liturgy” is when the Mass is paused and the children (depending on the parish is broken up into different age groups, but for this post we’ll assume between the ages of 3 and 10), get up from their pews and walk outside of the actual Church where Mass is being held, so that they can have the daily readings (First, Psalm, Second and Gospel) read to them, and then given a “homily” that they can understand. Or, in short, this:
Now, this sounds all good and dandy, after all, don’t we want our children to understand what is going on at Mass? But what kind of a message does this send to the children? Above all, what do the children get from their parents when they are sent away (usually, this is at the parent’s disgression).
What is the Liturgy of the Word? The Liturgy of the Word is broken up into several parts. The First Reading is generally read by a Lector and taken from the Old Testament. Following the First Reading, we have a Psalm, generally sung by the Choir and led by a Cantor. After the Psalm, the Lector resumes his (or her) post and reads the Second Reading, which is generally an Epistle from the New Testament. After this, the priest or deacon will read the Gospel, taken from one of the four Gospels. Then the priest or deacon issues a homily (or sermon) and tries to tie the readings all together so that we lay people can understand them, and draw inspiration from them in order to better live our Catholic faith.
It seems fairly simple, no? Well, there are rules in place for who is to say what part. But, don’t take my word for it, let’s see what the Congregation for Divine Worship said in its 2004 letter Redemptionis Sacramentum (emphasis mine):
“Within the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of the Gospel, which is “the high point of the Liturgy of the Word”, is reserved by the Church’s tradition to an ordained minister. Thus it is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it … The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, “should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.” (paragraphs 63-64)
So, let’s refresh ourselves here. According to the CDW, only the Priest, Con-celebrating Priest, or Deacon is allowed to read the Gospel or give a homily. If this is the case, then why are we entrusting lay persons or those not ordained to the priesthood or diaconate this responsibility that is in no way, shape or form given to them? This to me seems to be a great scandal as it causes confusion among the laity. The Church makes it very clear what is and what isn’t allowed, so why do we let this occur? If Joe Somebody from the pews got up and started giving the homily, this would be a liturgical abuse. How come we disguise this Children’s “Liturgy” up with a nice name and throw around Liturgy as if it was a play word and it makes it okay? It doesn’t.
Needless to say, it seems ironic in my mind that we fight a culture that constantly attacks and berates the family, and the Church, who is supposed to be the first most defender of the family, is permitting the family to be divided during the pinnacle of our faith as Catholics during the celebration of the Mass.
Going back to the argument that it better helps the children understand the liturgy is a fallacy. It doesn’t help them better understand the liturgy as it becomes “play time”. There are two reasons for this. The first most, is that children, despite what we keep being told, want to be like adults when they grow up. See, in case you forgot, when you were in elementary school, you couldn’t wait to go to middle school. When you got to middle school, you couldn’t wait for high school. High school came and you wanted to be in college. College came and then you wanted to be working. Now we work as adults and all we want to do is be a kid. If you remember when you were a kid how much you wanted to be a part of the adults table, you’ll see why a Children’s “Liturgy” makes no sense. You are basically telling the children, sorry, you are too young to understand this, go over there. Before you disagree with me, re-read this paragraph.
The second point is that, let’s look at how, oh, I don’t know, the Church operated for the last 2000 years before there was the idea of a Children’s “Liturgy”. The Mass, for those of you who have either forgotten or were born after the 1960s, was said in that ancient and archaic language known as Latin. Yet, with the arguments we hear today that we need a “child-friendly liturgy”, you would think that there was no possible way that the Church could have possibly survived for so many years, after all, so many people were uneducated and didn’t understand Latin and had no understanding of what was occurring at Mass. Oh, wait. They did. In fact, there isn’t a single Saint that celebrated the Mass in there native tongue (except maybe St. (Padre) Pio). There was no Novus Ordo. Yet, somehow, the Church survived…and thrived. Think about it. Your grandparents went to Mass in Latin. They practiced their faith despite this. So why did it take 2000 years for us to come up with the idea that “hey, kids need a kids ‘mass’!”?
Children want to be treated like adults. To ignore this basic fact of life is an insult to intelligence. Kids want to take part of whatever the adults do because its cool to be an adult. This is the problem with most of the teenage-friendly programs that are so popular in the Church today as well. This is best saved for another post, but in short the issue is this.
We tell teenagers that the faith is too complex for them to understand and grasp at their age, so let’s sing Praise and Worship songs that appeal to emotions and make you feel good. However, this doesn’t prepare them for the hardships that our Catholic faith will lead them to experience. If you are practicing your faith properly, you will get dry runs in which you feel nothing. This is when your faith shines and we teach our children and teenagers that if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it…hedonism at work. This is probably why 85% of teenagers who are Confirmed leave the Church within 5 years. It isn’t convenient, it doesn’t feel good, so why bother?
Another reason for the Children’s “Liturgy” is that “Parents can listen to the readings and homily without being distracted”. Yes, I have heard this reason. Go ahead and reread that. The idea that simply sending the children off will allow for no distractions is naive. Why? Because there are always going to be distractions during the Mass due to our fallen human nature. Your children may no longer distract you, but my children will, what your friend across the church is doing or not doing, who’s at Mass and who isn’t, what I’m wearing or not wearing, and the list goes on and on and on.
What we should be working on, is instead of trying to break apart the Mass to eliminate distraction, we should have a Mass that is beautiful and tranquil, one that is going to suck us in by its mystery and beauty. This is something that the Traditional Latin Mass allows and accomplishes.
The Mass isn’t about our entertainment. It is about the glory of God. Anything that we change in order for us to be entertained, draws away from God and puts the attention (whether it be intentional or not) on us. We go to Mass to honor Our Lord and to worship Him. We focus on the sacrifice of Christ in order for us to have redemption, to be able to have life everlasting. But too often, we think the Mass should be “entertaining” and that if we aren’t having a fun time, then it isn’t worth it and the Mass is boring and we need to change it. There will always be moments in which we struggle with this, but the Mass is where we give up our selfishness to focus on what should matter in our life, Jesus.
In short, the Children’s “Liturgy” is an excuse. Plain and simple. Instead of shipping the kids off, lets allow parents to take responsibility for raising their children and teach them the importance of the faith, instead of having the attitude of “its the Church’s job”.
Thanks for a thought provoking post. I think it is important to bring into the conversation the parts of the Roman Missal which concern children and ‘Children’s Liturgy.’ Any discussion about the topic is insufficent these are knocked off the table. http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/children-s-liturgy-of-the-word–2
One important thing to note is that the ordinary reader/preacher of any children’s liturgy would be an ordained minister. Of course, this rarely happens, but it is interesting to note.
Personally, I would prefer to have my children with me during the normal liturgy for many of the reasons you mentioned. However, if people are adamant about having children present for the whole liturgy, then they also need to be extremely understanding of kids and that means tons more noise…and not hearing all of the sermon. Kids do want to be grown up in some sense, but they mostly want to do what they want to do. And that means talking, walking, eating, coloring, droping toys, crying about not getting what they want, etc. I am all for having crying kids (within reason) in Church with everyone else, but tons of people who love beautiful liturgy complain the most about kids (I’m not saying you, Jeff).
So, I agree in large part, but it is also important to understand why the Church allows what she does and also to make allowances for it. But it is also important to realize that what is put into practice is often not really what the Church intended in the first place.