|ROME, 5 APRIL 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: At many U.S. parishes there has been the practice of "Children's
liturgies of the Word," when, after the opening rites, the young
children leave to a church hall to have their own version of the Liturgy
of the Word. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the
children return to the church. In "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 60, it
says: "In the celebration of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the
Liturgy of the Eucharist are intimately connected to one another, and
form one single act of worship. For this reason it is not licit to
separate one of these parts from the other and celebrate them at
different times or places." Does this mean that such a practice of a
children's Liturgy of the Word cannot continue as it has been?
R.L., Lowell, Massachusetts
A: I do not believe that "Redemptionis Sacramentum" was referring to
this practice but to a grave abuse propagated by some groups in which
the celebration of the two tables, that of the Word and that of the
Eucharist, was carried out at different times and in different places
sometimes even separated by several hours and interrupted by other
The practice of separating young children, above all those who have yet
to receive first Communion, for a special Liturgy of the Word is an
entirely different case.
First of all, we usually are dealing with children who are not yet
obliged to assist at the Eucharistic celebration, and the special
Liturgy of the Word is more resonant of catechesis which prepares them
for full participation later and opens them to the treasures of
Second, and I would say decisively, this practice is legitimate because
it is actually foreseen in the liturgical norms.
The "Decree and Directory for Masses with Children" published by the
Holy See in 1973 speaks of this topic in Nos. 16-17 regarding "Masses
for Adults at which Children are Also Present":
"16. In many places parish Masses are celebrated, especially on Sundays
and holy days, at which a good many children take part along with the
large number of adults. On such occasions the witness of adult believers
can have a great effect upon the children. Adults can in turn benefit
spiritually from experiencing the part that the children have within the
Christian community. The Christian spirit of the family is greatly
fostered when children take part in these Masses together with their
parents and other family members. …
"17. Nevertheless, in Masses of this kind it is necessary to take great
care that the children present do not feel neglected because of their
inability to participate or to understand what happens and what is
proclaimed in the celebration. Some account should be taken of their
presence: for example, by speaking to them directly in the introductory
comments (as at the beginning and the end of Mass) and at some point in
"Sometimes, moreover, if the place itself and the nature of the
community permit, it will be appropriate to celebrate the liturgy of the
word, including a homily, with the children in a separate, but not too
distant, room. Then, before the Eucharistic liturgy begins, the children
are led to the place where the adults have meanwhile celebrated their
own liturgy of the word."
In later numbers this document makes other practical recommendations,
such as "It may also be very helpful to give some task to the children.
They may, for example, bring forward the gifts or perform one or other
of the songs of the Mass (No. 18)" and "If the number of children is
large, it may at times be suitable to plan the Mass so that it
corresponds more closely to the needs of the children. In this case the
homily should be directed to them but in such a way that adults may also
benefit from it." ZE05040521
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Children’s Liturgy of the Word [04-19-2005]
Regarding the piece on “Children’s Liturgy of the Word” from April 5, a
reader from Indiana asked: “My stepdaughter is mildly retarded and has
made her first Communion. She attends the children’s liturgy and then
receives Communion with the rest of the congregation. Is there a certain
age at which a person should stop attending the children’s liturgy and
remain with the adults?”
Normally the children’s liturgy is a catechetical
tool to prepare for reception of first Communion and to learn how to
live liturgy. Thus children should usually join with their families once
they have received first Eucharist or shortly thereafter.
However, there is no sharp cut-off age and in
some cases it may be pastorally wise to continue the children’s liturgy
for a while.
This could be, for example, to ease the
transition from one kind of practice to another; to conclude the
catechetical cycle before summer vacations thereby creating a natural
divide between the two stages; or for some other solid pastoral reason.
It could also, as in the case of your
stepdaughter, be advantageous to continue attending the children’s
liturgy due to special individual circumstances. The decision regarding
when to switch, basically lies in the hands of parents in consultation
with the pastor and the catechists.
In making the decision both the person with
special needs, and the overall good of the group, must be given due
There will probably come a time when the age
difference between the children and your stepdaughter will counsel
having her join the rest of the congregation while striving to resolve
her particular difficulties in some other manner.