Children's Liturgy of the Word

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Children's Liturgy of the Word


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 activities.

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 Scripture.

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 the homily.

"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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Follow-up: 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 weight.

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. ZE05041925

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