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Celebrating the Word with Children
CHILDREN’S LITURGY OF THE WORD
The Directory for Masses with Children states: Sometimes…, 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. (# 17)
Some parishes do just this and have what is called a ‘Children’s Liturgy of the Word’. The children leave the assembly after the opening prayer and process to a separate area to celebrate a liturgy of the word that is more appropriate to their age level.
While some have embraced this practice with enthusiasm, others have expressed serious reservations. This is because two different principles come into play here.
On the one hand, we need to heed the warning given in the Directory for Masses with Children that spiritual harm may be done ‘if over the years children repeatedly experience in the Church things that are scarcely comprehensible to them’ (DMC 2).
However, children do not, and do not need to, understand everything going on around them. In fact they are often fascinated by adult conversation and activity that is beyond their comprehension. Growing-up is a gradual process of growing in understanding of the world around them.
In addition, the church is not an Adults Only institution! It includes people of all ages, abilities and circumstances. It is important for children to worship with adults and for adults to worship with children.
The first word of the paragraph quoted at the beginning is ‘sometimes’. Perhaps it should say ‘occasionally’. A Children’s Liturgy of the Word is best celebrated monthly at most, and not at all during the high seasons of the liturgical year, so that children can still regularly experience celebrating the entire Mass with the parish community.
Some parishes successfully use strategies such as special newsletters for children to help younger members of the community engage with the scripture readings at Mass.
The purpose of Children’s Liturgy of the Word is to familiarise the children with the patterns, gestures and responses of the Liturgy of the Word so that gradually they can participate more fully in the adult Liturgy of the Word. It’s aim is not to keep the children busy so the adults can listen to the homily in peace!
The children do what the rest of the community does. They hear the scriptures proclaimed and explained and respond in prayer, action and song. The book of readings used is the Lectionary for Masses with Children. As far as possible the readings follow those in the Lectionary for Mass but the simplified language is easier for children to understand.
A liturgy of the word is never simply a verbal experience. Just as in adult liturgy, the use of symbol, colour, gesture, movement and singing heightens the children’s experience of the transcendent.
A worthy place of celebration, a Lectionary which is attractive and handled with respect, and the scriptures proclaimed well all convey clearly to the children the sacredness of God’s word and influence how they accept and live by it.