ROME, 28 JULY 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: My children attend a Catholic elementary school. On Wednesdays the school celebrates the Mass, using the children's liturgy for the coming Sunday. The idea is that it allows the children to learn about the Sunday Mass so as to allow more full participation. Is it appropriate to celebrate the Sunday liturgy on the preceding Wednesday in this school setting? — J.K., Naperville, Illinois
A: I think that the 1973 Directory for Masses with Children addresses this topic quite well.
In its chapter on "Reading and Explanation of the Word of God" it says:
"41. Since readings taken from holy Scripture 'form the main part of the liturgy of the word,' even in Masses celebrated with children biblical reading should never be omitted.
"42. With regard to the number of readings on Sundays and holy days, the decrees of the conferences of bishops are to be observed. If three or even two readings appointed on Sundays or weekdays can be understood by children only with difficulty, it is permissible to read two or only one of them, but the reading of the gospel should never be omitted.
"43. If all the readings assigned to the day seem to be unsuited to the capacity of the children, it is permissible to choose readings or a reading either from the Lectionary of the Roman Missal or directly from the Bible, but taking into account the liturgical seasons. It is recommended, moreover, that the individual conferences of bishops see to the composition of lectionaries for Masses with children.
"If, because of the limited capabilities of the children, it seems necessary to omit one or other verse of biblical reading, this should be done cautiously and in such a way 'that the meaning of the text or the intent and, as it were, style of the Scriptures are not distorted.'
"44. In the choice of readings the criterion to be followed is the quality rather than the quantity of the texts from the Scriptures. A shorter reading is not as such always more suited to children than a lengthy reading. Everything depends on the spiritual advantage that the reading can bring to the children.
"45. In the biblical texts 'God is speaking to his people ... and Christ is present to the faithful through his own word.' Paraphrases of Scripture should therefore be avoided. On the other hand, the use of translations that may already exist for the catechesis of children and that are accepted by the competent authority is recommended.
"46. Verses of psalms, carefully selected in accord with the understanding of children, or singing in the form of psalmody or the Alleluia with a simple verse should be sung between the readings. The children should always have a part in this singing, but sometimes a reflective silence may be substituted for the singing.
"If only a single reading is chosen, the singing may follow the homily.
"47. All the elements that will help to explain the readings should be given great consideration so that the children may make the biblical readings their own and may come more and more to appreciate the value of God's word.
"Among such elements are the introductory comments that may precede the readings and that by explaining the context or by introducing the text itself help the children to listen better and more fruitfully. The interpretation and explanation of the readings from the Scriptures in the Mass on a saint's day may include an account of the saint's life, not only in the homily but even before the readings in the form of an introduction.
"When the text of the readings lends itself to this, it may be helpful to have the children read it with parts distributed among them, as is provided for the reading of the Lord's passion during Holy Week."
With respect to the presidential prayers it says:
"50. The priest is permitted to choose from the Roman Missal texts of presidential prayers more suited to children, so that he may truly associate the children with himself. But he is to take into account the liturgical season.
"51. Since these prayers were composed for adult Christians, however, the principle simply of choosing from among them does not serve the purpose of having the children regard the prayers as an expression of their own life and religious experience. If this is the case, the text of prayers of the Roman Missal may be adapted to the needs of children, but this should be done in such a way that, preserving the purpose of the prayer and to some extent its substance as well, the priest avoids anything that is foreign to the literary genre of a presidential prayer, such as moral exhortations or a childish manner of speech."
I am presuming that the children involved are in the age range foreseen by these norms, that is, in or around the age for first Communion. The norms for children's Masses are not applicable to pre- and early teenagers who are subject to the same norms as adults.
As can be seen, the above texts allow for a great deal of flexibility with respect to the prayers and the Liturgy of the Word for Children. In this sense the school's choice of presenting the upcoming Sunday liturgy probably falls within the possibilities allowed.
Whether it is always the best choice is more debateable. The liturgy on some Sundays is quite difficult in itself and not all children will be up to it. Also, if the weekday Mass coincides with a feast of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, or an especially interesting saint, the opportunity should be taken to explore this catechetical teaching moment.
I would suggest therefore that this option should be used with some flexibility, so as not to deprive the children of other important lessons taken from the liturgy of the day.
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Follow-up: Children's Sunday Liturgy at Midweek [8-24-2010]
In the wake of our July 28 column on children's Masses a reader from Austin, Texas, made further inquiries: "We have noticed at a parish that we visit occasionally in town that one of the priests regularly uses one of the Eucharistic Prayers for Children for the Sunday morning Masses. This Eucharistic Prayer as written has within it several dialogue/response sections between the celebrant and the congregation. The priest leaves these dialogues out, presumably because they are unfamiliar to the normal Sunday crowd. Is it ever licit to use the children's prayers for a regular parish Sunday liturgy? Does leaving out parts of the Eucharistic Prayer (he never leaves out the invocation of the Holy Spirit or the words of consecration) invalidate the Mass?"
Practically all of norms regarding the use of the children's Eucharistic Prayers indicate that they are designed in order to guide quite young children toward eventual participation in the normal Sunday liturgy. They are thus conceived as a temporary phase and not for permanent use. Therefore, these anaphora are not another option that a priest may use ad libitum, like the first three Eucharistic Prayers, or with some relatively minor restrictions like the fourth, or only for specific Masses like the prayers for reconciliation and particular needs.
They may be used exclusively for those (usually weekday) Masses in which the majority of participants are children in or around the age of first Communion, roughly corresponding to between 5 to 9 years old.
The use of this prayer for normal Sunday Masses — with or without the acclamations — is illicit although the Mass is valid. Since the prayer itself should not be used, the question of the omission of the acclamations is moot. The omissions, however, would not affect the Mass' validity in any way.