Liturgy: Children's Liturgy of the Word
And More on Altars of Repose
ROME, APRIL 6, 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 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."
* * *
Follow-up: Altar of Repose
Two inquiries touched on the March 15 column regarding the altar of repose.
A woman religious writing from Kenya asks: "Though the answer mentions that after the midnight of Maundy Thursday there should be no solemnity with regard the altar of repose, there is no clear indication that our attention should also focus on the reading and meditation on the Passion of Our Lord. There are 364 days of the year in which we ought to give due prayerful attention to the Eucharistic mystery. And this reaches the climax on Maundy Thursday. But then could it not be explicitly stated that after the midnight of Maundy Thursday our entire attention should be on the Passion of Our Lord and thus also helping in the better understanding of the term altar of repose?"
The question turns on what is meant by "no solemnity" after midnight on Holy or ...
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