Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Children's Liturgy


Many of my children enjoy going out to their own "children's Liturgy of the Word", to hear the scriptures in a simplified form, normally just the Gospel, saying some prayers, and generally, here at least, doing some "colouring in". Our children return during the Offertory, as quietly as possible and during the notices come up and to the sanctuary and tell us briefly what they have talking about.

It is good it happens, it is an option. I am grateful to those parents who organise it, I am also grateful to those children who decide to stay with us adults.

There are dangers however, first and foremost that it becomes an easy option for everyone, me included. That it is likely to be more about teaching than about liturgy or worship, therefore about individuals rather than God. That it says on a certain level, that Mass is dull and not child friendly. That it is possible to have "Mass", or to worship fully outside of the Christian assembly and that somehow the Liturgy of the Word unlike the Liturgy of the Eucharist is not quite worship.
On a more practical level it can just become a creche, which divides families whereas the Mass should be source and summit of unity.

The video clip shows it is possible not just to teach children chant and a little Latin but also how to pray and worship, and to be reverent. That should be the main focus of any liturgical formation. It also shows that we shouldn't underestimate children.

Older Catholics complain about children behaving badly in church, either with the added "my children would never have dared behave like that" or "I would have never dared behaved like". I am not sure whether children really did live under a reign of terror at Mass in the past. If they did, that might be one reason why so many of the past generation have lapsed. "E" numbers, child centred education, broken families are also contributory factors and they are beyond our control. The poverty of catechesis of their parents can be dealt with but if they are willing to co-operate..

One factor which has changed is the way in which children, and adults, are expected to respond to Mass. It is most notable with children at the Traditional Mass, where the basic message is very simple and very clear: we are here to worship, we do that by being quiet and prayerful.

Today the message is much more complex for children, and adults too. They are expected to engage with every action and response and with the readings too of course. Even as a priest, with a lifetime of scriptural, theological and liturgical study behind me, I find that too much. I drift off. If I was a four foot high, unable to see anything except the rear of the person in front of me, if I was expected to, but couldn't understand what was being said, I would behave atrociously. I would not find Mass a good experience, which most probably accounts for so much teen lapsation.

Recently I have been trying to get parents to bring children to the front where they can see, it is a bit of battle, parents are nervous. Even then I am not sure that is the answer. There is a need to find a liturgy where a three year old is equally at home as a university lecturer with doctorates coming out of his ears. The only place I have seen that happening is a certain traditional parish in Paris, where during the sermon the three year old behaved reasonably well but the university lecturer behaved atrociously and kept muttering about the stupidity of the priest and correcting his scholastic quotations and complaining about his French. I was relieved when the Creed began and she got back to her devotions in a book given her as a child.

26 comments:

Sixupman said...

It was the case that infants and junior school children all sasr on the front rows at 09:30 Mass when I was a child and not with their parents. [70 years ago, but we were taught at school what ir was all about!]

Dilly said...

Under 3s will have a strop when they fancy a strop, and nothing on God's earth will stop that. And I am 50, and well remember how it was in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Although ugly - glass partitions at the back are the only answer to that short of a swift exit - although people need to be reminded sometimes that they are still at Mass there - and be provided with kneelers etc. Please be compassionate and don't tut. It is hard for a mother on her own with a babe in arms and a toddler to control both easily. It is a bit of a judgment call as to whether a bit of of grizzling will stop or develop into a full blown wail, necessitating the walk of shame down the aisle to the back.

Letting any child eat (especially hymnbooks) is another matter altogether. Good grief!

The Rubric Monster said...

By all means eat the hymnbooks. All of them, if you can.

Pachomius said...

"I would not find Mass a good experience, which most probably accounts for so much teen lapsation."

Sorry Father, but no. It's down to abysmal/nonexistent catechesis, and parents not taking their children to Mass regularly and from very young.

Another thing parents can do to control children is to explain what is going on, and if nothing else works, take them out if they are misbehaving. Standing there and pretending your daughter isn't screaming her head off is not a good solution.

jacquelineparkes said...

Wow! Your children go out during Mass! I wouldn't have believed it! We have never had children going out during Mass..all our children can be quiet during Mass & none of our teens have lapsed!..

georgem said...

I don't know who decided there should be a Children's Liturgy or when it came in. Presumably, it was the brainchild of an adult who thought it was unkind to expect children to be quiet for an hour. Purely pragmatically it's a valuable lesson for children to learn that there are occasions when they should stay still and a training that holds good in adulthood.

Of course, there are occasions when a toddler will have a strop but it's not usually all of them all of the time and is not enough reason to justify their exclusion. Because that's what it is. I'm delighted when I hear a little voice asking rather loud questons about what's going on in the Mass.

Children tend to follow the example of their parents and I notice that quite often it's some of the adults who are restless during the liturgy and they are the ones who keep talking to the children. It would be a great idea to have the children, especially those of school age, near the front.

Once upon a time children making their First Holy Communion were placed as a group in the front pews of the church and segregated from their parents, which meant no distractions. I suppose that ended with the idea of the Mass as a community gathering.

The bottom line, as ever, is catechesis, catechesis and more catechesis.

Cettis Warbler said...

I agree with Dilly, please be compassionate and less judgmental. A congregation needs to work together to make it easier for families to bring children to Mass, not more stressful. At our church we try to help each other with our children, including grizzling interception and taking turns at leading Children's Liturgy.

Also children are very different. My eldest sat still and was very "good" (but is now magnificently lapsed). My youngest are the wriggliest children on earth and for many years were to be found under the pews. At 11 they still like church but I can't say they are really engaged with what's going on. I persuaded one of them to serve - once - but he found it so scary he's never done it again. These are children who have been to Mass and had me explain what's going on since they were teeny weeny.

From my friends' experience I think it's all easier if both parents are Mass-goers. With a mixed message coming from home (as in my case) it's a bit more of an uphill struggle.(Any hints or tips??)

janeinthemindfield said...

my children are at a secular school waiting for a place at the church school.in the meantime we have been coming sometimes to mass and sometimes to the children's liturgy at st mary magdalens, usually going to the childrens liturgy when it is on. they have got so much out of the children's liturgy on so many levels as they really get a chance to be introduced to all the stories and ideas in the catholic faith in a clear and consistent way in a group with other children where they share these precious teachings with their peers. they also get a chance to think about what they have heard and respond to it. even the colouring has been really inspiring engaging and meditative for them. the whole thing has been deeply engaging. occasionally there is no children's liturgy so we attend mass all the way through. i personally get so much out of the mass the sermon etc and on an occasional basis i do think it is really beautiful and inspiring for the children. however, if there was never any children's liturgy to educate and elucidate the faith for them, on their level, i know they would be really bored and frustrated and that they would never really learn much as it is way beyond their level. please please please dont take away our precious children's liturgy that has benefitted my children so much. i would like to also add,that the children feel really valued and included by being asked to come up and talk about what they have done and to show their work. my child is always so proud to do so and it makes him really happy. please dont take this precious thing away.

catherine said...

I agree with Cettis warbler. The "naughty" wrigglers may end up being the ones who really stay the course.
Some years ago , when I had 3 children under the age of 3, I went to a daily Mass at my uncle's parish as a visitor. An elderly man turned around at the end of Mass and told me that he had never seen such badly behaved children and that I had ruined Mass for him.I was mortified. My uncle, who was the parish priest, was very reassuring but I have always remembered how stressful it is to be a parent of very small children at Mass. My sons are in their late teens and are still altar servers so their early misbehaviour at Mass did not last too long.

Natasa said...

This video is so refreshing. I find it awful that these days many people believe children are not capable of understanding anything above the level of colouring books and silly little songs. I've had this discussion with a friend whose children are 7 and 8 and she still thinks they are too young to sit quietly through Mass and to understand what goes on. I'm very much against the idea of Children's Mass and think that colouring and playing can be done at home. If we do not expose children to worship and teach them that they are dealing with something greater than themselves, but rather keep it at the level of entertainment for children and just another activity, I doubt they will grow spiritually.

Matthew Hewitt said...

We have a ten month old who has come to Mass with us every week, since he was four days old, and we sit in the second bench, where we always did before he was born. He is generally well behaved in Mass (often asleep!) but we take a couple of toys and books (children's bible stories for eg) to keep him amused when he is cranky - of course he doesn't follow it yet, and will no doubt have times when he will be noisy in the years to come, but will grow up used to attending weekly Mass and hopefully with a full and deep undertanding of it (my wife is a First Holy Communion catechist, so he should get some catechism from us!).

I hope that the other members of the Parish are understanding - most of them are just pleased to see him each week and in particular when he was first born as he is names John Benedict and was born the week of the Pope's visit...

We take him out if he is really noisy,but at the end of the day I think it is best to have children in Mass at the front so they know what is going on. After all, they are the future of the Church...

georgem said...

Boys of 7 and 8 sing as choristers at Westminster Cathedral. They cope with the liturgy, much of it in Latin. and learn to play two instruments in tandem with a demanding academic life. They don't have special powers.
QED

Pachomius said...

georgem, I think you're wrong about the origin of the children going out during Mass - it may have been partly practical, but was also derived from the practice in the Early Church of only those who had been through all the Sacraments of Initiation staying for the "Mass of the Faithful". This is still the practice in at least some of the Orthodox churches.

Also, the children at Westminster Cathedral are all, generally, highly musically talented, and I don't think it's fair to equate other hildren with them, which semes to me to just sound like blaming the parents.

catherine: I think I would have asked that man why he was concentrating on the children instead of God in the first place, and that in any case, the Mass isn't a theatrical performance!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Pachomius, It wasn't children, it was the unbaptised, who were excluded during the "Liturgy of the Eucharist", they stayed for the "Liturgy of the Word".

One of the boys from this parish is a member of Westminster Cathedral Choir, he is quite like other children. He couldn't sing before he went to Westminster. The only difference between him and other boys his age, is he, like the children in the video have been taught to worship.He wasn't "highly musically talented" before he went there.

Michael Clifton said...

I had mixed feelings about childrens liturgy during Mass. I had them all right but was worried about what age group they were supposed to cater for.I would suggest..only before first Communion or slightly earlier. I dont like using reduced versions of the SCripture readings at all. Kids should be used to ordinary readings as soon as they can. On one point I think you may be out of order and that is having a child come up and say what the group had been doing. Unless that is, it is part of the bidding prayers at the right time.

janeinthemindfield said...

i would like to add, having just watched the video clip, that i would be absolutely delighted if the children's liturgy taught the children the sanctus, agnus dei, credo etc. and more. i do not think it would be any problem for them to learn at all. after a few sessions of learning, selected latin chants could be sung either before or after the bible part of the liturgy. i personally think this would immeasurably improve the children's liturgy, and am more than happy to volunteer to teach the children these chants if no one else is available.

Laurence England said...

'Suffer the little children to come...'

It seems to me that Our Lord rather liked children and they found Him approachable. Why should things be totally different now?

Glynn Tiley said...

Fr Ray, you said 'my children' - I didn't know you had any children?!

You also mentioned reading the notices at the end of the homily (or before the offetory). Isn't this a 'liturgical abuse'? The missal says the notices should be read after the post-communion prayer.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Oh dear Glynn, I think we are being silly, no they are not my natural children, and notices are before the blessing.

Joe Sixpack said...

The Novus Ordo Mass is so noisy with the Priest bawling down the microphone, comings & goings on the sanctuary that children in the pews, quite naturally, wish to join in. Once we abandoned the new Mass for the Old Rite the noise problem disappeared. Our children are in awe.

AndrewWS said...

Why not let the little darlings amuse themselves tearing up copies of the 'Tablet'?

Gigi said...

Personally, I love to see - and hear - children and babies at Mass. I agree they're the future of the Church. I suppose the fact that I love children generally helps! Even I have been rattled when I couldn't hear part of a homily or reading I've been listening to intently; but it's pointless to blame the children, nor in most cases the parents. Little ones scream sometimes, and gurgle and babble at others. It's what they do. A couple of months ago, I sat infront of two toddlers and their beleagured Mums; just before the Communion rite the little boy asked the little girl what she thought "the man at the front" was cooking. Totally irreverant but delightful. It didn't spoil the service for me; simply reminded me that Mass can be a wonderful coming together of Family.
I don't have children of my own, and I often wonder if those of us who don't have our hands full could assist those with a screaming baby in one arm, a toddler at the other and a hymnal balanced somewhere between the two. It may not be politically correct to offer to hold someone's child in those circumstances, but it's certainly a Christian response. It must be terrifically difficult for parents who want to attend Mass, and want their children to become part of that family as early as possible; do they do the walk of shame each time or hope the wailing subsides to a manageable burble?
When I was at school, all the litle ones sat at the front of the church. Usually any screeching would would result in a row of silent toddlers, stunned that something else could make such a loud noise. The luxury of two services on a Sunday also helps.
I thought the video was lovely; I echo Father Ray's comment that we shouldn't underestimate children. Children are not mini-adults and chilhood is a time of both innocence and constant learning. It's a lot to contend with when you can't even see "the man at the front" and what he's doing, but there will always be the curiosity to find out; which is when it can all start.

Hestor said...

You also mentioned reading the notices at the end of the homily (or before the offetory). Isn't this a 'liturgical abuse'? The missal says the notices should be read after the post-communion prayer.

I can't remember the last time I went to the Novus Ordo but I remember feeling, why on earth should notices be read just before the blessing? It is an unnecessary interruption. Far better to do it before the homily IMHO.

tempus putationis said...

'I am not sure whether children really did live under a reign of terror at Mass in the past. If they did, that might be one reason why so many of the past generation have lapsed. "E" numbers, child centred education, broken families are also contributory factors and they are beyond our control.'

Dear Father, perhaps it is important that those of us who are young enough to use the internet but old enough to remember the fifties state clearly: as children we were taught by our parents through love and dedication to behave, to be silent, to sit still and be patient when necessary. Thus, by the time we went to school (aged 4-5) we were docile and able to concentrate; at church we had no problem; the same applied visiting aunts, uncles etc. We were not expected to RESPOND to everything! We were allowed to be ourselves, to be quiet, to think.
Parents ARE responsible, of course: first as educators and catechists, certainly; and these days, to protect their children from E numbers and society's other malign influences (including the education services, where necessary). Catholics (priests, parents, catechists, teachers ...) should get together to work out how to do this.
Babes-in-arms are another topic!
Let us not confuse the two.

Pétrus said...

I notice one thing at many parishes where I see children leaving for their children's liturgy. When they return and are called up to the front of the sanctuary none of them genuflect.

Helen said...

I'm at Mass every Sunday, on my own, with my children aged 6, 4, 2 and 4mths. My husband is not a Catholic, though a very faithful Christian. Any ideas as to how to make them realise where they are when we're in Church? I've been catechising them since birth, my 6 year old's behaviour in church gets worse and worse, and the others copy him. He is not in the least interested. He can behave in mass with his school, but with me he is terrible(even when his headmaster is sitting next to us!)
It's a struggle. Children's liturgy, (which i help lead) gives us a chance to worship with the Body of Christ, whilst at the same time I can let up on the crowd control for a few minutes.