Wednesday, July 06, 2011
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.
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