Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Principles, Attitudes and Strategies for Liturgy with Children

Tonight I will be speaking to a group of parish catechists about liturgy with children. Here is the handout I have put together for them. (Note that the reason I have been asked to speak to them is partly because there have been some issues regarding the regular addition to religious education Masses of performances by the children, designed to showcase them and to motivate applause.)

1. Children have a natural sense of the sacred and a wonderful capacity for connecting with symbol and ritual. Good liturgy with children means giving them an opportunity to participate in the roles of the Liturgy and experience its power – NOT in adding “extras to the Liturgy to make it “child-friendly,” not in artificially turning it into a teaching moment.

2. The liturgy has roles. Children need to participate to the greatest extent possible in the liturgy. Therefore, they need an opportunity to take on the liturgical roles. (Directory for Masses with Children, 22) Liturgy is work. Children are naturally helpful, so they will eagerly take on the work of those roles if they are properly trained. Don’t just ask them to read. Teach them how to proclaim. Don’t just ask them to bring up the gifts. Show them how to do that with reverence and grace.

3. Liturgy is NOT entertainment. Nothing in the liturgy should showcase any person or persons in such a way as to generate applause. The Mass is a prayer to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. It is never about us. And the assembly is not the audience expecting to be entertained.

4. The same gifts and talents are NOT given to everyone. This is not the Little League, where “no child shall be disappointed.” Children should be given liturgical roles for which they show some aptitude, not because it is “their turn.” Some children can sing: they belong in a children’s choir. Some can walk with grace and dignity – they should be in processions or should carry banners. Some can read clearly – they should be readers.

5. The people in the pews (the Assembly) have a specific “job description”. They are not the “audience” watching a performance. Teach children their proper role in joining in the Mass responses, spoken and sung. Teach them to listen – actively – to the Word of God. Teach them to offer their lives to God along with the gifts of bread and wine. Teach them to truly prepare themselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Teach them to pray in thankfulness after receiving the Eucharist and to know what it is they are being sent out into the world to do as the Mass ends.

6. Children are tactile, sensory and able to grasp the significance of symbols. When appropriate, use the liturgical symbols: water, bread, wine, oil, fire lavishly and well. Help kids experience them, become familiar with them and delight in them. 

7. Have them practice the songs that will be sung before the day of the Mass. Catechists can be given a tape or CD with the Mass songs.

So, what CAN children do at liturgy? They can take the proper liturgical roles. (Ask your parish music and liturgy director or parish members who train liturgical ministers to assist)

1. Make a banner (These can even be made from heavy paper and mounted on a pole)
2. Decorate the altar or the liturgical space for the season with artwork or assist in placing fabric, flowers or other objects
3. Be part of a committee to choose the songs that will be sung (working with the musician or parish liturgist)
4. Be part of a committee to help write the General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful)
5. Decide to which charity the proceeds of a monetary or food collection will go.

1. Be informed members of the Assembly, participating in the sung and spoken responses of the Mass, even if they serve in other ministries.
2. Be a minister of hospitality: greeter or usher, seating parents and/or handing out programs
3. Be an altar server (preferably they are students who do this on weekends because of the many details they need to know.)
4. Be part of the opening procession, carrying a banner
5. Be a song –leader or member of a choir
6. Be a reader
7. Be the psalmist (sung or spoken)
8. Bring up the gifts of bread and wine (the only things besides a monetary collection that should go up in that procession)
9. Be a communion usher, indicating when a row should get up to join the line
10. Collect books or song-sheets from Mass participants as they leave - and thank them for being there

Today’s Liturgy withChildren (article collection for liturgical catechesis) 
TheLiturgical Catechist website  


  1. This is substantial, and well-focused on kids.

  2. Thanks - the general idea is to follow the Directory in allowing the kids maximum participation in the actual roles of the Mass, without succumbing to the temptation to do that without adding skits and other "entertainment" elements.