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Dear Catholic Exchange,
A friend of mine sends her children out of Mass to hear the Children’s Liturgy. We prefer to keep our children with us for the whole Mass. We think families should participate in the Mass as a family, and children need to learn the rituals of the Mass (e.g., when to stand/sit, how to say the Creed, the prayers of the faithful etc.) that children leaving Mass miss. They will have many opportunities to have the readings explained to them, but only a few impressionable years with family prayer time—at least that’s our opinion. My friend, however, says our kids will get more out the Mass if they have the Liturgy of the Word explained to them at a child’s level. Does the Church recommend one over the other?
Peace in Christ! The Church does provide for a separate Liturgy of the Word for children during Mass. The provision and associated guidelines are contained in the Directory for Masses with Children, which the Congregation for Divine Worship issued in 1973.
For Masses with adults in which children also participate, the Church recognizes that a priest may or may not have another priest or deacon to assist him. With or without another priest or deacon, a pastor may allow, “if the arrangements and the circumstances of the community permit, to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word, including a homily, with the children in a separate area that is not too far removed” (Ibid., no. 17). If possible, a priest or deacon should read the Gospel and offer the homily. In the absence of another priest or deacon, a lay person may read the Gospel to the children and provide a reflection in place of a priest’s homily. The Lectionary for Masses with children notes that the “presiding priest” presents the Lectionary to the “one who will preside over the liturgy of the word with the children” (Lectionary for Masses with Children, no. 8).
If the designated readings of the day seem unsuited to the capacity of the children, a priest may choose readings or a reading from the Lectionary for Masses with Children or directly from the Bible, taking into the account the liturgical seasons (cf. Directory, no. 43). Readings should not be paraphrased or adapted, though a verse or a few verses may be omitted, given the limited capabilities of the children. If this occurs, it “should be done cautiously and in such a way ‘that the meaning of the texts or the sense and, as it were, style of the scriptures are not mutilated’” (Ibid., no. 43). Given the difficulty of readings on weekdays or Sunday, “it is permissible to read two or only one of them, but the reading of the Gospel should never be omitted” (Ibid., no. 42).
When the Liturgy of the Word is completed, “before the Eucharistic liturgy begins, the children are led to the place where the adults have meanwhile celebrated their own Liturgy of the Word” (Ibid., no. 17). Having heard the Word of God in a manner fit to their understanding, the children more easily participate and appreciate the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Directory also notes that, “If the profession of faith occurs at the end of the liturgy of the word [as on Sundays], the Apostles’ Creed may be used with children instead of the Nicene Creed” (no. 49). However, “the children should also gradually become acquainted with the Nicene Creed,” which is the creed used during non-children’s Masses (no. 39).
In summary, the Church allows for a separate Liturgy of the Word for children. The separate Liturgy of the Word, however, is by no means required. The decision rests with the parents.
For your further reading, you may want to read our FAITH FACTS on children’s Masses: Children’s Masses: May Lay People Read the Gospel and Give the Homily? and Children’s Masses: Don’t “Play” with the Word of God.
If you have further questions on this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). Please keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.”
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