Children's Liturgy of the Word

And More on Altars of Repose

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ROME, APRIL 5, 2005 ( 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.»

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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 Maundy Thursday (Maundy is probably derived from the Latin antiphon «Mandatum Novum,» or New Commandment, which was sung during the Washing of Feet).

The lack of solemnity effectively means that after Midnight Good Friday has begun, attention should be turned toward the Lord’s Passion. Therefore, public prayers should not be organized at the altar of repose after this time and in some places the number of lighted candles is reduced.

Likewise, if the Divine Office is prayed in church on Good Friday it should be celebrated in the main body of the building, not at the altar of repose.

It does not preclude however, any traditional private devotions and visits to the tabernacle nor, strictly speaking, would it exclude organizing turns of adoration to accompany the tabernacle, especially in those places where it is traditional to leave the church open all night or where the circumstances make it necessary to always have someone present to prevent profanation.

Certainly, even in such private visits, attention should be centered more on the mystery of the Passion than on the Eucharistic mystery.

Before the liturgical celebration of the Passion begins, all but the two candles to be brought to the altar for Communion should be extinguished and any electric lighting turned off.

Another correspondent, writing from the Fiji Islands, asks: «What ought to be the practice regarding an ‘altar of repose’ from Holy Thursday until Easter at chapels (e.g., convent chapels or small mission churches) that are not having Holy Week services?»

According to the Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts, «Paschales Solemnitatis,» No. 54:

«After the post-Communion prayer, the procession forms, with the crossbar at its head. The Blessed Sacrament, accompanied by lighted candles and incense, is carried through the church to the place of reservation, to the singing of the hymn ‘Pange lingua’ or some other eucharistic song. This rite of transfer of the Blessed Sacrament may not be carried out if the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion will not be celebrated in that same church on the following day.»

Thus, chapels that do not have Holy Week services do not set up an altar of repose.

On Holy Thursday afternoon the Eucharist should be removed from the tabernacle and locked away in a dignified and secure place until Easter Sunday. A lamp should be lit in the room, but no public veneration or visits are allowed.

For this reason No. 43 of the above-mentioned document says:

«It is fitting that small religious communities both clerical and lay, and other lay groups should participate in the celebration of the Easter Triduum in neighboring principal churches.

«Similarly where the number of participants and ministers is so small that the celebrations of the Easter Triduum cannot be carried out with the requisite solemnity, such groups of the faithful should assemble in a larger church.

«Also where there are small parishes with only one priest, it is recommended that such parishes should assemble, as fa
r as possible, in a principal church and there participate in the celebrations.

«According to the needs of the faithful, where a pastor has the responsibility for two or more parishes in which the faithful assemble in large numbers, and where the celebrations can be carried out with the requisite care and solemnity, the celebrations of the Easter Triduum may be repeated in accord with the given norms.»

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