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Liturgy Q&A: Children’s Homilies

Also: Blue Vestments at Marian Masses

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

 Q: I have two questions. The first is about the homily at Mass. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], when there are children participating in the Sunday Mass, e.g. those from Sunday schools, the children could be separated during the homily and receive catechetical instruction suitable for their age group. Can the children’s group during the homily be led by a layman or should it be another priest? Second, can blue vestments be used generally in all the Masses of Our Lady, whether solemnity, feast, or memorial? Any reference on it? — B.S., Macau

 A: With respect to the first question the norms are found in the 1973 Directory for Masses with Children. With respect to the Children’s Liturgy of the Word in a parish setting, the relevant norms are:

 «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.»

 When such a separate Liturgy of the Word is held, it is always preferable that the homily be preached by another priest or a deacon. However, No. 24 of the directory would allow for some exceptions to this general rule: «[…] With the consent of the pastor or rector of the church, one of the adults may speak to the children after the gospel, especially if the priest finds it difficult to adapt himself to the mentality of children […].»

 Regarding the content of this Liturgy of the Word, the directory explains:

 «41. Since readings taken from holy Scripture ‘form the main part of the liturgy of the word,’ even in Masses celebrated with children biblical reading should never be omitted.

 «42. With regard to the number of readings on Sundays and holy days, the decrees of the conferences of bishops are to be observed. If three or even two readings appointed on Sundays or weekdays can be understood by children only with difficulty, it is permissible to read two or only one of them, but the reading of the gospel should never be omitted.

 «43. If all the readings assigned to the day seem to be unsuited to the capacity of the children, it is permissible to choose readings or a reading either from the Lectionary of the Roman Missal or directly from the Bible, but taking into account the liturgical seasons. It is recommended, moreover, that the individual conferences of bishops see to the composition of lectionaries for Masses with children.

 «If, because of the limited capabilities of the children, it seems necessary to omit one or other verse of biblical reading, this should be done cautiously and in such a way ‘that the meaning of the text or the intent and, as it were, style of the Scriptures are not distorted.’

 «44. In the choice of readings, the criterion to be followed is the quality rather than the quantity of the texts from the Scriptures. A shorter reading is not as such always more suited to children than a lengthy reading. Everything depends on the spiritual advantage that the reading can bring to the children.

 «45. In the biblical texts, ‘God is speaking to his people … and Christ is present to the faithful through his own word.’ Paraphrases of Scripture should therefore be avoided. On the other hand, the use of translations that may already exist for the catechesis of children and that are accepted by the competent authority is recommended.

 «46. Verses of psalms, carefully selected in accord with the understanding of children, or singing in the form of psalmody or the Alleluia with a simple verse should be sung between the readings. The children should always have a part in this singing, but sometimes a reflective silence may be substituted for the singing.

 «If only a single reading is chosen, the singing may follow the homily.

 «47. All the elements that will help to explain the readings should be given great consideration so that the children may make the biblical readings their own and may come more and more to appreciate the value of God’s word.

 «Among such elements are the introductory comments that may precede the readings and that by explaining the context or by introducing the text itself help the children to listen better and more fruitfully. The interpretation and explanation of the readings from the Scriptures in the Mass on a saint’s day may include an account of the saint’s life, not only in the homily but even before the readings in the form of an introduction.

 «When the text of the readings lends itself to this, it may be helpful to have the children read it with parts distributed among them, as is provided for the reading of the Lord’s passion during Holy Week.

 «48. The homily explaining the word of God should be given great prominence in all Masses with children. Sometimes the homily intended for children should become a dialogue with them unless it is preferred that they should listen in silence.

 «49. If the profession of faith occurs at the end of the liturgy of the word, the Apostles’ Creed may be used with children, especially because it is part of their catechetical formation.»

 In other 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).»

 Likewise, in situations where the children are not separated from the adults: «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 (No. 19).»

 With respect to the use of blue vestments on Marian solemnities, a special privilege was granted to Spain, its colonies, and Latin America by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites on February 12, 1864, that allowed them to use blue vestments for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. They are now also used on some other major Marian solemnities.

 In Asia, I believe this privilege extends to the Philippines, Guam, and the Marianna Islands which were still under Spanish rule at that time. I do not think Macau would be covered as it was under Portuguese and not Spanish jurisdiction.

 There might also be some Marian shrines that have similar privileges from Rome.

 Otherwise, blue is not admitted as an official liturgical color for vestments in the Latin rite. They do exist in some Eastern Churches.

 By blue vestments, we mean vestments which use azure, cerulean, ultramarine, or some other shade of blue fabric as the principal cloth.

 Vestments that use white, gold, or silver cloth with blue decorations and trimmings are perfectly admissible everywhere and for any celebration of the Blessed Mother.

 * * *

 Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city, and your state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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