Liturgies with Children

Liturgies with Children

For the most recent document on Liturgies with Children in Parishes and Schools, click on the following link: Guidelines for Liturgical Celebrations in School Setting

Liturgies with Children in Parishes and Schools (Original document - 1993)

I. Introduction

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: "The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy" (CSL #14).

Sufficient catechesis and proper preparation, as well as lived experience of good liturgy, will result in enabling all to participate in the prayer of the Church. The Directory for Masses with Children (The Directory) reflects this concern: "...we may fear spiritual harm if over the years children repeatedly experience in the Church things that are scarcely comprehensible to them..." (DMC #2b). The Directory states that we "cannot leave children to themselves" when it comes to liturgical celebrations (#3).

The parish is a local church, that is, the Body of Christ present in a particular place. The parish has the same mission and same basic structure as the Universal Church. The parish is the primary place for teaching, worship, sacraments, and prayer.

II. General Liturgical Principles

The liturgy of the Church is public communal prayer involving ritual action with the full use of symbols. As the action of all, liturgy also invites varying roles of service from the faith community and necessitates careful preparation. Liturgical prayer, especially the Eucharist, is the source and summit of all life of the Church, yet does not exhaust the Church's activity. The Church's liturgical prayer life celebrates both Word and Sacrament in harmony with the liturgical year. Liturgical prayer is always trinitarian and involves all the elements and types of traditional Christian prayer: praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and contrition. We celebrate this in common song, acclamation, silence, gesture, and posture.

III. Masses with Children

Masses with children may be divided into two basic types, as described in the Directory: (1) Masses with adults in which children participate, and (2) Masses with children in which only a few adults participate. These Norms are intended for those who will be preparing the latter type of celebrations, i.e. Masses (or Liturgies of the Word) with children in which only a few adults participate. Liturgies with adults in which only a few or some children participate (type #1) describes the ordinary Sunday Eucharist.

Masses (or Liturgies of the Word) with children in which only a few adults participate refers to those celebrations in schools or religious education programs in which children are the main body of the assembly. Such liturgies are normally scheduled on weekdays or Saturdays. Periodic liturgies with children on Sundays or Holy Days could also be pastorally beneficial, but should not be normative.

The Directory states that the goal is to enable children to participate actively within the adult community (#2l). Hence, the principles of good liturgy are always to be involved in preparing Masses (or Liturgies of the Word) for children just as they would be for a parish Sunday liturgy.

The Directory encourages leaders to consider the developmental needs of children before bringing them to Eucharist (#2). The expectation is that these principles will be applied appropriately over the period of years of the child's development, keeping in mind that the persons for whom these adaptations are intended are elementary school aged children i.e. six to twelve years old. Small group or class liturgies which provide a homogeneous assembly of one age group would facilitate the proper adaptations for the developmental stage of that group.

The usual place for the celebration of the above mentioned basic types of Masses is the parish Church. The liturgy of the Word can be effectively celebrated with children within the school. The usual place for the celebration of ALL SACRAMENTS is the parish Church.

Parish and school need to sensitively enter into informed dialogue over the pastoral issue of both how and when to celebrate the eucharist. Such dialogue needs to include: children who have not yet celebrated their communion for the first time; Catholic children who rarely celebrate the Eucharist; non-baptized children; children of other Christian and non-Christian religions; and Catholic children who frequently celebrate the Eucharist with their parish, faith family.

Whether to celebrate the Eucharist or a Liturgy of the Word will need to be anticipated long before celebrations at the beginning and end of the school year, graduations or farewells at various age levels, as well as other, special times of celebration. Catechesis is always encouraged with all adults and children or youth.

IV. Liturgical Year

The central feast of the Church is the Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil/Sunday. These days are parish celebrations and should be celebrated as such, and not with special school liturgies. The only parish Mass permitted on Holy Thursday is that of the Lord's Supper, and it is celebrated in the parish.

The Easter Season, a celebration of fifty days, is the high point of the Church's liturgical year. School programs need to highlight this season. Liturgies of the Word or Masses during Easter time might use the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling with Water symbolizing baptism which properly occurs during this season. The Easter season (not Holy Thursday) is well suited for parish celebrations of First Communion. Marian devotions or Masses in honour of Mary, which are encouraged during the month of May, need to respect the integrity of the Eastewr season.

Lent, with its forty days of prayer and fasting, prepares for the Triduum and Easter. It focuses on the preparation of the Catechumens for Baptism. Liturgies with children during the lenten season need to harmonize with the themes of Lent. During Lent more frequent celebrations of Liturgies of the Word or Mass with children are encouraged. Ash Wednesday could commence this season with an early invitation to the school families to gather with the parish community for worship. In cases where ashes are distributed, and large numbers make it desirable for more than one to distribute them, it is permitted for a lay person to assist the priest.

Advent is a liturgical season which prepares for the celebration of Christmas. Advent liturgies with children should highlight the themes of the Advent season, and not anticipate those of Christmas. Advent begins the liturgical year.

Christmas is a season which extends to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Any Christmas celebrations are best celebrated liturgically during the Christmas season, not before, or after. Celebrating either the Epiphany or the Baptism of the Lord would be an excellent way to conclude the Christmas season. The feast of the Church's liturgical calendar should be the basis for selecting dates for celebrations with children. Ordinary time provides secondary dates which might offer opportunities for liturgy, or perhaps other prayer experiences, for example, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Family Day, School/Parish patron Saint, graduations, et cetera.

Guidelines For Pastoral Liturgy: Liturgical Calendar is published annually by the C.C.C.B. (90 Parent Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7B1). This indispensable resource indicates the calendar for all liturgical celebrations and gives liturgical principles for selecting and planning prayers and scriptural texts, dates for celebrations, and helpful Pastoral Notes. ALL those involved in planning/preparing celebrations need to consult this resource. (See also General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar in The Liturgy Documents.)

V. Music for Liturgies with Children

A. Music is integral to all liturgical ritual. the criteria for judging music for liturgies with children is the same as for all liturgy. (See Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today in The Liturgy Documents.)

  1. Music must be liturgically appropriate. Since music serves the liturgy, and is not added to it, musical selection needs to follow liturgy's various genres: acclamation, psalmody, litany, hymnody, et cetera.
  2. Music must be of musical quality: singable, rhythmic, not trite or boring.
  3. Music must be pastorally appropriate. For children this means that music needs to take the developmental stage(s) of children into consideration.
  4. The text needs to be theologically sound, as far as possible taken from scripture, and easily understood by the assembly.
  5. School music repertoires need to include some basic parish music (all acclamations and well known, seasonal hymns and psalms) to facilitate shared repertoire and liturgical initiation within parish worship.

B. The priority which exists within the sung parts of the Liturgy of the Word/Eucharist should be respected in choosing music.

  1. Acclamations (Gospel; Holy, Holy; Memorial Acclamation; Great Amen; and Doxology to Lord's Prayer) are always the sung priorities of the people.
  2. Responsorial Psalm;
  3. Processional songs (entrance and communion);
  4. Ordinary chants (Lord Have Mercy; Glory to God; Lord's Prayer; Lamb of God; and Profession of Faith); and,
  5. Supplementary Songs (hymn for preparation of the gifts; hymn of praise after communion; and, recessional).

C. The use of music, especially at secondary times in the ritual, should not be so excessive as to eliminate and appropriate amount of silence. Pastoral musicians need to be familiar with how music and silence serve the liturgy as explained in the document Music In Catholic Worship. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal speaks of five times when the people of God should pray in silence during the celebration of the Eucharist and/or Liturgy of the Word:

  1. The penitential rite;
  2. The opening prayer;
  3. After the first and second readings and the homily;
  4. The general intercessions; and,
  5. After communion.

D. Music is often enhanced by gesture. While some gestures are integral to the liturgy - sign of the cross, sitting/standing/kneeling, bowing - other gestures may be added to accompany the music during certain rites, for example, the Lord Have Mercy, the Gospel acclamation, the Responsorial Psalm.

VI. Environment for Liturgies with Children

A. Liturgy preparation with children and adults needs to include the preparation and decoration of the space for the celebration. (See Environment and Art in Catholic Worship in The Liturgy Documents.)

B. Liturgy takes place in the parish church or a chapel. If for any reason the church or chapel proves unsuitable, then another appropriate place may be prepared. Ordinarily a classroom is not recommended. (see Canonical Considerations, School Masses No. 2).

C. It is best not to multiply symbols or to place other symbols upon primary ones. Decorations need to accent the primary symbols - the assembly space, altar, ambo, chair - and not secondary ones. Primary symbols should not become backdrops for other signs.

D. In preparing and decorating worship space, care should be taken that the architectural focal points appear primary.

  1. The worship space should be large enough to accommodate all in the assembly, and facilitate a sense of gathering, visual contact, audibility and active participation.
  2. The altar table is a primary symbol of Christ's presence during the Eucharist. It should remain clear until the time of the preparation of the gifts. Only the gifts used for the Eucharistic celebration, bread and wine, and the Sacramentary, are placed upon it.
  3. For Liturgies of the Word, and altar is not required; however, it is recommended that the scriptures be enthroned on the ambo.
  4. The ambo is the stand reserved for the proclamation of the Word of God alone. Other activities, such as cantoring and announcements, are done from another lectern. The Psalm, as part of the Liturgy of the Word, may be cantored from the ambo.
  5. The presider's chair ought to stand alone and be clearly visible. It is not to be flanked by other chairs, except with a deacon present.

E. Children can be invited to participate in preparing the spce used for liturgy. Noble simplicity, the hallmark of the renewed liturgy, demands quality and appropriateness in liturgical decoration.

VII. Homilies with Children

A. The Directory states that "the homily explaining the Word of God should be given great prominence at all Masses with children" (#48).

B. The homily breaks open the Word of God in light of the life experience of those present. As part of the whole liturgical action, it ought not interrupt the flow of the liturgy. The homily's style enables those present to experience God's presence in ways appropriate to them, and is not determined exclusively by the preference of the preacher.

C. At liturgies with children, the homily may take a variety of forms, such as storytelling, mime, audio-visuals, enacting the message, or in a dialogue with the children. The value of these vairous styles is not determined by their ability to entertain or even to involve larger numbers of persons, but to serve the proclamation of God's Word and the entire liturgical celebration.

D. Homilies for children reflect the characteristic of all good homiletic preaching: reliance on biblical and liturgical texts, the use of strong, clear descriptive language, positive images, examples known to the assembly, brevity, and the avoidance of childish language and jargon.

E. Homilies demand careful preparation in light of the readings, the feast celebrated, and other planned elements.

F. At Masses with children, with the pastor's consent, one of the adults may speak to the children after the gospel. (The Directory, #24).

G. During the Liturgy of the Word without a mass, the presider's role is to share a reflection on the Word, unless this is already happening in another form (see C above). A priest presides and gives a homily. A lay presider gives a reflection on the Word as this is still an intrinsic element of the Liturgy of the Word.

VIII. Adaptation of Rites for Liturgies with Children

A. Introductory Rites: With or Without Eucharist

  1. The purpose of of these rites is to enable the assembly to gather as a community of faith and to prepare itself to hear God's Word. It is important not to prolong this rite.
  2. With children, some of the usual elements in the Introductory Rites may be eliminated, but never the opening prayer which is usually taken from the Sacramentary. The choice depends upon several criteria: the age of the children gathered, the feast or season being celebrated, and other elements being planned for this celebration (See Directory for Masses With Children).
  3. A hymn sung by all begins the Gathering. A procession of all the ministers, of the presider only, or all the children with the cross, candles, and Scripture, may also take place at this time.
  4. The Greeting and Welcome after the Sign of the Cross should be concise. These are usually given by the presider.
  5. The Blessing and Sprinkling with Water rite may be chosen as an option to replace the penitential rite. It is most fitting for use during the Easter season.
  6. The Penitential rite is best chosen from the options in the Sacramentary. Form C is the best choice for use with children since other invocations may be composed for it. The Penitential Rite is especially fitting for use during seasons of Lent and Advent.
  7. The Glory to God is always used on Sundays outside of Advent and Lent, Solemnities, and feasts.

B. Liturgy of the Word: With or Without Eucharist

  1. Even in Masses with children, the basic structure of the Liturgy of the Word remains constant. Scriptural texts may be reduced and/or adapted for children.
  2. Silence is an integral element and is included after each reading. Catechesis to prepare children in the proper understanding of silence is important.
  3. The number of readings may vary depending on the age of the children gathered and the feast or season being celebrated. The Gospel must always be proclaimed.
  4. The readings are to be prepared carefully and always include their attendant Psalm and/or acclamation. The Psalm is best sung, but may be recited; the Gospel Acclamation is to be sung or omitted. (If only the Gospel is proclaimed, the Gospel acclamation should precede it.)
  5. The liturgical book of the scriptures — the lectionary or the Book of the Gospels — is to be used for the celebration of the liturgy. The Gospel procession may be enhanced with incense and candles.
  6. The Creed need only be recited on Sundays and Solemnities.
  7. According to the restored Rites of Initiation, children who have not been baptized are usually dismissed from Mass at this time for further reflection on the scriptures.
  8. The General Intercessions conclude the Liturgy of the Word. The intercessions are ordinarily read by one reader other than the lector. They are read from a lectern, not the ambo. Intercessions need to be crafted according to the nature of this prayer type: 1) they are intercessory, not prayers of thanksgiving or contrition; 2) they are general and therefore call us to pray beyond ourselves for the needs of the Church, world, suffering and, as well, the local community; 3) they are to be short and carry one clear need or hope; 4) they are to begin with a short call to prayer and conclude with a summary prayer, both led by the presider and addressed to God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

C. Liturgy of the Eucharist

  1. The intent of the Presentation and the Preparation of the Gifts is to prepare the elements necessary for the Eucharistic prayer and communion. It is to be simple and brief.
  2. Children may prepare the altar by placing the cloth, candles and Sacramentary.
  3. The gifts of bread and wine are the ordinary gifts brought to the altar: 1) enough bread (Hosts) to be consecrated for this gathered assembly; 2) enough wine for the gathered assembly. Water is not a gift to be brought forward.
  4. Multiple or symbolic gifts are usually not desirable. On some occasions monetary or food gifts may be presented.
  5. The chalice and water are brought to the presider by the altar servers during the preparation.
    1. The Eucharistic Prayer is the central element of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is prayed by the presider with the assembly responding with the appropriate acclamations. The Eucharistic Prayer in Masses with children may be chosen from the full list of options including the three prayers for children and the two for reconciliation. Standing throughout the Eucharistic Prayer is normative.
    2. The Communion Rite is the immediate preparation for the distribution and reception of communion. It is not intended to be extended unnecessarily.
    3. The Lord's Prayer may be recited or sung but the traditional text is always to be used.
    4. The embolism after the Lord's Prayer may be adapted for use with children at the discretion of the presider.
    5. The Sign of Peace is a ritual action intentionally placed within the Communion Rite. It is exchanged with those in close proximity. Catechesis should insure that this rite is properly understood and celebrated.
    6. The action of breaking of the bread is accompanied by the litany (Lamb of God). The litany is usually sung, and it lasts as long as it takes to prepare the consecrated bread and wine for communion.
    7. The Communion procession is to be accompanied by a hymn which can be easily sung by all. Communion under both kinds is the preferred form, regardless of age, which necessitates adequate catechesis, preparation and implementation. Standing is the ordinary posture for the reception of Communion.
    8. Some period of silence after communion is normative.

    D. Blessing and Dismissal

    1. The rite of Blessing and Dismissal concludes the liturgy. the options for blessings found in the Sacramentary might be considered for use with children.
    2. A hymn for the recessional may be sung after the dismissal.
    3. Any announcements are usually given after the Prayer After Communion or Closing Prayer (Liturgies of the Word) and before the Blessing and Dismissal. These are to be brief and clear. Other longer comments by presider, school staff, or others should be given after the liturgy or at another occasion.

    IX. Liturgical Ministries

    Good liturgy implies that people function in one and only one liturgical ministry at any given celebration. the following liturgical ministries are operative in the Liturgy of the Word (see Appendix A).

    A. Presider

    The role of the presider is to oversee the liturgical prayer by presding over the Opening Rites, the proclamation of the Gospel, the introduction and conclusion of the Prayers of the Faithful, and the Concluding Rites. In the absence of the priest, any lay person (staff or student) may preside. Only one person presides.

    B. Reader

    The reader proclaims God's living word from the scriptural text. The reader's gift involves understanding, expressing, and living this Good News.

    C. Music

    Liturgical Music is encouraged at all times. Musicians, vocalists and song leaders serve the assembly by prayerfully selecting and leading all in the songs of the assembly: Gathering, and Closing Songs, Psalm and Gospel Acclamation; with Mass: Eucharistic acclamations, Communion procession. Music serves the liturgy, enhances prayer, and strengthens faith.

    D. Servers

    Servers carry candles in the opening, gospel and closing processions. Other servers carry the cross and might also hold any books for the presider's prayers. Servers need to be well rehearsed.

    E. Greeters

    This ministry of hospitality can easily be overlooked. Greeters welcome people as they gather for prayer. Sometimes it may be necessary for additional ushers to also give directions.

    F. Assembly

    All liturgical ministers come from and serve the assembly gathered for prayer. Good liturgy nourishes and strengthens faith while poor liturgy weakens, and can even destroy, faith. Every effort of prayerful planning needs to nourish the assembly's prayer.

    Outline of the Liturgy of the Word

    Opening Rites

    1. Gathering Song by all — assembly standing.
    2. Procession with cross, scripture with candles, and ministers is encouraged. A reader may carry the Lectionary or Bible.
    3. Presider - Priest if present, or lay minister. Sign of the Cross. Greeting and Welcome. Penitential (optional).
    4. Opening Prayer.

    Liturgy of the Word — assembly sitting.

    1. First scripture reading, from the Old Testament, is proclaimed by the reader from the Lectionary book or the Bible. Student's copy could be placed in the Bible.
    2. Prayerful Pause
    3. Psalm
    4. Sung refrain by all is encouraged and verses sung by Cantor soloist ii. whole psalm sung by choir or all or instrumental music while psalm is proclaimed slowly by different reader(s)
      Note: If only one scripture reading is done in addition to the Gospel, the psalm is always the response to this first reading.
    5. Second Scripture reading, from the New Testament, is proclaimed by a different reader.
    6. Prayerful Pause
    7. Gospel Acclamation is to be sung by all and not recited. Procession with the scriptures is recommended. (Alleluias are omitted during Lent.) — assembly stands.
    8. Gospel is proclaimed by the presider.
    9. Homily and/or Reflection on Scripture — assembly sits. ay be verbally given by the presider or take the form of a drama — not omitted.

    Prayers of the Faithful

    1. Presider introduces and concludes prayers of the faithful
    2. Content of prayers include intentions for Church, world, the suffering, and the particular needs of the gathered group. These are not to be prayers of thanksgiving.
    3. person(s) other than the reader(s) pray these intercessions

    Closing Rites (presider)

    1. Our Father
    2. Sign of Peace (optional).
    3. Final Prayer — assembly stands.
    4. Blessing.
    5. Closing Song: Recessional with ministers.
    6. Any Announcements.


    Directory for Masses with Children. (Sacred Congregation for Diving Worship), 1973. This fundamental document has as its purpose the promotion and encouragement of greater and more conscious participation of children in the liturgy. The document provides the basic preparation of liturgies with children and is found within The Liturgy Documents: A Parish Resource (see below).

    Eucharistic Prayers for Children. (Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship). These official Eucharistic Prayers have been approved for use throughout the Universal Church. They are appropriate for Masses in which children participate as well as Masses where there are a few children present. These prayers require preparation for full participation by all the people since they include opportunities for acclamation which are unique.

    Reconsideration of Postures for the Laity at the Eucharist. (Western Liturgical Conference). This document was promulgated November 8, 1990 as diocesan norms.

    The Liturgy Documents: A Parish Resource, Third Edition. (Liturgy Training Publication, Chicago), 1991. This book contains convenient reference to General Instruction on the Roman Missal, Music in Catholic Worship, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Lectionary for Mass: Introduction, General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, Directory for Masses with Children, Liturgical Music Today, and other helpful resources.

    Audio-Visual Catalogue: Catholic Pastoral Centre. A listing of film strips, films and videos (VHS format) that are available through the Resource Centre. Also listed are materials that are held by the Family Resource Centre.

    National Bulletin on Liturgy, CCCB, 90 Parent Avenue, Ottawa, K1N 9Z9.

    • Vol. 16, #89, May-June 1983, Children Learn to Celebrate, provides background material especially with regard to attitudes that would be useful reading before beginning a program of children's liturgies.
    • Vol. 23, #121, June 1990, Children and the Liturgy, considers Sunday and school liturgues, children as liturgical ministers, story, symbol, et cetera.
    • Vol. 25, #129, Summer 1992, Sacramental Preparation.

    Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, CCCB, 1987, 90 Parent Avenue, Ottawa, K1N 7B1.

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