Is this difficulty truly a”special” one? As I reread the DMc for the first time in about twenty years, I’m struck by the overly pessimistic tone of what children can or might absorb through the celebration of liturgy.

That’s not to say that everything in the Mass is potentially comprehensible to any child. I do think children, both ordinary boys and girls as well as the spiritually precocious, are able to discern aspects and receive a strong fruitful experience from liturgy.

Anyway, here’s what the text gives us:

2. In the upbringing of children in the Church a special difficulty arises from the fact that liturgical celebrations, especially the eucharist, cannot fully exercise their inherent pedagogical force upon children. [See Sacrosanctum Concilium 33.] Although the vernacular may now be used at Mass, still the words and signs have not been sufficiently adapted to the capacity of children.

In fact, even in daily life children do not always understand all their experiences with adults but rather may find them boring. It cannot therefore be expected of the liturgy that everything must always be intelligible to them. Nonetheless, we may fear spiritual harm if over the years children repeatedly experience in the Church things that are barely comprehensible: recent psychological study has established how profoundly children are formed by the religious experience of infancy and early childhood, because of the special religious receptivity proper to those years. [See Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, General Catechetical Directory no. 78.]

Giving children a fruitful and positive experience of the liturgy is important. This document was penned in the early 70’s, remember. It wasn’t in a vacuum that the CDWDS was concerned about the celebration of Mass.

I am glad to see the concession that not everything in the liturgy need be comprehensible. What the DMC teaches is that the experience of liturgy be substantially fruitful for children.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Directory for Masses With Children, Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to DMC 2

  1. I think this document is dated, and needs revision; I wonder whether anyone is working on it.

    Children grow into understanding things; isn’t that how things are for them in general? Why shouldn’t it be the same for Mass?

    Also, I think the issue of “comprehension” in the liturgy places too much stress on the words–on the intellectual aspect. There is quite a bit that is happening that’s not about the words–or there should be–that is accessible for everyone. I.e., I often notice that crying children get silent when the priest or people are chanting; and when you have lots of artwork in church, candles, the priest wears interesting clothing, the priests and ministers perform careful rituals, there’s smoke and fragrance…all this, seems to me, seems well suited for anyone who doesn’t get “the words” (which includes a lot of adults).

    By this measure, then, the Roman Canon would be preferred, because it’s got the most “visual aids” (the priest doing something other than talking).

    Finally, I will add this. A couple of months ago, our monthly Mass in Latin (new form) coincided with a school Mass for 4th grade and up. The principal said, go for it, and we did. A number of the children were very positive about it, including the servers who ambushed me afterward saying, “when can we do that again?” I asked what they liked–the Latin–why?–“It made us really pay attention.”

    Isn’t it just possible that the notion of having Masses with children involve as much saying or singing things, and moving about (something the Directory emphasizes) might actually be counterproductive for some children, who might be more contemplative? I realize all children aren’t made by cookie cutters, just wondering if we aren’t treating them that way.

  2. Anne says:

    Well, I believe all kids enjoy new exeriences and I suspect that some found your Latin mass unusual…therefore fascinating. Children also get bored quickly. And…who will teach children the Latin language in order that they understand the prayers? Certainly not most parents! Would you have Latin language classes for them in your parish? Sounds like a tremendous undertaking if you believe in the directive and goal for full, conscious and active participation.
    I do agree about about the visuals. Sights, sounds and smells…all help with understanding and prayer. However, the reformed rite in the vernacular, even masses for children, done properly, can do the same with visuals, “smells and bells”.
    All that being said, I don’t find a problem with some occasional Latin within the vernacular liturgy. Some traditions should be handed down.

  3. Dave says:

    When I went to Latin Mass in my preteen years I had a Missal that had the Latin on the left page and the English translation on the right. After a while I knew the meaning of the Latin through repetition. This would be an easy way to achieve the goal of full and conscious and active participation. They might concentrate even more than now. Just a thought.

  4. Anne says:

    Perhaps Dave, I do see your point. I was a child in the 50’s when we all did as you describe. I learned the Latin but FCAP was not encouraged back then. So my belief is that if you hand a child a missal and tell them to read both sides, they don’t learn to participate correctly. They’re “studying” the prayer. In fact, I agree with Fr.Martin’s comment that there is too much stress put on words. I’m not saying the words aren’t important, just that there is so much more going on. When we gather for worship we’re dealing with the mystery of God’s presence. That’s why I believe it is never proper to have our heads in a book, children or adults.

  5. Anne:

    What you say is true, I am well aware of that; and if it bears out, we adjust.

    That said, I had the conversation with the schoolchildren and teachers, you did not. I can tell the difference between finding something fascinating and a stronger reaction. Did I mention the servers couldn’t contain how much they loved it–their word. I never anticipated that reaction; make of it what you will.

    We can easily provide the children handouts with English and Latin side-by-side, if this continues to prove fruitful.

    Do I think all the children felt the same? No, and I didn’t say they did. But it seems reasonable that some do, and their likes are as valid as those who don’t care for it.

    In any case, I wasn’t trying to advocate all Latin Masses (and this wasn’t–the readings and the proper prayers were in English) as the answer, but cited that along the way to a larger point.

  6. Randolph Nichols says:

    Thanks to all for this interesting exchange. I, too, feel there needs to be a rethinking of liturgies for children. This assessment comes from reflecting on the life-shaping experiences from my own childhood. I seemed to be most drawn to things I did not understand. When I heard the words of Psalm 42 in the services of the Episcopal Church which I attended, I had no idea what “Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God” meant. Yet for whatever reason, I was fascinated by those words. So much so that it is one of the few psalms I can recite for memory (and a pre-King James translation at that!). A little later in middle-school I was given a four record LP set of Brahms symphonies conducted by Bruno Walther. Without understanding in the slightest sonata-allegro form or Brahm’s harmonic language, I fell immediately under a spell. Many years later, and with a lot more technical understanding, I’m still intrigued. The liturgy when well done is rich with such lures. By over-simplifying liturgy we diminish the possibility for children to excercise their innate creative imagination. I understand the motive to instill participation, but heavy-handed efforts in the long run are counter productive.

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