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Online Edition - Vol. IX, No. 8: November 2003

What Have We Done to Our Children?

How Catholic children became guinea-pigs for liturgical experiments

Part I of Three-part series
by Susan Benofy

The ink was barely dry on the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Liturgy when reformers began experimenting with their most radical innovations -- from freely altering texts to ritual dance -- not on consenting adults, but on the unsuspecting school children who would become "Generation X".

Susan Benofy, research editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, reviews the development of these ideas as they are reflected in the principal documents of the period, the 1973 Directory for Masses with Children (DMC), the special Eucharistic Prayers for children, and the more recent "Children's Lectionary", in this three-part series.

- Editor

Links to Part II | Part III

Part I

The Directory for Masses with Children

"I am most interested of all in the future of our little children", wrote Bishop Robert Tracy of Baton Rouge in his 1966 memoir of the Second Vatican Council.

"A baby who is now two years old will be ten years old within eight short years.... All the services of the Church will have been meaningful to that child from the start, and further the child will have been trained in religion classes to a dynamic understanding of his mission in life to project the Presence of Christ into his community", enthused the bishop.

"Is that child going to be any better than his ancestors were? Who can say? But one thing is sure: thanks to the Council, he is going to have many more opportunities for meaningful religion than they ever had!"

Bishop Tracy made this prediction in his memoir, American Bishop at the Vatican Council (p. 70). It is typical of the sort of liturgical optimism that prevailed in those heady days.

But the "meaningful religion" and "dynamic understanding" the bishop expected for children born at the close of the Council -- children who are now 40 years old -- did not happen as he anticipated.

Children continued to be restless at Mass; teens still complained of boredom. And that has not changed. The quest for "meaningful" Masses, pursued so hotly in the late 1960s, did not bear the expected fruit. However, that failure did not then -- and has not now -- stopped the "do-it-yourself" mode the liturgical experts of the 1960s promoted.

Special liturgies for children used readings, prayers and other practices different from those used at ordinary ("adult") Masses -- and still do. Despite the less-than-spectacular success, many parishes today have special children's or "family" Masses on most Sundays, offer "teen" Masses, as well as Masses for school children on weekdays.

From the distance of three decades, it is by now clear that children's "needs" were often used as an excuse for breaking the rules. Innovations were said to make Mass "meaningful" for young children. Eliminating the Gloria or skipping the confiteor, changing, omitting or dramatizing Scripture readings, "homilies" by non-priests, adding new "tropes" to the Lamb of God, inventing "memorial acclamations", performing "liturgical dance" -- all these have their genesis in the flexibility liturgists demanded years ago in order to adapt Masses for children.

Are separate liturgies for children a good idea? Does the Church actually permit different liturgies for children? Should it? If so, how much license to change the Mass is permitted? An evaluation of the past three decades of experience with special Masses for children for is long overdue.

We can start by reviewing the official documents that govern children's Masses: 1) Directory for Masses With Children (DMC - 1973); 2) the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children (1974), and 3) the Lectionary for Masses with Children (LMC ­ 1991)

The Directory for Masses with Children was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) on November 1, 1973. It led to the creation of the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children, and, ultimately to a separate Lectionary for Masses with Children.

DMC 52 says that one of the four Eucharistic Prayers from the Missal is to be used "until the Apostolic See makes other provisions for Masses with children". Pope Paul VI began to make such provisions immediately. His approval of the DMC was accompanied by authorization for the CDW to draw up two or three Eucharistic Prayers for children for use by the entire Church. Three Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children were approved on November 1, 1974.

DMC 43 suggests that the Lectionary may be adapted to children, but it left the details for producing it to the national conferences of bishops. In 1991, the US bishops approved a Lectionary for Masses with Children, along with an accompanying Introduction.

What do these documents permit in liturgies with children? How do they fit in with the liturgical reform following the Council?

The Children's Mass Project

After the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), appeared in 1963, the reform of the rites was entrusted to a group known as the Consilium (council) for the Implementation of the Liturgical Reform. Members of this body were bishops, and a large group of experts were appointed as advisors. Its work was assigned to several committees of experts. One of the most influential of these was the committee on revisions of the Order of Mass, known as Coetus X (Group 10). (Later the Consilium would be incorporated into the Congregation for Divine Worship, and its experts became consulters of the CDW.)

Many of the liturgical experts of Coetus X advocated simplifying the basic structure of the Mass while also allowing variations to be made by any priest-celebrant. As the liturgical reform progressed, it became clear that the new rite would not be as "flexible" as the liturgists had hoped -- so more and more liturgists demanded adaptations for special groups, including children. Some just made changes on their own authority, as Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, Secretary of the Consilium and later of the CDW, recalls in his history The Reform of the Liturgy: 1948-1975:

Not only were requests made for adaptations; some liturgical commissions went ahead on their own and issued regulations for Masses with children. In other instances adaptations were made by individual priests or planned by catechists (p. 438).

Thus the Congregation for Divine Worship began an inquiry on the possibility of adapting the Mass for children in March 1971.

The revised Missal had been approved for only about a year, and translations of the Missal into vernacular languages were not yet complete. The liturgy situation was very confused. There had not been time to evaluate seriously how (or whether) children (or adults, for that matter) were benefiting from the new rite. Despite this, liturgists were already insisting on further adaptations, and were making their own changes to the Mass without authorization.

To prepare for the Children's Mass project, the CDW sent a survey to the presidents of 109 national liturgical commissions. Just over half of the Commissions responded to the poll. On this basis, a report to the Congregation on the survey recommended the development of a directory that would give "concrete ways of adaptation that the episcopal conferences can then develop more fully" (Bugnini, p. 440).

Monsignor Balthasar Fischer, a long-time professor and co-founder of the Liturgical Institute at Trier, Germany, headed the Consilium committee assigned to develop both the DMC and the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children.

Fischer's committee decided to "launch a second inquiry among a limited number of experts" (Bugnini, p. 441).

The replies to this "limited" inquiry filled a 75-page book, which was used as the basis of the discussions of the group that eventually drafted a Directory for Masses with Children, incorporating many of the adaptations proposed.

The Directory was approved by Pope Paul VI and promulgated on November 1, 1973. It is considered a supplement to the General instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and it appears after the GIRM in altar missals.

The Directory consists of three chapters. The first chapter points out that children must receive catechesis on the Mass, and need prior experience of prayer and liturgy, especially within the family. The Directory says that parents should teach their children to pray and pray with them. Then, echoing Bishop Tracy's comment, the Directory confidently predicts that:

Children who have been prepared in this way from their earliest years and who have had the opportunity of going to Mass with the family when they so wish, will readily begin to sing and to pray in the liturgical assembly and indeed will already be experiencing something of the meaning of the Eucharistic mystery (DMC §10).

The second chapter outlines what can be done to accommodate children when the congregation is primarily adults, and mostly suggests how provisions already in the GIRM can be used to address the needs of children. (The children may sing one of the chants of the Mass, for example. Or they may participate in the Offertory procession. Or the priest may also address children in his introductory remarks.)

The Directory goes beyond the GIRM, however, in suggesting that "the children may sometimes have their own Liturgy of the Word in a place apart from the main congregation" (DMC 17).

Furthermore, DMC 19 says that adaptations that are permitted for Masses with young children may also be used at regular Masses that have many children present, "whenever the bishop permits".

Despite wording that restricts these practices to occasional use, many parishes initiated weekly Masses featuring either a separate Liturgy of the Word for Children, or made adaptations intended only for children's liturgies in Masses for ordinary congregations.

The Directory's third and longest chapter concerns Masses at which the congregation consists primarily of children who have not yet reached the age of preadolescence. It is here that the most radical adaptations, that is, practices that are not permitted at ordinary Masses, are advanced. Some of these adaptations are:

To make it easier for the children to participate in the singing of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, popular adaptations of these texts with appropriate musical settings can be authorized by the competent authority, even though they do not adhere strictly to the liturgical text (DMC 31 ­ emphasis added).

The Introductory Rites are intended to prepare the community to hear the Word of God:

Therefore every effort should be made to create this disposition in the children and not to jeopardize it by any excess of rites which are set forth here.

It is sometimes permissible to omit one or other element of the introductory rite or perhaps to expand another element (DMC 40 - emphasis added).

If the two or three readings appointed for Sundays or feasts can only be understood with difficulty by the children, then it is allowable to read only one or two of them. The gospel reading, however, should never be omitted (DMC 42).

In fact, the Directory says, if all the prescribed readings seem too difficult, another reading may be substituted, or particular passages that may cause "difficulty" for children may be omitted. (DMC 43).

The Directory authorizes "parts-reading" of Scripture texts:

Depending on the text of the reading, it may be helpful for the children to read it in parts distributed among them, as is provided for the reading of the Lord's passion during Holy Week (§47).

The Directory states that the homily is important at Masses for children, thus, "it can sometimes take the form of a dialogue with the children, unless it is preferred that they listen in silence" (DMC 48).

It goes further -- lay people may preach to the children:

With the consent of the pastor or rector of the church, nothing forbids one of the adults who is participating in a Mass with children from speaking to the children after the gospel reading, especially if the priest finds it difficult to adapt himself to the mentality of children. In this matter the norms issued by the Congregation for the Clergy should be observed (DMC 24).

Most of the adaptations in the Directory, said to be particularly suited to the mentality of children, were neither new nor were they originally devised in solely in order to meet children's liturgical "needs". Liturgists had previously proposed these same adaptations -- unsuccessfully -- for incorporation into the revised Rite of Mass for all congregations.

Archbishop Bugnini mentions a 1965 discussion by Coetus X of an early proposal for a revised rite of Mass:

A point on which there was disagreement was the succession of three songs: opening song, Kyrie, and Gloria, which could make the early part of the Mass somewhat slow and heavy (Bugnini, p. 343).

All three of these parts of the Entrance Rite of Mass remain in today's ritual -- and some liturgists still complain that the Entrance Rite is a "cluttered vestibule". It is still common, after three decades, for liturgy guides and workshops to recommend that the Entrance Rites be shortened -- usually by dropping the Gloria except on especially festive Sundays.

Similarly, omitting one of the pre-Gospel Scripture readings had been proposed already in 1966. When the Consilium discussed making three readings obligatory at Sunday Masses, some experts objected that "the faithful are not yet prepared to listen to three readings" (Bugnini, p. 415).

Other alterations and adaptations found in the Directory for Masses with Children are also practices favored by liturgists for general use.

For example, many popular liturgical composers today feel free to "modify" texts of the parts of the Mass, by paraphrasing the Gloria or adding "tropes" (extra phrases) to the Agnus Dei. These compositions are widely used in ordinary Masses, even though modification of the text is permitted only for children's Masses -- and even then it is required that the altered text be approved by the bishops' conference. (A rule that is honored only in the breach.)

"Sacred Play"

Was the liturgists' objective in injecting these innovative practices into Masses for children meant to circumvent resistance to their plans for "reform"? Indeed, the reactions of some commentators when the DMC was issued suggest this. The DMC was praised not because it would be helpful to children, but precisely because it promoted norms that liturgists viewed as being applicable to standard Masses.

For example, in 1974, Father Aelred Tegels OSB, editor of the influential liturgical journal Worship, said that the DMC "proposes norms which apply to pastoral celebration of Eucharistic liturgy generally" (Worship Vol. 48, no. 6).

Father Tegels contended that what DMC says about children ("the words and signs of the liturgy are not sufficiently adapted to their understanding") is true for adults as well. He suggests that some provisions of the DMC could also be used in adult Masses -- such as "liturgical dance". After noting the Directory's stress on the processions of the Mass, Father Tegels writes:

Surely we should explore, in this regard, the potential of ritual dance for participation, and not with only children in mind (p. 369 ­ emphasis added).

Where would this lead? Let's skip ahead. Ten years later, an international conference on Liturgy with Young Christians was sponsored by Catholic University of America. The papers were collected into a volume entitled The Sacred Play of Children (New York: Seabury Press, 1983).

Two members of Coetus X contributed to the collection, and both praise the DMC as superior to the GIRM as an implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy.

In the Preface to Sacred Play, Monsignor Frederick McManus, former director of the US Bishops Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) Secretariat, a founder of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and long-time member of its Advisory Board, notes that the DMC "shares the limitations of other official documents", and adds:

As a slight historical note, it may be added that the Directory for Masses with Children perhaps reflects better the liturgical intent of the Second Vatican Council than does the fully developed Order of Mass itself. In other words, the quite basic rite and the invitation to creativity, adaptation, and paraphrase that are given in the Directory may, if thoughtfully implemented better achieve the noble simplicity and the pastorally motivated clarity enjoined by the Constitution on the Liturgy (p. viii ­ emphasis added).

In his contribution to Sacred Play, Jesuit Father Joseph Gélineau comments on reading the DMC a decade after it was published:

I expected to feel some regret as I do sometimes for the post-conciliar Ordo Missae. If the latter were drafted today it would undoubtedly be different on various points.

But on the contrary I marveled once again at the fact that this insufficiently known and imperfectly utilized document not only had not aged but that it had often been ahead of normal practice in Masses in which children participate.... It constitutes one of the best practical commentaries on the Ordo Missae of Paul VI (Sacred Play p. 27 ­ emphasis added).

Elizabeth McMahon Jeep, editor of Children's Daily Prayer, an adaptation of the Liturgy of the Hours for children published annually by Liturgy Training Publications of the Archdiocese of Chicago, also contributed an essay to Sacred Play. Ms. Jeep believes that liturgists feel "creative and independent" only when adapting the liturgy for children:

It is my opinion that in the majority of parishes nothing at all is happening on the adult level, but that there is a small group of liturgists working with children and experiencing some measure of success, flexibility, and growing sophistication.... Children's liturgists have had the freedom to work at it for years; they have had a chance to learn, to make mistakes, and to grow (Sacred Play p. 32).

The liturgists to learn and grow? What about the children? Where is the concern that the mistakes the liturgists feel free to make can cause the children spiritual harm?

Evidently most professional liturgists viewed the Directory for Masses with Children not so much as authorizing certain minor changes in the Mass in order to respond to the special needs of children -- with the objective of helping them more fully and actively participate in the Sacred Liturgy -- but rather as a license for limitless liturgical imagination and experimentation. Did those who worked on this "children's" project also see it as a means of "indoctrinating" children with an eye the future? Almost certainly. Congregations of children, obviously, could not offer disconcerting resistance even to the most extreme liturgical tinkering by experts. Catholic children provided an irresistibly vulnerable field for the liturgists' "Sacred Play".

The same pattern will be evident when we review the development of special Eucharistic Prayers for children and the Lectionary for Masses with Children in Part II.

To be continued... Part II.

***

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