QUAERITUR: Calling children up around the altar

I got a question from a reader, but I am simply too tired to get at it.  You folks must help.

This is from a priest.  Help him concretely.   Keep anecdotes to a minimum until we get concrete references.

Our Pastor has started bringing the children up into the sanctuary to stand behind him during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Where can I find official documentation on whether this is permitted or not?

Thanks.  I greatly appreciate you work.

Okay, folks.  Get to work. 

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  1. truthfinder says:

    I’m almost positive that this was banned by Redemtionis Sacramentum (sp?). But of course, like many of its other decrees, it is not followed. Sorry, that this isn’t more helpful.

  2. The following may not seem helpful at first, but it should be.

    The innovation in question is not called for in the rubrics, or in any ceremonial. The rubrics are to tell us what is done, not what is not done. That it is not mentioned at all, is enough to rule it out.

    That, and it looks ridiculous. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  3. Cory says:

    It reeks of the “monkeys in the sanctuary” argument. If the GIRM doesn’t say monkeys can’t be in the sanctuary, it’s gotta be ok! Well, no it’s not. In this case, it’s kids, not monkeys, but the idea is the same.

  4. Mark says:

    These citations are from the GIRM, my comments follow:

    294. The People of God, gathered for Mass, has a coherent and hierarchical structure, which finds its expression in the variety of ministries and the variety of actions according to the different parts of the celebration. The general ordering of the sacred building must be such that in some way it conveys the image of the gathered assembly and allows the appropriate ordering of all the participants, as well as facilitating each in the proper carrying out of his function.

    The faithful and the choir should have a place that facilitates their active participation.

    The priest celebrant, the deacon, and the other ministers have places in the sanctuary. Seats for concelebrants should also be prepared there. If, however, their number is great, seats should be arranged in another part of the church, but near the altar.

    All these elements, even though they must express the hierarchical structure and the diversity of ministries, should nevertheless bring about a close and coherent unity that is clearly expressive of the unity of the entire holy people.


    295. The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation. It should, however, be large enough to allow the Eucharist to be celebrated properly and easily seen.

    My comments:

    The GIRM states that the liturgy and the liturgical space must express the hierarchical structure of the Church, allowing for the appropriate ordering of all the participants. The sanctuary is explicitly referred to as the place where the priest, deacon and other ministers exercise their offices and have their places.

    To bring children (or any other “group”) into the sanctuary for the eucharistic prayer violates the GIRM by confusing the appropriate ordering of participants and obscuring the hierarchical structure of the Church. The sacred ministers have their proper place in the sanctuary, and the assembly has its proper place (which is not in the sanctuary).

  5. Jeff Pinyan says:

    The link in the first comment (which includes the relevant Notitiae) is really the best response that can be given.

    The “it’s not mentioned, so it’s not allowed” argument can be used here too, but I think you do better than that: the priest MAY NOT add to the liturgy, so he does not have the right to invite the children up to the altar. It’s the same thing with hand-holding at the Our Father: the people can, of their own impulse, do this, but a priest cannot invite or require it, because he would be adding to the liturgy to do so.

  6. TJM says:

    It’s all about me, me, me ,me ,me, me. Tom

  7. M. Parrot says:

    I am not sure but I think this issue was addressed a few years ago because of the practice of teens gathering around the altar at Life Teen Masses. From what I found online it looks like they (Life Teen) were told to stop the practice. The only reputable link that I have found on it is http://www.adoremus.org/0904NewsViews.html#anchor4049175 and Wikipedia has something on it via their entry on Life Teen.

  8. Malta says:

    as a father of four, I like the idea of a circus performer asking kids up, but a priest, whose hands are consecrated to God, NO!
    What are you teaching the children about the Holy, Eterernal, Unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass? Nada.

  9. Cassanda says:

    The bottom line is whether the bishop can be appealed to or not. If a bishop can’t look at that and say stop! then you are s**t out of luck. Sorry, that’s the way it is: documentation or no documentation; GIRM or no GIRM. A bad bishop isn’t going to care. A good pastor wouldn’t be doing it. I’d say “Move to another diocese” but this is apparently an associate priest. Jesus didn’t promise us Justice this side of heaven.

  10. Shin says:

    I did a quick search of Akin’s blog on the issue, figuring it a good ref if some variation on this might’ve come up.

    I found an entry on some shenanigans here:

    The entry referred to the ‘Directory for Masses with Children’

    See here: http://www.adoremus.org/DMC-73.html#anchor4421011

    Said Directory potentially offering lots of ammo for claims of wiggle room. Perhaps someone should ask Akin himself, it becomes confusing because of the possibility of using a ‘this is a children’s mass’ (not really) ‘anything goes’ (the document is vague) excuse. I’m not saying this is legitimate but I am saying the devil often keeps trying new loopholes until they’re explicitly plugged.. ten times in a row.

    While saying, ‘I really don’t think this is proper, it violates the rubrics to have children in the sanctuary at this time when they’re not performing some role as altar servers, etc.’ seems like the way to go, you can already hear the accusation of a person being ‘uncreative’, ‘rules lawyering’ and ‘against the spirit of inclusivity in regards to encouraging children!’ etc.

    This one’s going to take work. I hope someone else finds something more useful for this, perhaps about adults going in at this time and it being a violation, the context would probably be of appearing to be part priests’s role in the Eucharistic prayer.

    While obviously wrong, this looks like one of the tougher liturgical problems to deal with. Depending on the priest’s position he could catch a lot of Hell in regards to fighting it. It’s at times like this when the idea, if a brief statement about the problem meets total opposition, of anonymous and documented notes to higher authority become appealing, in other words, ‘passing the buck’ to the people who might not even support you as they should anyway. Tho anonymous notes become all the more easily ignored and aren’t always ‘anonymous’ esp. if you’re the one who spoke up.

    Just some thoughts. I wish I could think of an ideal solution or find better documents. Hope someone does. St. Anthony ora pro nobis!

  11. Jeff says:

    The Ceremonial of Bishops is clearest I have seen, n. 50, “A minister who is not wearing a vestment, a cassock or surplice, or other lawfully approved garb may not enter the sanctuary during a celebration.”

    While you may get an argument from some people about who is a “minister” at Mass, the intention of the rubric is very clear.

  12. An interesting side note:

    At our mission, we are trying to reinstitute approaching the solea and the altar for both the Gospel reading and the Anaphora. This is traditional Byzantine liturgical practice. The parishioners seem hesitant to do so, in part influenced by Western piety not to mention the restraint of the pews/chairs (which we are planing to remove soon).

    That said, we would never invite the laity onto the altar (the sanctuary is referred to as “the altar” which includes the Holy Table), since this does not properly reflect the ordo of the laity, but rather the clergy.

    I recall witnessing this with (Fr.) Dale Fushek at a LifeTeen Mass in Arizona some years ago. He claimed that he wanted to start a “new rite” within the Latin Church, which included this practice. Thank goodness Pope Benedict had other ideas…

    In ICXC,


  13. Sacerdos Vagans says:

    At an English abbey of the Solesmes Congregation back in the 80’s and early 90’s non-ordained monks and laity used to join the concelebrants around the altar for the Canon at weekday conventual Masses. I was told that when the practice was finally discontinued it was under pressure from Solesmes, where it was considered improper, but it went on apparently unquestioned for over ten years.

  14. Chironomo says:

    M. Parrot is correct here…

    The practice was given an “indult” for use in the Life Teen program (Fr. Dale) where it was the normal practice during Mass. In 2004 James Moroney, Executive Director USCCB Committee on the Liturgy instructed Life Teen programs that the practice must cease in accord with the 2000 GIRM:

    The following article appeared in the St. Louis diocesan newspaper.

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Much like a precious jewel that sometimes needs polishing, Life Teen is making some changes to the way its teen Mass is celebrated.

    That’s the analogy Msgr. James Moroney, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, used in a recent video sent to 952 Life Teen parishes around the country regarding the changes.

    The changes in the Life Teen model of liturgy are in accord with the most recent version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which Pope John Paul II released in 2000.

    Two of the most noticeable changes with the Life Teen Mass are the cessation of a period during the Mass when teens would normally enter the sanctuary and gather around the altar during the eucharistic prayer. Life Teen also is asking its participating parishes to stop the practice of saying, “The Mass never ends. It must be lived,” at the conclusion of the liturgy.”

    … that’s about the closest I can get without researching thoroughly the GIRM passages in question. However, it should be enough to note that the USCCB essentially sent a “cease and desist” letter to Life Teen programs in 2004 regarding the practice.

  15. Ruthy Lapeyre says:

    Nothing concrete here but I think I’m safe in posting an anecdote now. I first came across this practice of having children come up to the altar in a Detroit suburb soon after we moved here from New Orleans in 1985. My children were little at the time and did not want to participate, in hind sight I am very glad. The pastor was very, I mean very popular with the congregation. He had been there for many years but this practice died out when he was re-assigned, within a year or two after we joined this parish. I have not heard of this practice since that time in the archdiocese (not that it couldn’t still be happening), so I wonder if Cardinal Szoka put a quiet end to the practice.

  16. skeeton says:

    My most recent parish had a regular practice where the children would come up and form a circle around the altar. However, it wasn’t during the Eucharistic prayer. It was during the Our Father. Despite the fact that it was an “awwww, how cute!” moment for 98% of the attendees, I was secretly thankful that my daughter was not interested in participating. The ruckus caused by all those little kids finding their way back to Mom & Dad in the pew made the Sign of Peace a full blown interruption and momentum-killer.

  17. xpihs says:

    “Our Pastor has started bringing the children up into the sanctuary to stand behind him during the Eucharistic Prayer.”

    Perhaps the pastor would be so kind as to give the entire congregation the benefit of Mass with “his back to the people” instead of just the children who would be standing behind him, and thus with an ad orientem celebration allow the children the same experience without the unnecessary movement in the presbyterium. All would be better that way wouldn’t it?

  18. Tim Lang says:

    If the pastor insists, you could remind him that this practice was started
    and promoted in the U.S. years ago by the notorious predator of boys, Fr. John Aurelio
    The world renown liturgist who sodomized many boys with his priest/boyfriend partner Fr. Mach.

    Ask him why he would rather follow the disobedient directions of a convicted criminal pervert anthan the clear instruction and real liturgical law of the Church.

  19. Kazimer says:

    Excellent response xphis !

    Our parish had an associate priest do the same thing – inviting up children ( never quite knew the age cut off ) to the altar during the Eucharistic prayer. Although he would state to the children to be reverent ( not sure of the exact words he used) there would be the few kids who just couldn’t be still. It was a distraction. And, I bet, the parents /siblings of the kids invited were to some extent focussing on their children (or brother(s)/sister(s)) instead of the Real Event taking place. I don’t know. To me it had the “cute” factor and the “children of God” aspect, but it just didn’t seem to sit right with me. Eventually, that priest was re-assigned ( in normal course not due to this aspect) to be the pastor of another local parish. I don’t know if he continued the practice there, but I’m glad/relieved it stopped at our parish.

  20. It’s certainly unauthorised. It’s distracting. And, liturgically, it’s very silly.
    If the priest were facing “ad Deum” together with the people, then he would be unlikely to invite half his congregation to join him in the sanctuary.

  21. I remember our old parish doing this during Life Teen Masses, and it was announced one week that it had been forbidden specifically and the practice would end. No discussion. Previous commenters have mentioned the Life Teen incidents and announcements, which are from about the time I remember it happening (or ceasing) in my old parish.

    I do hope there is a way for Father to resolve this (snark isn’t particularly helpful!).

  22. PMG says:

    I was visiting in-laws in Trenton, NJ, and I first saw this. Children running toward the altar and circling it, and the priest (who was no youngster). I saw the children fidgeting with the altarcloth, and thought at any minute, would try the old “pull out the table cloth without moving the dishes” routine.

    My heart was in my mouth through the whole event.

  23. I was having this very conversation with a priest friend of mine, and he was telling me that when prists do that it removes the dignity from the Mass. I wholeheartedly agree with him on this matter.

  24. Andreas says:

    … bringing the children up into the sanctuary to stand behind.

    The priest could just leave the kids in the pews, turn himself around (ad orientem) and the children will be standing behind him.

  25. Abe says:

    Offhand, “is it authorized” seems like the wrong question, although I suspect that it is not. It is so plainly asinine and an indication of warped thinking that I am hard pressed to imagine how it is not a cue to look for another parish.

  26. Central Valley Catholic says:

    You may be able to find documents that prohibit this but good luck getting them enforced. I know this from experience. There are two parishes in Bakersfield, Ca. (Diocese of Fresno) that do this on a regular basis and whenever the faithful object to the pastor or the bishop, they are given the regular blow off.

  27. Central Valley Catholic says:

    Best of luck trying to get this situation stopped. There are two parishes in Bakersfield, Ca.(Fresno Diocese) that play this game. When the matter is addressed to the pastor or to the bishop you get the regular blow off. The sad part of this is that the children come to think of this as being normal.

  28. The 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal approved for the USA has:
    “195. … Then the lector takes his own place in the sanctuary with the other ministers.”
    (This can be accessed from http://www.romanrite.com/girm.html ).

    This is part of the description of the entrance procession for the lector. So if the children are ministers they should be there from the entrance procession to the procession out.

    Often I see ministers going in and out of the sanctuary. I am thinking of readers, psalmists, cantors, commentators, those reading the Prayer of the Faithful and Extraordinary Minsiters of Holy Communion. I don’t think the liturgical books intend this. More from the GIRM to support this:
    “154. … The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration.”
    “294. … The priest celebrant, the deacon, and the other ministers have places in the sanctuary.”

    Even Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. They are ministers. Therefore, following GIRM 294, a place in the sanctuary. Space may be limited, and it may not be practical, but that would be the general rule.

    Truthfinder suggested Redemptionis Sacramentum said something about this. This sounds like it, but I think its another problem: “[83.] It is certainly best that all who are participating in the celebration of Holy Mass with the necessary dispositions should receive Communion. Nevertheless, it sometimes happens that Christ’s faithful approach the altar as a group indiscriminately. It pertains to the Pastors prudently and firmly to correct such an abuse.” I think the problem it is addressing is going to Communion, not groups in the sanctuary.

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