QUAERITUR: prayers of the faithful written by children

From a reader:

Yesterday my husband (who teaches in a Catholic school …) was having a discussion with the principal of his school regarding having the children write the general intentions for the school Masses.  My husband feels strongly that they should follow a specific format and be geared toward the feast of the day and doesn’t feel like his elementary school students are really up for it.  I think the children are a little too general with things like, "For the Pope". 

After some discussion, the principal told him that it was possible to be "too Catholic".  I found her comment to be a little alarming, especially coming from a Sister.  I guess I feel like most of the time I’m not Catholic enough!


Some reactions.

First, when I hear the phrase "too Catholic" I consider the source.  Coming from a religious sister who is in a Catholic school, I immediately suspect – fairly or not – that prayers for the Pope or other traditional intentions which don’t talk also about the earth mother goddess or equality for women in ordination are all "too Catholic".

Second, it is okay for these intention to be "general".  There are, as a matter of fact, templates for the prayers of the faithful found in an appendix of the Missale Romanum.  They are general and they are good and they are actually in the Missal.

Of course the question has to be raised, with Masses for children why have these prayers or why have the children write them?   They are in the age of being formed.  Adults should write these prayers for them to teach them what to pray for.

I suspect what is at work here is a strong current of the false notion of "active participation" whereby everyone has to do stuff, or every voice must be heard, blah blah blah.. thus leading in larger celebrations to conga lines of people heading to the ambo to declaim something meaningful and a babble of languages and mishmash of cultural elements.  Also at work is the "awww ain’t that cute" dynamic, whereby the little darlings are so cute up there reading their pieces of paper.

I don’t have a problem with cute or with expression of cultural elements.  There are many occasions when that can be appropriate and laudable and formative.

I have a problem with turning Mass into an occasion for everything except an encounter with mystery, the sort of encounter which transforms a person and guides them to the true point of the virtue of religion: awe, and not awww, at transcendence.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. chironomo says:

    I was once told something that I will pass on here regarding children’s liturgy.

    “Children’s liturgy is liturgy for the children, not liturgy by the children”

    I have followed this maxim every time I am asked to take part in preparing children’s liturgy, often resulting in considerable animosity towards me.

  2. Jenny says:

    Not to take this thread down the rabbit hole, but what is your opinion on Sunday school classes for 3-5 year olds being held during Mass? So the children go to class instead of Mass.

  3. TJM says:

    This is rich, being “too Catholic.” I understand certain seminaries have folks who suggest that a seminarian is too “rigid” and “non-pastoral” if he
    is supportive of the pope, etc. Tom

  4. Francesco says:

    I LOVE IT!

    “Awe not awww”

    It’s the new “Say the Black, Do the Red” !!!

    I have heard some of the best slogans on this blog. God bless you Father.

  5. More generally, I often wonder why have anyone write so-called “prayers of the faithful” for any Mass. There are 8 or 10 perfectly adequate Intercessions for each day listed the LOH’s Morning and Evening Prayer for that day.

    If someone wants to “participate” in preparation of the liturgy for the Mass, he/she could look up accurate translations — such as those in Fr. Stravinskas’ Latin-English “Lauds and Vespers” — of these intercessions from the Latin Preces in the Liturgia Horarum, to use at Mass in English in place of the typical banal ICEL (mis)translations found in the LOH or Christian Prayer.

  6. Greg Smisek says:

    I know we’ve become used to locally-made “relevant” petitions for the Prayer of the Faithful, whether by the pastor or liturgy committee, but our liturgical history is primarily one of invariable, universal litanies, including the Kyrie of the Mass, various Gallican litanies once used in the Mass, the Roman Prayer of the Faithful now used only on Good Friday, the Te Deum petitions, and the Litany of the Saints. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the form of the Mass used by the greater number of Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, is filled with petitions for God’s mercy.

    One of the well-kept secrets of the ordinary form of the Divine Office is that there are in the appendix several sets of petitions, mostly based on ancient formulas, which may be used in place of the petitions printed in Lauds or Vespers.

  7. momoften says:

    I have attended Children’s Masses that have been so “dumbed
    down” that it turns into a cutesy show for the parents attending. The Masses groom them for the entertaining Masses that are usually being said in those same Parishes. The reverence and awe of the Mass is lost.

  8. Angelo says:

    I have seen those children come back from their indoctrination, …er… “catechism” class during the Mass and not even genuflect when passing the Tabernacle. No way would those people get my kid.

  9. Daddio says:

    “awe, not awww”

    I love it!!! We need this on a T-shirt.

  10. David Andrew says:

    Yes, of course, and not only should the kids write them, but there should be a parade of kids trouping up to the pulpit to read them one at a time, to ensure that everyone the in class that has been “assigned” the preparation for that Mass has “something to do.”

    Anytime I’ve suggested, as you rightly pointed out Fr. Z, that these children are still in a very early formational state, we as adults have a responsibility to teach them the Faith by example, I get the smouldering stare that says, “keep your Catholicism to yourself”.

    Two other things come to mind: 1) sometimes the children (regardless of age) don’t know how to handle an amplification system and the intention is so horribly unintelligible that I can’t respond “hear our prayer” because I’ve not got clue one what we’re praying for. There have also been times when the prayers are so specifically “for” a particular outcome (often infused with “social justice” messages) that it begins to sound more like political commentary than prayer. And this doesn’t just happen at “children’s liturgies”, either! In this case I also can’t say “hear our prayer” because it’s not general or intercessory.

  11. ajani says:

    It is possible to do this reverently. At my Catholic school that I left just a year ago — but only on rare occasion, by older students, and according to the templates (first for the universal Church, second for …etc.) — the prayers were all reverent, all read by children but usually the Confirmandi so mature enough. Children can be reverent. They certainly were in the Gospels :) but the ‘too Catholic’ comment is just atrocious…

  12. Gloria says:

    As a child back in the Middle Ages (1930s) I remember that every Sunday the 8 a.m. Mass was the “children’s” Mass. Every child who came to that Mass sat in the front pews. The Mass was the traditional Latin rite liturgy, no add-ons, of course. Somehow we managed to follow the Mass at our tender ages, kneeling, sitting and standing at the proper times, and behaving ourselves as was expected. Our pastor was older, and an old-fashioned priest with definite views. The only difference in the children’s Mass was that the pastor was always the celebrant and his sermon was directed toward the children and our Catholic understanding. School-age children who came to a later Mass with their parents were still expected to take the front pews. Our dear old pastor wanted the children to be as close to Christ on the altar as they could get. He even went down the aisles before Mass and took the children by the hand, leading them to the front, if their parents had not directed them there. Father Brady was special in many ways. I have to recount a bit off subject – can’t help it. He sat in a rocking chair between the boys’ and girls’ play yards during lunch hour at the parochial school, supervising. He stood at the top of the stairs as we marched back into school and whacked this or that one with his cane, with a pithy comment. Every month he went from one classroom to the other and read aloud each child’s report card, complementing those who got an “A” for effort, even if the rest of their card was not so good. He took the time then to find out whose birthdays were that month, called them up and gave them a Birthday spank. He stopped the swat for the girls at about fifth grade and shook their hands instead. He cared about every child in that school and I think, knew every one by name. Those were the days, too, when at the bell we lined up, silently, by grades, saluted the Flag and the recited the salute to the Papal flag as well, then marched in to a recorded Sousa march. Love and discipline went hand in hand.

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