QUAERITUR: Children reading the Gospel during Mass

From a reader:

I am a curate in a busy city centre parish in the UK. I have just been told by my Parish Priest that I should be flexible [?] and pastoral [?!?] at Children’s Masses and allow them to read the Gospel. When I said that the Church expects a Priest or Deacon to proclaim the Gospel he said that there was a Handbook on Children’s Masses (or similar) which made provision for this. I have never heard of this – “Didn’t they teach you that at seminary?” was the put down! I can find no reference to anything of the sort in the GIRM.

Didn’t they teach that parish priest in the seminary that to read the Gospel during Mass you have to be at least a deacon?

Am I getting this wrong?

I would ask to see that “Handbook”.

Is there a special permission for children to read the Gospel?  I have never heard of such a thing.

I suppose people get blinded by the “cute” factor or sentimentalism, or the bent notion that “active participation” means that priests have to make lay people do what the ordained are supposed to do (which is the worst form of clericalism).

Liturgical abuse that involves children is a particularly vile abuse.

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  1. Hieronymus says:

    Children’s Liturgies are a liturgical abuse.

  2. traditionalorganist says:

    When I was a child, we had a “children’s Mass” at school that also celebrated the celebrant’s birthday. To top things off, birthday cake was placed on the altar during the penitential rite, and we all sang “happy birthday” to the priest. The cake remained on the altar during the Consecration. To be fair, the Priest was at least 90 at the time, and had to sit on a stool to say Mass. But really now?

  3. Pachomius says:

    Children’s liturgies are, so far as I know, perfectly licit, whatever one feels about them. On that topic… this Angle has never heard of any allowance for children to read the Gospel. The readings, maybe.

  4. irishgirl says:

    Children reading the GOSPEL? Oh, for heaven’s sake!
    I agree with you, Hieronymus-Childrens’ Liturgies ARE a liturgical abuse!
    And I’m with you too, Father Z, when you say that ‘Liturgical abuse involving children is a particularly vile abuse’!

  5. Please, people, please resist the temptation to post children Mass horror stories.

  6. Mike says:

    Sure thing, Fr. Z.

    I would just offer one suggestion: wouldn’t be great if all “children’s liturgies” were banned outright! :)

  7. disco says:

    The problem I have with children’s mass is that like all things designed for children, it presupposes that the little ones are not ready for the adult version. This may be true of books, television shows, movies, and to some degree dinner menus, but not of the holy sacrifice of the mass.

  8. CatherineSienna says:

    Think the Parish Priest is referring to this document:
    Directory for Masses with Children (http://www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/SOS/DCM.pdf)
    The Liturgy Office of England and Wales describes it thus:
    “This document from the Holy See provides the foundations for good practice in liturgy with children.It gives guidance for the adaptation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for Masses with Children.”
    However I think the Parish Priest may be mis-interpreting paragraph 47 of this document.
    There is a further document form the Liturgy Office of England and Wales “Guidelines for Liturgy of Word with children”,(where children are sent out to have a separate Liturgy of the Word), but must always be used in conjunction with the document above from the Holy See.http://www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/SOS/LOWC.pdf
    A couple of quotes:
    “Brief introductory comments may precede a reading in order to help the children appreciate its biblical context, to listen attentively and make the Scripture their own……Other forms of proclamation can be used to enhance the reception of the scriptures e.g. mime, drama, song, or choral recitation.”

  9. traditionalorganist says:

    Sorry Father, will do. I’ve heard that the “Children’s Liturgy” was originally “in the books” but that it had an expiration date (as in no longer licit) after the 1980’s or something like that. I wish I could be more specific, but the point is, it was tested, and failed the test.

  10. EXCHIEF says:

    Too often “childrens liturgies” are more about the organizers, song leaders and other unnecessary feel good postitions than anything else. They focus attention on just about everythig but the central purpose of the Mass

  11. atraturris says:

    “22. The principles of active and conscious participation are in a sense even more significant for Masses celebrated with children. Every effort should therefore be made to increase this participation and to make it more intense. For this reason as many children as possible should have special parts in the celebration: for example,; preparing the place and the altar (see no. 29), acting as cantor (see no. 24), singing in a choir, playing musical instruments (see no. 32), proclaiming the readings (see nos. 24 and 47), responding during the homily (see no. 48), reciting the intentions of the general intercessions, bringing the gifts to the altar, and performing similar activities in accord with the usage of various peoples (see no. 34).”

    This is from the Directory of Masses with Children, 1973. It talks about children proclaiming the readings, but not the Gospel.

  12. moon1234 says:

    Heavy Sigh.

  13. dmwallace says:

    From the Directory of Masses with Children, aka, Pueros baptizatos, 01 Nov 1973:
    No. 24:

    With the consent of the pastor or rector of the church, one of the adults may speak to the children after the gospel, especially if the priest finds it difficult to adapt himself to the mentality of children. In this matter the norms soon to be issued by the Congregation for the Clergy should be observed.

    Even in Masses with children attention is to be paid to the diversity of ministries so that the Mass may stand out clearly as the celebration of the community. [24] For example, readers and cantors, whether children or adults, should be employed. In this way a variety of voices will keep the children from becoming bored.

    No. 47:

    When the text of the readings lends itself to this, it may be helpful to have the children read it with parts distributed among them, as is provided for the reading of the Lord’s passion during Holy Week.

    Also, the Lectionary for Children, which is used in the United States, allows for laymen to read the Gospel and deliver a homily when in the context of the situation in accord with the Directory’s no. 17: “Sometimes, moreover, if the place itself and the nature of the community permit, it will be appropriate to celebrate the liturgy of the word, including a homily, with the children in a separate, but not too distant, room. Then, before the eucharistic liturgy begins, the children are led to the place where the adults have meanwhile celebrated their own liturgy of the word.”

  14. Mike says:


    That last is what our parish does, and poor kids, almost every one march past the Tabernacle without even a look.

    Goes without saying whose fault that is!

  15. Daniel Latinus says:

    The whole concept of “Children’s liturgy” seems to me a bad idea from start to finish. Children grow up. We have to give them something that will carry them through until old age. Making the liturgy childish is not going to do that. I especially find the idea of having the children attend a separate Liturgy of the Word disturbing.

    The other thing is, there is a wide gulf between pre-schoolers and eighth graders. What will seem intensely meaningful to a four or five year old will seem like baby talk to a fourteen year old, or even a ten year old.

  16. Elly says:

    A couple practical concerns with children reading or having other roles during the Mass-

    1. Children are often competitive and I can envision multiple problems coming up when trying to decide which child has which part, leading to jealousy, pride, and resentment, certainly not feelings we want to encourage in the context of the Mass.

    2. Depending on the age of the children, they can be hard to understand if they are doing readings. Is the priest going to give an “English translation” before the homily so other children will know what was being read? Also, some children read very slowly and deliberatly, especially if they have just learned to read, which could cause other children to lose interest more quickly.

  17. On a good day it’s excruciating to hear an adult lay person butcher the Scripture reading by being unable to correctly pronounce some of the names in the reading. Ask a child to read the Scripture and, I’m sorry, but the butchery is just flat out torture.

    Don’t I have a “right” to hear the Scriptures proclaimed clearly? Unfortunately, most lay people have not had the education to learn the correct pronunciation of some of the words. Honestly, stumbling and mispronunciation makes me wince and I lose my concentration on the reading as I think “Oh, the poor reader”. There I said it. Fire and fall back.

  18. scholastica says:

    Do you know what really engages children at mass? Beauty found in intricate stained glass scenes, statues with faces that beckon, incense that rises to the heavens, haunting chants- the color and life that are supposed to ornament our liturgy to give us that foretaste of heaven. When these were stripped then we had to go look for gimmicks to let the children “participate” and understand. Also, if children are familiar with scripture from the reading of Bible stories at home, they will naturally attend when they hear a story they already know. It is so sad to me as a convert that the Church I was intrigued by as a child is no longer beautiful unless you find the exceptional parish that hasn’t abandoned beauty. Sadder still that my children almost never encounter it.

  19. mike cliffson says:

    taking horror stories as read , “children’s” masses CAN be ok. Needed: sensible orthodox priest with a number of qualities, including confidence in his discernment, charism, and authority, (all of which will have got in him into trouble by now in western christendom with or without children’s masses) The sailing closest to the wind on Gospel reading(otherwise by the priest) I’ve seen is having a loudvoiced kid slightly costumed at Xmas act like a town crier: “by order of Caesaretc”- very effective, but a oneoff, the priest thought-or was told-better of it.That was 20odd years hence, in a parish with pushing 500 first communion/annum(now down to 50 or so.) There were hundreds of kids at mass, in the first c.class groups, with their teacher patrolling thea isles. They wouldnta dared say not genuflect , but whispering and underpew chewing gum were rife.

  20. MissOH says:

    I had to do a double take to make certain this post was referring to the Gospel.
    Not unless they have taken to ordaining 10 year olds. My guess is the priest was thinking about Children’s Liturgies of the Word or CLOW, which some parishes near me have and as dmwallace noted above. We don’t attend those churches.
    What intrigues my pre-schooler is being able to see the priest and in what is going on during the mass- including increasing efforts to sing the appropriate mass parts.

  21. CLOW…I will resist the temptation to add the N
    No more LCD Masses, our hearts should be lifted, not brought down, the same for children.

  22. Mrs Kate says:

    As a UK Catholic, I have never heard of children being allowed to read the Gospel at Mass, (the !st and 2nd readings as well as the psalm, many times), and it usually happens at what is billed a ‘childrens ‘Mass.
    My concern would be this- childrens’ Masses usually use somewhat infantile language/hymns because this is a ‘Mass for children’. Many parents of these children only come to Mass at these times and they come to support the school and their children, especially when it is their child who will be doing the reading. So the Mass they will be most familiar with is that one. The Mass oriented to children, using infantile language, in which their child ‘does something’.
    It’s as if such Masses are in danger of becoming another format in which the children showcase what they can do. And the parents, naturally, feel proud of their child’s efforts.

  23. amenamen says:

    Another scandal
    Has anyone made the connection that liturgical abuse is truly a form of “abuse”?

  24. Fr. Basil says:

    Getting back to the Curate and his original question.

    Submit it to the bishop, and see what happens.

  25. This is from the Directory of Masses with Children, 1973.

    That says it all. Leave the ’70s in the ’70s.

  26. Tina in Ashburn says:

    And then, following years of attending children’s Masses where children are taught to interrupt and interfere with the action on the altar, they then attend Life Teen Masses!

  27. Sliwka says:

    Are there ever any provisions to have someone who is not ordained read the Gospel during other Liturgical acts?

    Pretty routinely (that is, everytime I have seen) at the local parish, some high school children read the Passion Story o n Good Friday. Is this licit?

  28. wmeyer says:

    Cathy_of_Alex: If there were a “right” to hear the Scripture proclaimed clearly, the priest in the parish I was raised in would never have been ordained. That said, I think that children have a right to be well taught. But then, I also believe that adults in RCIA have a right to be taught from the Catechism, and not from essays by dissident Catholics….

  29. Reginald Pole says:

    Scroll to the end of the Directory of Masses with Children, 1973 and see who signed off on it. His signature explains everything!

  30. Brooklyn says:

    How did the Church manage to survive for almost 2000 years without “children’s” Masses? And produce great saints, including child saints (e.g. Maria Goretti) on top of it? There is a local church near me that has a children’s Mass every Sunday. They use to have a sign that said “Child Friendly Mass.” Drove me crazy every time I saw it. I haven’t seen that sign for a while. But just recently this church had a posting in their bulletin that they are going to have a Mass for teens done by teens. That is a nightmare that I don’t even want to imagine. This same church also has a Jazz Mass every Sunday, with wine and cheese afterwards. Yet another reason for Summorum Pontificum?

  31. Let’s face it: the “teen” Masses are not for the teens at all. Those Masses aren’t exactly packed to the rafters with kids. I don’t think the LifeTeen bands I’ve seen had anybody in them under 30.

  32. mpolo says:

    Actually the “Masses with Children” is supposed to be for Masses that are almost exclusively for children. Which means that adults attending them are supposed to be just their teachers, a few parents and so forth. These provisions were never intended for the Sunday morning Mass attended by families with children.

    This is not to say that the provisions are necessary or advisable, but if they were limited to the cases where they are actually permitted, such liturgies would be quite rare indeed, outside of school Masses or retreats before first Communion… Of course then the children wouldn’t know the strange responses they are supposed to make…

  33. benedetta says:

    It is tangential to this topic but I have seen, in different parts of the country, young people, about high school to college age, reading at Sunday Mass (obviously NOT the Gospel). And I have seen young people singing in the choir. I really admire those parishes where young people are encouraged to step up to do readings or sing in the choir. I know everyone does the homiletic baby-sitting time/children’s liturgy and people still want the child altar servers but then for high school aged who have a little public speaking under their belt or some music proficiency, they might really like an opportunity like that. Wonder why that is not a trend…

  34. Tina in Ashburn says:

    The subject of children’s Masses, teen Masses and laity involved in Masses is rooted in all the same core problem: misunderstanding and misuse of the power of the ordained priest [or deacon]. This is all just another demonstration of the over-emphasis on the laity.

    It appears that priests themselves do not understand or respect their own office, and they promote this kind of behavior, although allowed in most cases, I consider it all as an abuse because of our sins.

    The Church ordains men to preach [the specific ordination gives real power and authority to their spoken word, affecting conversion on the hearer]. Therefore, readings done by laity do not carry the same power and authority as by those ordained to do so.
    The power of the ordained priest to confect the Eucharist confers other powers and an authority that laity does not have.
    This common practice of ANY lay person interrupting and interfering during Mass, or speaking the words of the priest, takes away the gifts that normally should flow from the Mass.
    It makes a difference when the priest says the prayers of the Mass such as the Opening prayer [Introit]. I sometimes attend a daily Mass where the laity says the Opening prayer and the Communion Prayer. Apparently this is allowed. There is no way these prayers are as effective when only said by the laity. The words prayed by the laity can only have a ‘natural’ effect, whereas when the priest says the prayers, there is real power and authority.

    Consider how in the Tridentine Mass, the priest says allllll the parts. When the schola sings the Propers or the Ordinary, these are words that the priest has spoken. In the Tridentine Mass, or the Byzantine rites, the priest is in charge and praying for our benefit.

  35. Centristian says:

    I have never seen the value of over-simplifying things for the benefit of children or youth, and any children’s liturgy I have seen has done just that. Furthermore, dismissing the children from Mass seems disruptive and, well, unliturgical.

    In the 1960s, while Jackie Kennedy was involved in her famous redecoration of the White House, the White House Historical Association wanted to compile a children’s book to explain the history of the White House in “child-speak”. Mrs. Kennedy intervened, however, and asked that the book not be presented that way, reasoning that it never hurts a child to read above his level.

    I think we can apply the same logic to liturgy. Can it ever hurt a child to worship above his level?

  36. Blog Goliard says:

    Quite right, Centristian.

    Those who condescend to children may say they (and even think) that they are acting out of consideration and charity. But the soft bigotry of low expectations is neither considerate nor charitable…nor, if the result of the last few decades of catechesis is any guide, does it tend to bear good fruit.

    And children know full well when they are being condescended to. In elementary school, for instance, my class calmly obeyed our hippie P.E. teacher who tried to convert us to “non-competitive”, “new” games. But we mercilessly mocked him behind his back.

  37. John Nolan says:

    Before I even started school I was taken every Sunday to what in the 1950s we called High Mass (actually a Missa Cantata) and was spellbound by it. I couldn’t wait to go ‘on the altar’ and served Mass for the first time at the age of eight in 1959, having learned the Latin responses by heart. I would have given short shrift to anyone who suggested I needed a dumbed-down liturgy.

    Then came the 1960s and everyone got a dumbed-down liturgy.

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