QUAERITUR: Palm Sunday – substitution of Passion with a slideshow narrated by children

From a reader:

At this year’s Palm Sunday Mass (Novus Ordo) at a Benedictine monastery near where I live, the Passion Narrative was cut in its entirety and replaced with a slide show of sorts narrated by children from the parish. The little narratives dealt with scenes from Holy Week in the widest sense, but bore no resemblance to the sung Passion that this monastery used to do on Palm Sunday.

Do the rubrics of the Novus Ordo allow for this sort of substitution, or was this liturgical abuse? I’m writing a letter to the Abbot and would prefer not to call it that if there is a legitimate range of options and the substitution was within their scope.

Here’s a good response: Next time, instead of putting actual money in the collection basket, have some children draw pictures of money and put them in the collection.

If you are going to do anything about this you also need to send proofs, concrete evidence that what happened actually happened the way you say.  An example of a proof is a photo, video, bulletin description, other eye-witness accounts, etc.

That said, the abbot was more than likely in on the planning.  If not… well … you can always try.  Save copies of your correspondence.

Otherwise you can contact the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome with copies of all your correspondence and your proofs.

You don’t need to instruct the Congregation, or probably the abbot, about what was supposed to be done.  They already know.  Simply put, the Passion is to be proclaimed, not presented.

In the Directory for Masses With Children (lamentably still in effect), we read:

41. Since readings taken from holy Scripture “form the main part of the liturgy of the word,” [40] even in Masses celebrated with children biblical reading should never be omitted.


43. If all the readings assigned to the day seem to be unsuited to the capacity of the children, it is permissible to choose readings or a reading either from the Lectionary of the Roman Missal or directly from the Bible, but taking into account the liturgical seasons. It is recommended, moreover, that the individual conferences of bishops see to the composition of lectionaries for Masses with children. If, because of the limited capabilities of the children, it seems necessary to omit one or other verse of biblical reading, this should be done cautiously and in such a way “that the meaning of the text or the intent and, as it were, style of the Scriptures are not distorted.”

and even :

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.

None of these call for the wholesale abandonment of the Gospel.

I note also with interest the involvement of children at a Benedictine monastery.  Why would a Benedictine monastery have a Mass for children? Are the children “members” of the monastic community in some fashion?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. guatadopt says:

    Children are obviously too dumb to understand the Gospel. Here’s an idea…why don’t we just do the entire mass as a slide show? Heck..put it online and let people stay home and watch it! Who needs the word of God proclaimed to them anyway? We can have laypeople do the narrating and have them dress up as priests during it! It’ll be great. Ok I’m done now :)

  2. Tradster says:

    They should dig up those giant puppets the wymynpriests are so fond of and put on a Passion Play with them. It would be just as reverent and effective as the slide show nonsense they did.

  3. Choirmaster says:

    Unfortunately, it seems to me that #47 provides for this very scenario with the “parts distributed among them” and even specifically references the Passion narrative. Without guidance from the CDW, I’m not sure that the reader will have any luck finding confirmation that this slideshow was an abuse, much less preventing it from happening next year.

    This is a problem in many cases that I’ve seen where the rubrics are so wide-open that it doesn’t take much twisting to interpret them such that almost any aberration is allowable. Over the course of my career as a choirmaster I can attest that the Directory for Masses with Children has been a thorn in my side on many occasions. “Lamentably still in effect”, for sure! Even the possibility of one child in attendance is enough to trigger the Directory, and sometimes not even that. At the beginning of my work in this field, back in the 90’s, I worked for a priest that used the EP “for Masses with Children” almost exclusively.

  4. With the Novus Ordo, everything is options, options, options. Hardly anything is given. The “choice” mentality that is destroying the culture pervades the liturgy itself.

  5. greasemonkey says:

    There is toooooo much “SHOULD” where a more definitive word would work better…like ummmm “MUST”.
    These progressives can toss a cath through the word “should”!

  6. Geoffrey says:

    In my parish, for the second year in a row, now the reading of the Passion was omitted in the Liturgy of the Word and read after Communion. Everyone then left in silence. The Prayer after Communion and Blessing were omitted.

  7. Elodie says:

    Gee whiz. Are you telling me that at my 1979 First Communion Mass, they should NOT have substituted the Bible with a poem about “I am a little grain of wheat”??? What a shock! ‘Cuz all those “talk to the kids on their level” ploys did SO MUCH for my generation. Right?

  8. Choirmaster says:

    @Geoffrey: That’s even worse than omitting the Gloria from Midnight Mass and splicing it into the Gospel where the angels say “Glory to God in the Highest”. Had that one once, and I was the choirmaster that had to do it :(

    “But I was only following orders!” I hope that flies at the Last Judgement. I often wonder what my culpability will be for all of the horrible, painful liturgical abuse I’ve participated in just so that I could keep my job.

  9. pelerin says:

    I wonder where the screen was put? A few years ago I attended a lecture with slides on the Holy Shroud of Turin which took place in a chapel. I was horrified to see them set up the screen actually on the altar itself. Is nothing regarded as sacred any more?

  10. LarryW2LJ says:

    I am very fortunate that both the parishes that I have belonged to, throughout my lifetime here in NJ have been very orthodox with no messing around. That being said, I have been to Masses at parishes while on vacations or business trips that have left my head spinning – so I am able to definitely realize “when something ain’t right”.

    My heart goes out to all of you who suffer from liturgical abuse. The few instances that I have witnessed it firsthand, I know how distasteful it is and how wrong it feels. The only advice I can offer is to make your voice heard, even if it’s not listened to – and change parishes if you have to.

    Going to Mass is such an important part of my life. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t go to where it was offered the proper way.

  11. MarkJ says:

    Is it even a valid Mass if the Holy Gospel is completely omitted? [It is surely illicit, but – and who knows what other strange things they did – it is probably valid.]
    If I had been there, once the children finished their show, I like to believe I would have had the courage to stand up and ask for the Gospel to be proclaimed. Souls are at stake… aren’t we obligated to speak up if we can make a difference?

  12. Lucas Whittaker says:

    I recently read in a book on the Mass “[that] the absence of a codified ritual condemns the celebrant to a creativity that is in danger of drawing attention to his own personality rather than to Christ, of whom he is called by his vocation to be the servant and the sacrament.”

    Since catechesis is clearly a fundamental problem in many of these cases of liturgical abuse it would do us well to learn at minimum what Pope Benedict wrote in Sacramentum Caritatus: “the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well”. When the liturgy becomes something essentially frabricated the entire Church suffers. Please! The liturgy is fundamentally an action of Christ the priest through which the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God is achieved in the most efficacious possible way: Nothing is more important than man’s sanctification. We need good liturgy above all else because it is the place of encounter with Jesus.

    To quote Bishop Marc Aillet who further quotes Benedict: These norms [of the liturgy] come down to us through Tradition, which is not a box of dead things, but a river springing from the very mystery of Christ, which, through the doctrine, worship, and life of the Church continues to irrigate all the succeeding generations here on earth”–even the children who attend Mass without fully understanding its full depth and beauty. Many of our saints write later in their lives about being touched to the point of tears after hearing of the Passion of Jesus when they were quite young. It is too important a mystery to replace with a slide show, to be sure. These abuses are a call to reform the “reformed” liturgy now, not down the road: for the sake of right worship and for our sanctification, without which we will be disappointed in an eternal way.

  13. Ahhh…the Holy Week creativity again…when will they realize that in their attempts to be relevant and ‘pastoral’, they are, instead, self-reverential.

    Let’s see…in Kendall Park NJ this Lent/Holy Week:

    1. the two first readings on Passion Sunday were dropped…”The priest has the option, because it would make the Mass too long, to drop the first two readings. Please be seated for the reading of the Passion”. Of course, the homily stretched to 15 minutes. But, heaven forbid that readings from Scripture would supplant the pastor’s holding forth on his interpretation of why JP-II should be beatified….what that had to do with Passion Sunday or Holy Week…well…never mind. One gets the feeling that this parish doesn’t think that there’ve been any Popes since 2005…Benedict and Francis hardly get any mention outside of the Eucharistic Prayer and the obligatory portrait in the narthex.
    2. Holy Thursday…well..considering that the RCIA this year was an even dozen…mostly women…the presence of men at the Mandatum was significantly reduced…and ‘since the Pope has seen fit to wash the feet of women…’ (You know where that one went, right?)
    3. Easter Vigil: ONLY reading from the Vigil lessons, and that’s because it’s required, was Exodus 14 after the introductory rites. At least this year it was the reading from Scripture rather than the paraphrased ‘dialogued’ readings of past years interspersed with some treacly refrain from the Usual Suspects.
    4. Confessions ‘not allowed’ during the Triduum…last opportunity for confession was a week and a half earlier during a 20-priest, no-waiting mass confession session in the parish school for an hour…
    5. Holy water removed from the stoups starting at the 4th week of Lent ‘to await the saving waters of baptism’ according to the typewritten note in the stoups. At least there’s no sand in the stoups.

    On the other hand, at my ‘other parish’ in Yardville, where the pastor, knowing of my institution in the 60s before the order was suppressed, as an acolyte, asked me to serve at the chair for my priest friend from the Holy See for Good Friday…chant, ad orientem, very reverent…parish has kneelers placed at the head of the center aisle for communion, most received on the tongue, kneeling…and the church was packed. Final blessing in Latin, as was the chant during the veneration.

    Guess which parish has a steady stream of vocations? (oh, yeah, Yardville has confessions before Mass, and if there are more than one priest available…during…).

    The silly season is still in full bloom…

  14. Yorkmum says:

    Mark J said “If I had been there, once the children finished their show, I like to believe I would have had the courage to stand up and ask for the Gospel to be proclaimed. ”

    I think that at times it can be difficult to know what is the most courageous and indeed the “right” thing to do in different circumstances. I once attended Mass where the (small weekday) congregation were invited to make a circle in the sanctuary, around the altar at the pater noster. Everyone else went up. I hesitated and then went to the bottom of the sanctuary steps and stopped there. It was a most painful experience. AFterwards I wrote to the priest (I didn’t trust myself to speak and remain calm) and explained why I would not enter the sanctuary and asked him not to do it again. He did not reply to my letter. 18 months later he did the same thing again when I was present. This time I did not leave my pew. That took courage but I’m still not completely convinced of what was the “right” thing to do as that action caused a degree of consternation among other laity which I really wouldn’t have wished for during Mass.

  15. Flos Carmeli says:

    Yorkmum, remember that any degree of consternation or disruption at the Mass you describe was caused by the incorrect actions of that poor priest, not by you. You simply did what the faithful at Mass should do.

  16. Lucas Whittaker says:

    Dear Yorkum, What you did took a good deal of courage: Good for you. I too have been in these situations and I have come to believe that when something is wrong it is quite simply wrong–wether other people understand it or not. There are many situations today which seem to require a certain kind of dying to self or at least allowing oneself to be misunderstood when faced with being the only one who does the right thing. What you did was really an act of love. The inner reality of love can only be recognized by love: in other words, those who have not yet learned to love will not recognize your, particular, act of love as love.

    St. Ignatius said, “the meanig of love demands that one suffer humiliation with the humiliated Christ rather than receive honor, to be seen as a fool and madman for Christ’s sake, who himself was seen primarily as such, rather than to be esteemed as wise and clever in this world.” If it is possible for you to find a new parish, though, it might be the better long-term plan. My wife and I used to travel as far as 85 miles to assist at Sunday Mass–probably for a “year’s” time. Courage and patience are definitely needed: Don’t quit loving even in the face of being misunderstood.

  17. APX says:

    With the Novus Ordo, everything is options, options, options.

    Everything except the posture after receiving communion in my diocese with the requirement to stand. Don’t stand- you’re being disunitive and individualistic. Here’s a crazy idea- As a sign of unity with the Catholic Church, let’s actually do what it says and not make stuff up according to our own feelings. I really am amazed that the “I Luv U U Luv Me” Barney song hasn’t made it into the Mass yet. Sounds like a great innovative replacement for the Agnus Dei during the sign of peace.

    As a kid, the Palm Sunday Gospel was the few Gospels I actually understood. My only complaint was that it was too long and my little legs got tired of standing. I could understand the shorter version being read in that respect, but a slide show?!? Blegh!

  18. gjp says:

    I hate to be nit picky, but Blessed Pope John Paul II has already been beatified.

  19. Margaret says:

    One of the many odd things about this is the notion that the Passion Reading is less accessible or understandable for children. My children have generally been able to follow it a bit better than a typical Sunday Mass, since multiple people are reading out dialogue. Plus they are especially motivated to follow closely in their books, since they don’t want to miss saying “their lines.” Seems like a decision made by people who don’t actually have young children…

  20. Of course, the thing that really irks me about the Passion readings is that so often, when they’re not substituting dumb stuff, they’re gender-bending. So we have women reading the parts of Peter and Pontius Pilate, and the whole congregation reading the part of the maidservant who questioned Peter. More toxic waste from the Culture of Choice bleeding into the liturgy: male and female everyone for themselves created, not God.

  21. gjp: point taken. Chalk it up to the heat of the moment…meant, of course, canonization.

  22. boko fittleworth says:

    Pope Francis is going to be furious when he finds out about this.

  23. dn.philip.mathew says:


    While I doubt this was the reason the priest at your Midnight Mass inserted the Gloria within the Gospel reading rather than in its usual place, maybe it’ll console you to know that it isn’t an absolutely untraditional liturgical gimmick. :-)

    In the West Syriac tradition, the Lucan account of the Nativity is read during the Vigil (Matins) of Christmas; when the priest reads the angels’ hymn, it is chanted with the people in its Scriptural form according to a special melody, after which the complete Gloria, a daily feature of Matins, is sung. Only after this will the priest continue reading the pericope.

  24. Gail F says:

    Sounds like the sort of thing you could do before Mass, or after Mass, or at a special Stations of the Cross thing… but at Mass? Instead of the Passion narrative??? WEIRD.

  25. Territorial parishes can get persnickety about non-territorial entities within their geographical borders that offer public Masses (and possibly siphon collection money), especially on Sundays. In some cases, such chapels do not offer Sunday Mass so as not to compete “unfairly” with the nearby territorial parishes.

    If this monastery is near a liturgically conservative territorial parish, perhaps one strategy could be to make an informal mention of the monastery to the pastor of the territorial parish. The pastor might be annoyed enough to be able to pull some strings somewhere locally (but keep in mind that even a bishop does not have direct authority over religious orders with monasteries in his diocese). Note, of course, that this is not a strategy that appeals to the merits or lack of them in the situation, and it could be used just as well in reverse. Nevertheless, I suspect that a local pastor would not be happy to hear of families with children heading to a local monastery on even a semi-regular basis instead of attending Sunday Mass in the parish church.

    As to the merits of the situation, well, why improvise when the black and the red are right there and simply need to be done as printed?

  26. Clinton R. says:

    Considering the saints were nourished by the reverent Holy Mass and were prepared to die for the Faith (and many did, of course), it is ridiculous to think children need the Mass baby-ized for them to understand it. But such is the nature of today’s Novus Ordo. Options, options and more options. Let us all pray for the restoration of the TLM. +JMJ+

  27. BLB Oregon says:

    My children are in 8th grade, and they find the Children’s Lectionary used at the parish school Masses, an actual translation of the readings of the day, to be insulting. I remember listening to the Passion read during Holy Week when I was a child, and it is one of the most memorable readings possible.

    Children aren’t stupid, and they don’t want a watered-down version of what they know is the real thing. They want the real thing, and while they appreciate a chance to ask questions and have someone who will explain things for them, when they are judged worthy of the real thing, it pleases them.

  28. Gail F says:

    BLB Oregon: I used to teach PSR and we had to use a Children’s Lectionary (which I never cared for) for the various prayer things (which I never cared for either). Some parents actually said they wished that version would be read a Mass. True story. There’s no accounting for taste…

  29. Lucas Whittaker says:

    But the really unfortunate thing here is that most of the folks in the pews didn’t understand the Mass well enough to grasp the necessity of hearing the law of the gospel before affirming their faith by singing the Creed: “All that the Lord has said we will do!” (going back to the first Creed in the first holy sacrifice as told in the Exodus story).

  30. Imrahil says:

    Dear @BLBOregon, I second what you’ve said. As soon as I found our Bible at home, why care for the retelling children’s bible when you can have the actual text?

  31. Brad says:

    Choirmaster, hi. Hope you belatedly see this. Your musing about ye old following orders excuse at the particular judgment got me thinking. Pilate in John 19:10, soldiers in the garden, et al, etc. I think (know) our Lord understands power structures here on earth (coin in fish’s mouth, etc). He simply understands fallen human nature. He walked among us and saw it from the inside in all its gory, florid detail. The shepherd knows his sheep. Ask anyone who has a barn full of livestock, that’s not just a saying. He knows how they jostle at the fold’s gates, how some type-As boss others for fun, some steal the grain, etc. He knows the mien of each and every one. He knows the weak ones who get forced into things and the strong ones who force. He is highly annoyed by the strong ones for what they do to the weak, and yet … he pities and thus has mercy for the strong ones because they are the swords that wear upon their own scabbards, and that is intense suffering. There would have been mercy for Judas and thus for anyone and everyone else: Pilate, soldiers, pharisees jeering at Him on the Cross (imagine Joe Pharisee who died in an accident on Friday night and who then met Christ whom he had only hours before jeered at from the saddle of his horse on Calvary, yikes). I’m also thinking of the millstone. I have no answers, just musing. I guess if lucifer were to return from the pig farm, hungry, and renounce his nom de guerre, satan, there would be mercy for him. I know because of his fixed will that’s not possible but if it were to happen there would be mercy. And heck, satan is the ultimate instigator of abuses and evils.

Comments are closed.