From a reader…
My wife and I have been taking our young children to “children’s Masses” in our diocese for several years, [WHY?!?] and it has become common at every church we have attended (including the cathedral) at Sunday Mass for the priest to tell the kids and their parents to circle the altar while holding hands to say the Our Father.
Needless to say, these are all N.O. Masses. [Indeed.] I believe the priests are well intentioned, in the sense that they want to make the Mass and prayer seem interesting and active for the kids, and yet my “Catholic radar” tells me there may be something inappropriate about this practice. May I ask, is what I’ve described a liturgical abuse? [Yes.]
Because I feel uncomfortable about this practice, I don’t let my kids do it, and I’m thinking that in the future we may go to a “regular” Sunday Mass and avoid the “children’s Masses.” [D’ya think?] The only problem with that is that we then miss out on the experience of parish life of being at Mass with other families. Thanks for your reply, and God bless you!
You would think that, by now, this sloppy sentimentalism would be gone as the aging hippies disappear.
For example, in GIRM 295 we read.
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.
Lay people are not to be in the sanctuary unless they have a ministerial role. “Standing around” is not a ministerial role!
Furthermore, in these USA people are to kneel – not stand – from the Sanctus until after the Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Back in 1981 the Congregation for Divine Worship’s official publication Notitiae (No. 17 (1981) p. 61) responded to a question about this matter.
Query: At the presentation of gifts at a Mass with congregation, persons (lay or religious) bring to the altar the bread and wine which are to be consecrated. These gifts are received by the priest celebrant. All those participating in the Mass accompany this group procession in which the gifts are brought forward. They then stand around the altar until communion time. Is this procedure in conformity with the spirit of the law and of the Roman Missal?
Reply: Assuredly, the Eucharistic celebration is the act of the entire community, carried out by all the members of the liturgical assembly. Nevertheless, everyone must have and also must observe his or her own place and proper role: ‘In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy’ (SC 28). During the liturgy of the Eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the ‘presbyterium,’ which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers.
Again, “standing around” isn’t a ministerial role.
Furthermore, at no point is there an indication in the rite for the priest or anyone else to invite people to come into the sanctuary and stand (against the Church’s clear direction during the Eucharistic prayer) near the altar.
In 1997 several offices of the Roman Curia cooperated in an authoritative document called Ecclesia de mysterio, called in English “Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding The Collaboration Of The Non-Ordained Faithful In The Sacred Ministry Of Priest. This instruction clarified the distinct roles of laypeople and of priests. In that document, we find:
In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.” (SC art. 29). During the liturgy of the eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the “presbyterium,” which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers. [Notitiae 17 (1981) 61]
Bottom line: the lay faithful (except those in liturgical serving roles) are not permitted to be inside the sanctuary, that is, “standing around the altar” during Holy Mass.
Moreover, the Ceremonial of Bishops 50 states,
“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.”
The priest who is doing this should be dissuaded, perhaps over a couple mugs of rich and aromatic Mystic Monk Coffee. If he will not be dissuaded, then he should be compelled. Either his superior if he is a religious and/or the local diocesan bishop, whose task it is make sure that the Church’s liturgical directives are followed, should be informed.
One could also explain the situation to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and ask for advice.