Children across the diocese enjoy their own time at Mass
By Connie Berry
Vatican II didn’t mean changes just for grown-ups. Even children’s experience of the Mass was affected by the document. According to diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation, Cathy Cornue, in 1973 the Congregation for the Divine Worship issued the document, Directory for Masses with Children.
“They were guidelines for adapting the liturgy for children to help them be more conscious and active in the Mass,” Cornue said.
Today, there are parishioners, catechists, religious, deacons and pastors who get involved in weekend children’s liturgy. Some programs follow the reverence of the Mass to a “T” and others are a little heavier on the crayons and puzzles. All of the programs have the common goal of helping children understand what’s being expressed at the Mass their parents are listening to in the next room.
Lisa Roman, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Oswego sees the children’s liturgy as a way to help the children develop a relationship not only with Jesus, but also with each other.
“One of the biggest goals is to develop a relationship with each other and their church,” Roman said.
Her church has added a children’s choir recently and also offers an evening vacation Bible school in the summer. Roman said she has children of her own and the children’s liturgy offers them something besides trying to “sit still and be quiet for an hour.” There are plenty of resources for adults to use with the children so that they can get an understanding of the Gospel lessons.
Deacon Ed Doyle facilitates the children’s liturgy at St. Paul’s Church in Rome. He uses some online resources from Pflaum Publishing Group in Dayton, Ohio. There are a total 12 adult leaders who work with two age groups — age three to first graders and grades two to six. Children’s liturgy takes place during Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. Mass.
“We have a ceremonial candle and a Bible and we try to make it as close to the order of the liturgy as possible. It’s very reverential — I insist on it,” Deacon Doyle said.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Syracuse offers children’s liturgy at Sunday’s 9 a.m. Mass. Sister Melanie Jaworski, CSSF, leads the children in a simple creed and they also offer intercessory prayer, Sister Melanie said.
“They are so sincere,” she said. “They pray for their parents, their pets, for peace and for their grandparents. It comes from the heart.”
Sister Melanie said she believes the children enjoy the liturgy because they can understand it and they get an opportunity to respond. “After the reading I always ask, ‘What did you hear?’” she said.
One benefit from working with the children is that they can bring a simplicity to faith that adults sometimes miss.
Scott Langley works with the children at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica and he said the children’s liturgy gives him a spiritual outlet.
“I’m trying to grow in my own spirituality and they give me a different perspective,” Langley said.
In many cases, the wisdom the children share offers its own inspiration.
More than 35 children gathered at last Sunday’s children’s liturgy at All Saints Church in Syracuse. They listened intently as Maureen DeChick read the lesson and they offered insights afterward. The children talked about Jesus being the “Light of the world.” Chukwudi Okereke said that Jesus was very nice and that he “looks in your heart.” His brother Ike added, “His lesson is don’t judge a person by his face.” One little girl, Lydia Nyamatungo, decided that the lesson that morning was, “People who are young can be a lucky person.”
At St. Joseph’s Church in Oswego, Father Andrew Baranski calls the children forth after the opening prayer and then they form a procession behind the one carrying the Lectionary for Children. They gather during the 11:15 a.m. Mass twice a month. Pat Barnett, the Director of Faith Formation for St. Joseph’s/St. Stephen’s Churches said approximately 30 children participate, sometimes more.
The children can be particularly uplifting during stressful times for the adults. Barnett related a story surrounding the Christmas Eve Gospel re-enactment this past year. Her mother was hospitalized and Barnett struggled to get the special children’s activity ready because her heart and mind were elsewhere, she explained.
“Well, my mother passed away Christmas Eve morning and even though we knew it was coming it was still hard,” Barnett relayed in an e-mail. “I pulled myself together that afternoon to come down and go through the motions at least. I let some of the parents know what was going on and we had practiced before as a contingency plan what to do if I wasn’t there. But, I just had to be with those kids. The parents handled the front of the church while I stayed in the back sending them down the aisle. I was so glad I did. I got such energy from them. Afterward, several of the kids came up and asked if I would like to come to their homes for their Christmas Eve festivities. Love of children, that’s what I get out of this.”
In many parishes, high school students volunteer to work with children. Kate Garger at St. John/St. Andrew Church in Binghamton has helpers from the confirmation class who assist in the children’s liturgy. Her group sits together in the first pew until the end of the opening prayer when they leave to go to their own space. They recite a “sorry prayer” together and read the children’s version of the Gospel, Garger explained. “I get a lot from this,” Garger said. “Breaking the Gospel down into simpler terms for them makes it easier for me. They get the real essence of it and I really enjoy helping them understand it. We talk about what the message means today. I went to Catholic school my whole life and I always somehow felt I had a relationship with God but now I seem to also have a better relationship with Jesus. I feel this has brought me closer to Jesus because I’m talking about Him with the children. It gets them thinking and it gets me thinking.”
Leading the children’s liturgy is a way to “give back” for Carie Altman at St. Helena’s in Sherrill. She became a Catholic when her son was in first grade. “I wanted to do it before his first Communion,” she said. “Now I just want to give something back.”
The children’s liturgy programs offer a wide range of ways to reach the youngsters but they clearly manage to reach the leaders in an equally important way.