Dec 15, 2003

children’s liturgy

Online Edition

– Vol. IX, No. 9: December 2003 – January 2004

What Have We Done to Our Children?
How Catholic children became guinea-pigs for liturgical experiments

Part II of three-part series

by Susan Benofy

The ink was barely dry on the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy when reformers began experimenting with their most radical innovations — from freely altering texts to ritual dance — not on consenting adults, but on the unsuspecting school children who would become "Generation X".

Susan Benofy, research editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, reviews the development of these ideas as they are reflected in the principal documents of the period, the 1973 Directory for Masses with Children (DMC), the special Eucharistic Prayers for children, and the more recent "Children’s Lectionary", in this three-part series.

Part I of this three-part series discussed the history and contents of the Directory for Masses with Children (DMC). This document, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1973, specified the adaptations permissible when the congregation at a Mass is mainly young children. Most of the adaptations allowed by the DMC for pre-adolescent children were innovative practices that some liturgists had proposed, without success, for all Masses.

The DMC authorized two further sets of texts: special Eucharistic Prayers for children’s Masses, and a separate Lectionary for Masses with Children. Part II will show how these would be developed. – Editor.

Links to Part I | Part III

Part II
Eucharistic Prayers and Lectionary for Masses with Children

Just as the 1973 Directory for Masses with Children included many innovative adaptations that liturgists had proposed, unsuccessfully, for all congregations, a similar pattern can be seen in the development of the special Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children.

There was a desire among liturgists for an increase in the number of Eucharistic Prayers. Requests were being made for special Eucharistic Prayers for special events, such as Eucharistic congresses, centennial celebrations and the Holy Year, as well as for special prayers for children.

In response, Pope Paul VI authorized the creation of a special Eucharistic Prayer for the 1975 Holy Year, and at about the same time gave permission for composing a special children’s Eucharistic Prayer.

A single new Consilium group was formed to work on both of these prayers. The group composed three Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children and two more for the Holy Year (now known as the Prayers for Masses of Reconciliation).

The drafts were sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) who approved them, though reluctantly, "given the doctrinal confusion presently existing in matters liturgical", according to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, then Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, in The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, 1948-1975 (p. 479).

A distinctive feature of the children’s Eucharistic Prayers is the insertion of acclamations, a feature progressive liturgists had been seeking unsuccessfully for several years. As early as April 1964, Coetus X, the Consilium "task group" for revision of the Order of Mass, asked:

Should there not be acclamations of the congregation during the Canon, as in the other liturgies of the Church? (Bugnini, p. 341).

One very vocal advocate of inserting these acclamations to be spoken by the people within the texts of the Eucharistic Prayers was French Jesuit Father Joseph Gélineau, who had been a member of Coetus X and was in charge of a study on "forms of congregational participation" when Eucharistic Prayers II-IV were being developed (Bugnini, p. 467, note 26).

Father Gélineau was also in charge of drafting one of the Eucharistic Prayers for children. Thus, it is not surprising that new acclamations were incorporated into the new prayers. He continued to argue for adding acclamations in Eucharistic Prayers for all congregations.

In his 1985 book, The Eucharistic Prayer: Praise of the Whole Assembly, Father Gélineau argues that adding acclamations contributes to "the creation of an overall assembly action in which text, music, gestures, and division of roles are integrated for ‘making Eucharist together’". He remarks that the Eucharistic Prayers for children "show notable progress toward the development of a thanksgiving expressed by the entire assembly" (p. 13).

Another member of the Consilium, Father Lucien Deiss, shares Father Gélineau’s views, and says that having the congregation make acclamations within the Eucharistic Prayer makes it clear that:

the entire community celebrates the Eucharist, and, in a certain sense, says the Eucharistic Prayer, each individual on his own level (Spirit and Song of the New Liturgy, p. 97).

Father Deiss also notes that these spoken acclamations are especially effective in Masses with children, "as it is sometimes difficult to keep their attention for the entire Eucharistic Prayer". He adds: "But we know that what is good in the Mass for children is also good in the Mass for an ordinary congregation" (p. 179).

(The back cover of Father Deiss’s book states that it is "authoritative", and an introductory section says that the book was "being used as a textbook in many seminaries".)

The acclamations elicit comment from liturgical historian Enrico Mazza, in his 1986 study The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite (Pueblo Publishing Company), who devotes a long chapter to the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children. He observes:

Another novelty affecting the structure of the text is the insertion of numerous acclamations that are meant to involve the children more fully in the Eucharistic Prayer and make them share more intensely in the "mystery of faith" (p. 242).

Mazza, professor of liturgical history at the Universitá Cattolica del Sacro Curore in Milan, is more concerned with the structure of these prayers and how they advance the liturgical reform than their effectiveness in promoting children’s understanding of the Eucharist. The above quote continues:

The result is a new anaphoric structure that cannot be compared with any other (p. 242).

Later he emphasizes: "A change in structure has led to a change in content" (p. 243).

When the Eucharistic Prayers for children were promulgated, they were accompanied by an Introduction explaining their purpose and liturgical use, and giving directions for their translation. Professor Mazza is especially interested in the following provision of this Introduction:

The committee of translators should always remember that in this case the Latin text is not intended for liturgical use. Therefore, it is not to be merely translated. The Latin text does determine the purpose, substance, and general form of these prayers and these elements should be the same in the translations into the various languages (Introduction §11).

As the Latin is "not to be merely translated", Mazza observes that this norm "can be described as the ‘law of creativity’". He suggests historically significant implications of this change:

[I] wonder whether the new norm will have further consequences, that is, whether the same method will be applied across the board in future phases of the liturgical reform. In any case, applying such a principle in the limited area of anaphoras [Eucharistic Prayers] for Masses with children is already a historically significant change of direction….

He further observes:
There is an explicit intention of renewing the entire project and program of liturgical reform by putting an end to the whole regime of "Liturgy in translation" and moving instead toward direct composition in the vernaculars (p. 238).

Professor Mazza suggests how the directive for adapting these prayers initiates a new "creative" phase in the liturgical reform, where the official Latin text serves only as a model:

But, adaptation cannot be complete until it reaches the level of individual assemblies. In other words, "creativity based on a model" must be allowed not only to the episcopal conferences, but to each minister who presides over a Liturgy (p. 248 – emphasis added).

If Mazza is correct, that the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children are different in both structure and content, it is hard to see how they can achieve DMC’s objective that "children must be led towards the celebration of Mass with adults, especially the Masses in which the Christian community comes together on Sundays" (DMC §21). It is easier to see these "creative" Eucharistic Prayers as preparing children for the "adult" Mass as liturgical revisionists would like to see it.

Significantly, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), in its revised "Sacramentary", actually had incorporated new acclamations to be spoken by the people into Eucharistic Prayers.

James Schellman, former Associate Executive Secretary of ICEL, observed that there has been a "positive experience" with adding acclamations in the Children’s Eucharistic Prayers:

Additional, new acclamations are now provided in the Sacramentary with the musical settings of the other seven Eucharistic Prayers ("The Revised Sacramentary: Revisiting the Eucharistic Renewal of Vatican II" in Finding Voice to Give God Praise: Essays in the Many Languages of the Liturgy. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998. pp. 254-255).

Curiously, neither the texts of the Eucharistic Prayers approved by the bishops nor the explanatory notes accompanying them had any indication that extra acclamations would be added. (ICEL’s revision of the 1975 "Sacramentary", though approved by the English-speaking bishops’ conferences in 1999, was officially rejected by the Holy See in March 2002. Cardinal Medina Estévez’s letter appeared in AB June 2002.)

Lectionary for Masses with Children
The DMC also suggested that there might be a special Lectionary for Masses with Children, using a simpler translation.

The development of such a Lectionary was left up to the individual bishops’ conferences. The US bishops’ conference (USCCB) did nothing about this for a decade. Then in 1983 the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) acceded to the request of the Board of Directors of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC) to prepare a Lectionary for Masses with Children (LMC). Further, the BCL decided to "accept the offer of the FDLC Committee on the Eucharist and Liturgical Year to work on this project on behalf of the BCL" (BCL Newsletter June/July 1983, p. 118).

The initiative for the children’s Lectionary, then, came from liturgists, not bishops. The FDLC group decided on the list of readings, but did not themselves do a new, simplified translation. Instead they recommended a translation by the American Bible Society (ABS), a Protestant translating agency. The BCL approved the FDLC’s recommendation without examining the complete translation, which was in preparation.

The children’s Lectionary, based on the Contemporary English Version (CEV) of the Bible, was presented to the bishops for approval in November 1991. ABS said that this rendering was intended for young children, poor readers and developmentally impaired people. It became known as the "feedbox translation", because of the rendering of Luke 2:7: "[she] wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger" as "she dressed him in baby clothes and laid him in a feedbox". After media publicity ensued, and some debate, the bishops amended "feedbox" to "manger" before they approved the Lectionary for Masses with Children.

The BCL, then headed by Bishop Wilton Gregory, recommended that the children’s Lectionary be made mandatory for use at all children’s Masses — a requirement that was rescinded by the Holy See when it granted provisional approval of the text.

The CEV is a very "free" translation, often amounting to a paraphrase. It employs gender-neutered language; and avoids words such as "redemption", "grace", and "repentance". As Sister Catherine (Kate) Dooley, OP, of Catholic University of America’s Religious Studies Department, noted in her commentary on the children’s Lectionary:

In choosing the readings, special care was taken to avoid pericopes or verses that could readily admit of anti-Jewish, racist, classist or sexist interpretation. In some instances this meant putting clauses into the plural so as to be inclusive in language, without affecting the meaning of the clause (To Listen and Tell: Introduction to the Lectionary for Masses with Children. Washington, DC: The Pastoral Press, 1993, p. 27).

Were special needs of young children truly the primary consideration in adopting this version of Scripture for the Lectionary for Masses with Children?

Dr. C. John Collins, professor of biblical studies at Covenant Seminary, was an advocate of free, or "dynamic equivalence" translation until he found it a problem in his preaching — and encountered the reaction of his own children:

They loudly rejected a modern version of the Christmas story that had the shepherds looking for someone "dressed in baby clothes", and they were riveted on the "stuffy" narrative style of the RSV (p. 296. Appendix C in Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation. Wheaton, IL: Crossways Books, 2002).

When they approved the Lectionary for Masses with Children, the bishops also gave the CEV its official imprimatur ["let it be printed"]. They approved the separate Introduction to the Lectionary for Masses with Children.

In a May 1992 letter, the Congregation for Divine Worship granted approval to the Lectionary for experimental use for a three-year period. This letter approved the list of readings (or cursus), provided that the children’s Lectionary not be used "regularly or even preferentially" with an ordinary congregation. It was to be used only in a separate children’s Liturgy of the Word on Christmas, Epiphany, Sundays of Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Concerning the CEV translation the letter adds:

3. On the basis of the assurance given by Your Excellency that the Contemporary English Version of the Bible does not present any doctrinal problems in the sphere of the issue of the inclusive language question at present under study we grant permission for its experimental use but without granting a formal confirmation.

When the LMC was initially approved by the Holy See, there was to be a study of its use and effectiveness at the end of three years. Such a study has never been done. The last three-year extension of permission to use the children’s Lectionary was given in March 2000.

In an accompanying letter, the CDW said that the bishops must "come to a position both on the issue of a Lectionary of this kind and on the suitability of the translation presently requested" (Agenda Report – Action Items, November 2000 USCCB meeting, p. 240). At the same meeting the bishops voted (187 to 60) to "endorse the concept of a Lectionary for Masses with Children, and resolve[d] to complete a revision of the present liturgical book, including a response to the concerns of the Holy See, within a period of two years".

Use of the Adaptations for Children
The three-year extension has expired, and the revised Lectionary for Masses with Children, which the bishops resolved to produce by November 2002, has not yet appeared.

So, despite the fact that the 2001 Instruction on liturgical translation, Liturgiam authenticam, ruled out "inclusive" language precisely because it causes theological problems, many Catholic children continue to hear a dumbed-down, "neutered" and desacralized version of Scripture at the Liturgy — and many adults hear this same translation on Sundays, as is clear from a survey taken by the BCL before the November 2000 USCCB meeting.

This BCL survey was sent only to 375 purchasers of the LMC. The sample is, therefore, small and may not be representative. It shows certain patterns, however, which tend to confirm anecdotal evidence.

The respondents to the BCL survey were asked to indicate the primary use of LMC in their parish. Only 29% indicated "weekday liturgies with school or religious education students", 10% said simply "weekday liturgies" (presumably with adult or mixed congregations) and 61% said "Sunday liturgies".

Recall that the Directory for Masses with Children applies to congregations that are primarily children "who have not yet entered the period of preadolescence". The special Eucharistic Prayers and Lectionary for Masses with Children are meant to be used only for these special congregations with young children. In most instances, this would occur on weekdays, at Masses at a parochial school, for example. Why, then, do 61% of respondents use the LMC primarily on Sundays?

The LMC is designed to be primarily a Sunday Lectionary. It "contains the readings for all the Sundays of the liturgical year in each year of the three-year cycle of readings" (Introduction to LMC 27). For weekdays, however, it has only a small set of readings for each season, including "thirty-six sets of readings for the weekdays in Ordinary Time" (Introduction to LMC 28). In addition, the Introduction, in discussing the use of the children’s Lectionary says:

The scriptural readings contained in this Lectionary may be used at Sunday Masses when a large number of children are present along with adults, or when the children have a separate liturgy of the word, or for Masses at which most of the congregation consists of children (e.g., school Masses) (Introduction to LMC 12 – emphasis added).

The Directory for Masses with Children — and hence the Lectionary for Masses with Children — applies primarily to congregations that are predominantly children. Yet the Introduction lists this in last place. DMC does allow adaptations intended for children’s Masses to be used in ordinary congregations with a large number of children:

If the number of children is large, it may at times be suitable to plan this kind of Mass so that it corresponds more closely to the needs of the children…. Wherever the bishop permits … one or the other of the particular adaptations described later in the Directory may be employed in a Mass celebrated with adults in which children also participate (DMC #19).

Thus a diocesan bishop may permit some adaptations for children to be used occasionally at ordinary Masses. The Introduction to the Lectionary, however, gives general permission to use the children’s Lectionary on Sunday with ordinary congregations. Thus, it appears that the liturgists who devised the LMC intended to encourage its use for regular Sunday congregations.

How often is the LMC used on Sundays with ordinary congregations? In 30% of the responding parishes it is read to the entire congregation at one of the regular Masses on all or most Sundays. This is contrary to the intended use of the LMC. The Introduction to LMC 13 says:

Proper balance and consideration for the entire assembly should be observed. Therefore, priest celebrants should not use this Lectionary for Masses with Children exclusively or even preferentially at Sunday Mass, even though large numbers of children are present (emphasis added).

In its letter of approval, the CDW emphasized that this restriction should be observed, yet it is ignored in almost one-third of the parishes that responded to the BCL survey. Many parishes schedule so-called "family" Masses, which incorporate the LMC and other adaptations for children into ordinary parish Masses.

Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) of the Archdiocese of Portland even publishes a manual for such Masses: Sunday’s Child: A Planning Guide for Liturgies with both Children and Adults by Jack Miffleton (1989). Miffleton recommends all of the following "adaptations" for a Sunday Mass with both adults and children:

  • Omit some introductory element (p. 17).

  • Shorten the Liturgy of the Word (p. 24).

  • Use drama and audio/visuals/commentary/dialogue (p. 24).

  • An adult other than the presider may speak after the Gospel (p. 24).

  • Use the children’s Eucharistic Prayers (p. 34).

The author objects to calling these "family" Masses, "since many single and older people are drawn to this type of celebration". Again, we see an example of promoting adaptations intended only for young children to accommodate adults seeking "progressive" liturgies.

The Directory for Masses with Children, the special Eucharistic Prayers and Lectionary for Masses with Children were all approved with the understanding that they would help young children understand and participate in the Mass.

Yet from the beginning, these special adaptations for children have been promoted for adult congregations. Why? It is by now evident that some progressive liturgists view the limited permission to make changes in the Mass for young children as a means of "creatively" changing ordinary celebrations.

A question never yet properly explored remains: Do these "adapted" Eucharistic Prayers and Lectionary texts really lead children to a deeper understanding of and increased participation in the Sacred Liturgy? Is the faith of Catholic young people who have been formed by these "kiddie liturgies" stronger than that of their parents or grandparents?

To be continued…

Part I | Part III



Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University. She was formerly Research Editor of Adoremus Bulletin.