Gospel for kids’ ears in Children’s Liturgy of the Word

Ever gone to church and arrived home wondering what the Gospel message was? Were your children, perhaps, sitting next to you during Mass?
    Several churches in our archdiocese have adopted a Children’s Liturgy of the Word. While each parish executes it differently, the premise is to remove little ones – usually preschool age – from Mass during the readings, Gospel and homily and place them in a different setting to hear a child-friendly Gospel explanation. Children return at the offertory.

  Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Mandeville has children’s liturgy at two Sunday Masses. Sometimes as many as 60 3- to 6-year-old children show up, said Barbara Goldkamp, program coordinator. In the 20 minutes she has weekly, a variety of methods are employed to keep children engaged in the Gospel message. She encourages use of catholicom.com for ideas.
    “The Gospel comes alive in their lives, it’s not just words,” said Goldkamp, a mother of seven. “It’s really a good program because it speaks to where the kids are.”
    Sister of Mount Carmel Paula Derise laid the framework for St. Angela Merici Parish’s program six years ago. She found weekly planning and leaders’ guides from Treehaus Publications, where leaders glean explanation of the readings, the Gospel, how to sing the Responsorial Psalms and Alleluia and do an abbreviated Creed relating to the adult readings.
    “We didn’t want fun and games,” she said, of the parish’s children’s liturgy for 4 to 7 year olds. “We don’t do craft sheets. It’s Mass.”
 Sister Paula says St. Angela’s program invites children to discuss the Scripture stories and offer prayers during Prayers of the Faithful. When they return to Mass, they bring up the offertory gifts.
    “It’s a beautiful ministry,” Sister Paula said. “It’s such a gift to the parents and a gift to the kids – they can wiggle. ... The parents know they are getting what they need, and the parents don’t have to worry about the kids.”
Personal experience
  Betty-Ann Hickey, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office of Worship, has first-hand experience with Children’s Liturgy of the Word through her son, James, a second grader, participating in St. Angela’s program. 
 “When he goes to Children’s Liturgy of the Word, it is read to him in a language he can understand and, if he has questions, he can ask them immediately,” she said.  “He loves it. What he tells me when he gets home is that he understands the readings better.”
    Prior to attending children’s liturgy, Hickey said James’ unanswered questions during Mass posed a missed “faith-teaching” opportunity.
    The massive changes in the Mass after Vatican II encouraging greater participation from Catholics was bound to filter down to children. Once guidelines were mapped out in the 1973 Congregation for Divine Worship “Directory for Masses with Children,” time was ripe for a children’s liturgy.
    Most parishes with Children’s Liturgy of the Word follow the current “Lectionary for Masses with Children,” which instructs that children are present at Mass with the entire congregation to celebrate the introductory rites (which include the opening song, greeting, penitential rite, the Gloria and the opening prayer).
    St. Dominic’s procedure varies a bit. Children’s Bible study coordinator and second-grade teacher Katey Alexander said children ages 4 to second grade are invited to the altar before the Gloria for dismissal, given a blessing, then leave for the Gospel and an activity. Upon return, they sit on the altar to closely witness the consecration and receive the sign of peace from the celebrant before rejoining their family. Alexander said children’s liturgy offers children something concrete to do, see and remember.
    “I think, many times, the Gospel is hard for them to understand,” she said. “We read it, explain it on their level and tell them to spread the good news on their terms.”
How others do it    
    The 20-plus children at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse and children ages 3-7 at St. Edward the Confessor in Metairie use a nearby chapel to participate in children’s liturgy, after a blessing and dismissal by their priest at Mass. OLPH’s adult faith formation coordinator Dolly Roy said she uses the “Good News” Gospel weeklies faith formation program from Pflaum Publishing to excite children about God’s words, while St. Edward’s director Elaine Warriner uses a children’s lectionary to read and teach about the Gospel readings.
    St. Edward’s bolsters the weekly message with a handout and lights a candle in the chapel, reinforcing that Jesus is the “light of the world.”
    “The children look forward to it,” Warriner said. “Hopefully, they learn something they understand.”
     At St. Pius X, co-director Sarah Stoehr said 2- to 6-year-old children experience children’s church on Sundays at the 11 a.m. Mass. They, too, are called to the altar for a blessing before walking to the multi-purpose room for the Gospel, a craft and recitation of a rosary decade.
    Stoehr said helping children understand the same Gospel that their parents hear offers an opportunity for families to become closer in faith.
    Gospel reinforcement is the thrust behind St. Raymond/St. Leo’s weekly children’s liturgy open to children ages 4-11, said certified catechist and director of religious education Marlene Wilson.
    “We follow up with questions to the children to see how well they understand (after the readings),” Wilson said. “It’s amazing some of the answers they give you.”
    St. Ann in Metairie has two programs during its Sunday 9:30 a.m. Mass. Director of religious education David Wilson said one is more of a babysitting service with snacks for children under kindergarten age, while the other is a true liturgy with readings and the Gospel for children in kindergarten through third grade.
    Wilson affirms the Children’s Liturgy of the Word.
    “For kids, it gives them something relatable to them, and for parents it allows them to participate and get more out of the homily,” Wilson said.
    In January, Holy Family in Luling changed its preschool to first-grade program to offer a liturgy for children. Coordinator Regina McMillan had witnessed it at a Texas church and thought it afforded a wonderful opportunity for children to learn in-depth about the Gospel. She uses a specific Children’s Liturgy of the Word resource similar to St. Angela’s.
    “The key to the program is learning what the Mass is all about and introducing the format of the Mass,” McMillan said.
     Over the past nine years, Leah Burke, director of religious education at St. Luke the Evangelist in Slidell, has seen the effectiveness of Children’s Liturgy of the Word.
    “It’s a chance for them to hear the Gospel story and relate it to themselves,” she said.
    Mary Queen of Peace’s children’s liturgy has 30 volunteers running sessions for between 50 to 75 pre-kindergarten age 3 through first graders, and second through fourth graders at two weekly Masses. They follow the readings from the Children’s Lectionary.
     “The parents, especially those with children in pre-K3 through first grade, are excited that we have the program,” said director of 
religious education Jewell Bayhi. “Many parents attend 9:30 Mass because of Children’s Liturgy.”
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org

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