A couple of years ago I and my then five year old daughter went to another town to the Sunday 10:30 mass because I had heard that it was a kid-friendly mass and because a friend of mine sang/played in the choir. When we lived near Boston my daughter and I would to go to Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden where there was a kid friendly mass at 9AM. They had a girls’ choir that sang at the front of the church and it was made up of girls between 4 and 14! They sang beautifully and my daughter loved singing with them. In addition when it came time for the homily the priest or a deacon would invite all the children to come up near the altar and sit down and then he would preach to them and to the congregation by telling simple but profound stories. To this day my daughter still remembers parts of the Gloria because she remembers how it was sung by the choir.
I was not aware until recently that there were special readings for so-called children’s masses. As far as I can tell the mass at this new church we were visiting did not use these rubrics. In any case I will describe the experience of the mass below with a special focus on how the parish facilitated “full, conscious, and active participation.”—something mandated by Vatican II.
My daughter and I sat near the front and center. I noticed that there were seats and places reserved for infirmed people and it soon turned out that people in wheelchairs arrived to take their places near the aisle seats and I was happy to see that. The church itself was beautiful. It was probably built 100 or so years ago as it retained some ornate decorations and paintings on the ceilings and walls. There was a beautiful baptismal font at the front right of the church and the tabernacle was just behind it. There were scenes from Mary’s and Christ’s life painted all round the altar and the altar itself was stone or marble and set in the center of a raised platform. The stations of the cross were elaborate bas relief sculptures set around the church. The stained glass windows looked old but beautiful. There were statues of the Virgin and Christ and a few saints. All in all a very beautiful church.
By the time mass was to begin the place was full…although I could not see all the way back to the rear. But there were definitely a lot of people and that was a happy sight as well. And they were families. Not just elderly people but families. This alone indicates some amount of active participation in this parish.
All of a sudden the ‘choir’ began a song. This was no ordinary choir. There were 2 guitars, a piano and several singers, mostly woman with beautiful voices. The song was pop, upbeat and with a catchy phrase. I have had many bad experiences with guitars at mass but this was tasteful and well done. The female voices elevated the quality of the song beyond pop.
The entrance procession was from the rear. A female acolyte carried the cross, then deacon, lectors and Eucharistic ministers and then the priest, all of them singing the song. When they reached the altar all went to their preassigned places, the priest and the deacon kissed the altar and then stood at their chairs off to the side. The song ceased and the priest began: “In the name of the Father…” then the greeting and then another song: the Gloria done in pop style. Again it was upbeat but it was tasteful and well done.
Next an acolyte held a missal for the priest who read the collect and all in the congregation then said Amen. This Amen and similar responses by the congregation is a sign of full, conscious and active participation by the laity according to the General Instruction. Then the priest and deacon sat and the whole congregation sat down to listen to the Word of God.
The readings were done at the ambo by a reader/lector. The people responded ‘Thanks be to God’ after each reading. A moment of silence was observed throughout the congregation after each reading. The responsorial psalm was sung by the choir with the people singling along the ‘refrain’.
After the psalm was sung the lector sat down and then the choir struck up an alleluia in preparation for the gospel reading. All the people sang along, again indicating participation. When it came time for the gospel reading the Deacon took the missal and held it over his head and processed across the front of the altar. I seem to remember him saying something like its time to listen to the word of God. ..but it was dignified. The book was treated with extraordinary reverence and I had not seen that at other masses.
Then came time for the Homily. The priest asked all the kids in the congregation to come forward and they all did including my daughter. The priest said a few words to the kids and then two ladies brought them down stairs where they were given arts and crafts things to do. When they brought the kids back after the homily it turns out my daughter had made a three leaf clover to signify the Trinity. And I thought that was good.
The homily was well done. The priest started with a joke but then taught basic Catholic dogma and reflected on the gospel reading.
After the Homily the Profession of Faith was said aloud by the entire congregation. I was glad it was not sung. My daughter likes me to pick her up when everyone recites the creed and she watches everyone speak the same words with awe. Again this recitation by all the people is a form of participation.
Next came the ‘Lord hear our prayer’ petitions or the universal prayer. The congregation has some special prayers for persons who had died etc
Next came the collection. This is my kid’s favorite part of the mass! She makes a big deal of putting the money into the basket correctly and she beams with pride once it is done.
During the collection I do not recall people bringing up the gifts to the altar but they may have. After the priest placed the bread and wine on the altar a server brought up a towel and water holder; the priest washed and dried his hands then looked over the congregation and said ‘Pray brothers and sisters that this our sacrifice…” We all replied Amen. Then “the priest invited us to lift up our hearts and we replied lifted up them up to the Lord etc . This again is participation. Then the priest said the Eucharistic prayer.
I noticed that during the Eucharistic prayer we adults were kneeling and praying intently. Although we were all quiet it seems to me that this was the point where participation reached its maximum at this mass. During the Institution narrative and later all in the congregation grew silent as we heard ‘This is my body given up for you’ etc
I myself can often sense the Lord’s presence at this point in the mass. We who are kneeling and listening to the words of consecration offer ourselves up to the Lord along with the Immaculate Victim Christ. This form of participation is consistent with article 48 of Sacrosanctum Consilium (SC):
“The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.”
Full, active, conscious participation therefore reaches its peak when we offer ourselves along with Christ to the Father and this is participation in the paschal mystery.
Near the end of the Eucharistic prayer the priest and the Deacon raised the host and chalice and said in unison: ‘Through him with him and in him…’
After the Eucharistic prayer we all stood up for the Lord’s prayer. Many held hands. Offering each other the sign of peace came next and my daughter shakes hands with anyone she can—especially other kids. She makes everyone smile! (even me)
Next came the Lamb of God prayer. I love the Agnus Dei and wish it would be sung at this point in every mass. I watched intently as the priest broke the bread with Deacon standing by.
The other peak of participation was being nourished at the Lord’s table thereby entering into union with God. At this mass communion was given under both kinds. After I received the sacred host I also imbibed the cup offered to me and everyone by a server. Although the General Instruction states that all of the servers who help with communion services need to receive the hosts and the cup from the priest I do not believe that that is what happened. I think servers walked up to the altar and took a plate but I can’t be sure if I remember this phase correctly.
Communion took a relatively long time as most people received. The lines were long and I was delighted to see that. The choir sang two different songs-and the woman’s voices were beautiful.
After communion and the song ended the priest cleaned up the altar and then sat head bowed in silence. So did all of us. Then the priest stood up blessed us all and the deacon said the mass is ended go in peace to love and serve the Lord and then they both kissed the altar and the entire group of servers, acolytes, lectors and cross bearers processed out to the front of church where they then greeted parishioners leaving the mass.
Clearly in the modern rite there are many overt opportunities for full, conscious participation. So then why do I feel distracted at these masses? Although I love the modern rite mass I feel that I need to perform for others at the modern rite masses. I need to offer them a sign a peace. I need to sing along with them. I need to verbally recite the responses throughout the mass. I need to do all kinds of publicly observable things at a modern mass. That is not the case at the latin rite mass. While there are a couple of et cum spirito tuos…mostly I kneel and pray along with the priest at a Latin mass. When attending the Latin rite I feel as if I am doing full conscious participation as well—perhaps even more as there are more opportunities for silent prayer. All attention is focused on the altar of sacrifice—not the priests or the servers or the other people attending the mass as is the case in the modern rite. As for kid’s masses I am all for them but I think that it is much better for children to attend a solemn Latin Tridentine type mass….as children need to be exposed to awe and mystery rather than the other attendees at mass. Actually children need both—they need the awe and mystery of the Latin rite mass as well as the full active, conscious participation of the modern mass. I love both the modern rite and the Latin rite but I achieve full conscious participation in the rite only at the Latin mass as there are no distractions there. Nevertheless I need both forms. The division in the church between the modernists and the traditionalists feels reconciled within me.
Acknowledgement: This piece is excerpted and modified from a longer work by Augustinus submitted to St Joseph’s College in 2012