I often lament over the well-intentioned adults who think we need to “do something special for the children.” Twenty years ago Thomas Shepard wrote a terrific piece, “What Does It Mean to Be a Child” (Funk, Virgil C. Children, Liturgy, and Music. Washington D.C.: The Pastoral Press, 1990). This essay is filled with sheer wisdom. He explores the qualities of childhood and insists that adults do not understand children. He makes an important point; liturgies for children should not differ greatly from the order of Mass because their purpose is to lead children toward celebrating with adults (75). This essay has resonated with me for all these years.
To add to the misinterpretation of liturgies with children, it seems we have a new phenomenon creeping into our liturgies. Children are often expected to hand in some sort of attendance sheet when coming to Mass; or they are given a card to have scanned; or are expected to have the bulletin signed by the celebrant. This expectation is often connected to catechesis for first sacraments. I fear this might feed into a consumerist approach to pastoral ministry.
There is no doubt: Sunday Eucharist is the most important event for the baptized. All are invited and encouraged to be part of the Sunday assembly; however, I strongly resist this current trend. In our time, we need to discover new ways to educate toward liturgy. One way might be to take the centrality of adult catechesis seriously.
In my lament, I welcome comments and suggestions for more creative ways to bring children and families to the Eucharistic assembly.
Dr. Donna Eschenaur wrote her Ph.D. dissertation at Fordham on “The Paschal Triduum: A Roman Catholic Way of Teaching How to Live and How to Die.” She is director of catechetical ministry at the Cathedral Parish of St. Agnes in Rockville Centre, where she also serves on the liturgy committee and coordinates the Catechumenate.