Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Two asides on "A Challenging Reform"

Since it arrived, I have been reading (rather slowly) Archbishop Piero Marini's "A Challenging Reform". Without stopping and consulting all the documents being referred to as you go along, it isn't easy to follow the story in all its implications.

On p.102 ff, Archbishop Marini describes some of the discussions taking place around concelebration. One of the questions considered was that of the number of concelebrants to be allowed, and their proximity to the altar. The discussion reads in a remarkably topical way, given current discussion about the "large celebrations" associated with Papal visits. If I have understood Archbishop Marini's account correctly, the Consilium/Congregation for Rites stepped back from defining a maximum number of 50 with an episcopal faculty to allow a greater number when appropriate. Instead, nothing was defined in this regard in the rite of concelebration published in March 1965. The question at issue during the discussion, of course, was exactly the same as the one at issue in the current discussion. How, in the context of a large concelebration, can it be arranged so that a concelebrating priest genuinely achieves an "actual participation" in the Eucharistic Prayer? Does this require a specific sight of the species being consecrated? Does it require a certain proximity to the altar? It appears difficult to define one particular rule that will cover all possible situations, but the criterion of enabling each concelebrant's "actual participation" might provide a general criterion that could be applied to each individual situation.

On pp.144-145, Archbishop Marini comments (in passing) on the negative response of the Holy See to a request to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word separately with children and then have them join the rest of the congregation for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. A similar negative response was given to a request for permission to allow trained lay people to distribute Holy Communion. Both these requests were made by a spanish bishop, Cardinal Tabera, in the years before 1971, when he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Both practices are now part of ordinary pastoral experience in many parishes.

I do wonder, though, about the efficacy of "children's liturgy" on a Sunday morning. With my teacher's hat on, I ask questions like: what is the objective being sought? [Is it just a kind of child minding to reduce disturbance in the Church during the readings? Is it to allow the children to have access to the readings in a simplified form, to improve their understanding/participation?] Has anyone looked at where the children are "coming from"? [What styles of particpation are appropriate for different ages? If watching activity on the sanctuary is appropriate, why take very young children out for the Gospel procession? At a simple level, children can still participate through posture - sitting, and then standing for the Gospel. In principle at least, though I recognise the difficulty of language, the "story telling" aspect of the Liturgy of the Word should be familiar experience to children, so surely it should be the part of the Liturgy in which they can most readily participate, given appropriate strategies?]Has anyone clearly defined where they want to move the children to as a result of their taking part in children's liturgy? [If we want to move them to a fuller participation in the Liturgy as they grow older, surely it is counter productive to take them out of Church for the confiteor, the Gloria, the readings, parts of the liturgy where there is ample opportunity for them to see participation being modelled for them?] I get the impression that "children's liturgy" is a kind of received wisdom that is handed on without anyone really asking the question: what is it for? and is it achieving what we think it is for?

I am beginning to think along two lines on this issue. One is that the fundamental aim is to grow children's participation in the Liturgy. As I watch older children, teenagers and families at Mass, one of the things that strikes me in some cases is that there is a lack of real participation. This is probably partly because of lack of doctrinal knowledge about what is happening at Mass; but I think it is also because parishes do not teach participation (in the real sense, not in the "doing something" like being a reader or singer sense!). A First Communion programme, for example, could focus almost entirely around issues of participation: the meaning and practice of different postures, genuflection, things to watch during Mass and the like, giving parents strategies to use with their children to encourage their participation (simple things, like, no toys or crayons and bring them up to the front where they can see). The pattern of a Saturday morning teaching session followed by a "celebration" Mass on the Sunday morning [again, I start to ask questions like what is the aim of that Sunday morning Mass? What does it intend to achieve for the children involved? See second line of thougth below] as widely practiced does not appear to deliver on participation.

My second line of thought is to think that there is also a role for catechists to work with families and children during Mass, to encourage participation - helping children to say the responses or adopt the correct posture, or to read along with the prayers, or to be attentive to what they can see happening in the sanctuary. I think most parents, particularly in situations where only one parent comes to Mass with the children, would welcome this help.

The long term outcome of this would be (hopefully) teenagers who are so used to coming to Mass and participating properly that it doesn't occur to them as teenagers to do anything else but go to Mass. And teenagers who participate properly at Mass are not going to lapse ... so often those who come without participating will lapse.

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