From Sue Whitaker SIR – James Preece gives us much food for thought in his article about children’s liturgies (Comment, April 8). I have just returned from a weekend family retreat bursting full with children of all ages who enjoyed three Masses in three days with everyone else – not a children’s liturgy in sight.
While there were a few fractious babies and toddlers on occasions who were taken out as necessary, it was noticeable that children as young as three or four were caught up in the prayerful atmosphere and responded positively.
I would love to know if there are parishes out there that have managed to move beyond children’s liturgy and successfully re-integrated the whole Church family back into the Sunday Mass.
Yours faithfully, SUE WHITAKER York From Mrs Dolores Gordon-Smith SIR – I was surprised to read that James Preece thinks we have no need of special liturgies for children.
He is, of course, absolutely right when he says that for 2,000 years or so the Church has got on perfectly well without them. So it has, and I remember being bored to stupefaction as a primary school child in church. The option of showing that boredom or simply refusing to go to Mass, in the face of the authority of teachers, nuns, priests, parents and the drilled-in concept of mortal sin and going, as we were told, “straight to hell”, was not on the cards. In addition, we had to declare on Monday mornings at school (again, on pain of sin) if we had attended Mass on Sunday or not and, if we didn’t have a very good reason, we were caned.
I loved RE lessons, where we were taught Catholicism in a way we could understand, but the Mass was something we were bullied into. It was to be endured not enjoyed.
Things have moved on. Attending Mass is no longer a matter of coercion for adults fuelled by fear but an adult expression of faith. Children, of course, probably don’t have a choice, but it’s not too much to ask that Mass should be as meaningful for them as it is for their parents.
I’m a member of our parish’s very vigorous children’s liturgy team. We don’t child-mind or water down the liturgy but go to some lengths to make the liturgy meaningful and memorable by explaining the readings and the Gospel in direct, simple ways the children can understand. What’s not to like?
Yours faithfully, DOLORES GORDON-SMITH Stalybridge, Cheshire From Mrs Jean F Skinner SIR – I agree with James Preece regarding children’s liturgies. How can children learn and appreciate different environments and atmospheres if everywhere they go they are “entertained”? In one church during Mass small children were taken to a room and later returned with drawings. On another occasion they came back with balloons on sticks, which distracted the congregation and interrupted the sacredness and dignity of Holy Mass. If not a priest at Sunday school, then parents should tell their children what is going on at the altar. But if they do it seems pointless if children are sat too far away and behind adults, which block the view of the priest and servers.
Children will learn about Holy Mass from an early age if they can see the altar and a parent or guardian is at their side to explain what is going on.
Yours faithfully, JEAN SKINNER Birstall, Leicestershire From Mr Paul Crawley SIR – James Preece’s suggestion that children would appreciate a “20ft-high picture of the Last Judgment complete with gory details” seems interesting but questionable.
They probably wouldn’t understand a tradition which depicts ultrarespectable souls, in attitudes of exaggerated piety, tiptoeing demurely into heaven escorted by approving angels, while everyone else, particularly those unfortunates the artist didn’t like, tumble headlong to perdition.
Most children, however, might better appreciate what justice seems to demand but no artist has yet attempted, that the reasons for Judgment should be inscribed in largest rubrics and on both sides of the picture: “I was hungry... I was thirsty...” They would certainly understand that, but it might produce qualms among the adult congregation and put a brake on future artistic licence.
Yours faithfully, PAUL CRAWLEY Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent