WEST HARTFORD — Children will be interested and involved at Mass and other liturgies if they first have a chance to learn about the use of vestments, what the items on the altar are and the purpose of such gestures as bowing and genuflecting.
“Every Mass is a liturgy learning laboratory” for children, said Lisa Orchen, director of catechetical initiatives for the Archdiocese of Hartford, during a workshop on Jan. 10 at Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center. Orchen teamed up with Liza Peters, director of youth and young adult ministry at Holy Family, and Passionist Father David Cinquegrani, retreat director there, for the workshop.
The 90-minute session for catechists, teachers and pastors who struggle to find ways of involving children in the Mass was packed with information, tips, resources and expertise.
It boils down to participation, getting children and teens invested, formed and engaged in the process of planning a parish or school liturgy; preparing for the readings and choosing the music.
“Catechesis aims to integrate children into the mystery of Christ [mystagogy]” said Orchen. “We do this by including students in every aspect of planning”…which leads to “a full and active participation in the Mass.”
According to the presenters, key elements include planning the liturgy, proclaiming the Word of God, preparing the Prayer of the Faithful, selecting music, practicing roles, preparing the church environment and engaging youth leadership.
“Planning is everything,” said Orchen, including reviving the liturgy planning process, putting the liturgy schedule on the parish calendar, creating checklists and determining “shared parameters” in the parish.
Some of those parameters include choosing lectors, creating seating assignments, agreeing to a primary source of music, determining appropriate roles for children, deciding on a child or adult lectionary and setting guidelines for combined adult and student services.
Orchen urged liturgy planners to have children listen to the lectionary readings together, discuss and select music; get prepared for their roles, compose the Prayer of the Faithful and discuss the liturgical theme.
A starting point is to take students for a tour of the church and discuss gestures of bowing, genuflecting and the Sign of the Cross, explain the use of vestments and talk about the sacred vessels and liturgical items on the altar.
To prepare readers, Orchen urged that planners make copies of the readings, prepare the space from where they will be reading, discuss the process of reading and talk about the meaning of the Scripture as well as its artistic expression.
Specifically, she suggested that teachers read the Scripture with the students, give a brief context for the reading, define some of the words, allow silence after the reading and have the children discuss any words, phrases or stories that they found meaningful.
To compose the Prayer of the Faithful, she talked about its four components —introduction, intercession, response of the assembly and concluding prayer.
She explained that intercessions include four primary areas: Church leaders, world leaders, the suffering and oppressed, and the needs of the day that can be framed from current issues in the world and community.
“We encourage children to craft prayers to raise up to God, rather than telling God what to do,” said Orchen.
She suggested that teachers use a common liturgy sheet for planning, rehearse everything, set up Mass buddies between older and younger children to encourage student mentors and “ease their nerves” rather than stressing performance and perfection.
“It’s important to build their confidence,” said Orchen, who works in the archdiocesan Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis. She said an excellent source for planning a liturgy is Preparing Masses with Children: 15 Steps by Robert W. Piercy Jr. (Liturgy Training Publications, 2012).
Father Cinquegrani, who taught music at the University of St. Joseph for 20 years and currently teaches elementary music at St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hartford, echoed the importance of involving children in the planning process.
“It’s important for students to have an investment” in the process, “rather than telling them what to do,” he said, urging teachers to “have respect” for children’s ideas and suggestions.
“Lyrics have a way of teaching theology,” said Father Cinquegrani said. “Look for what really engages the assembly,” such as music with a beat, claps and memorable lyrics and melodies. Among tips he offered is to ask children for their suggestions for the music; and if possible, have them teach the hymn to the adults.
Peters, who noted that Holy Family sees some 3,000 young people pass through the center every year, said engaging adolescents and teens in the liturgy is relational. “You have to engage each individual personally,” she said, by helping them discover their gifts, cultivating a relationship and earning their trust.
“Reach out to teens as individuals and invite them to participate,” said Peters, a youth leader and mother of four children.
Peters, who urged that youth be included in the parish liturgy ministry, stressed that their participation in the Mass helps teens engage more meaningfully in the liturgy, teaches them the parts of the Mass and challenges them to be part of the liturgy.
“It’s important for teens to understand that the liturgy is something we do … we are part of the liturgy,” she said.
Attendees and presenters agreed that challenges to liturgies include working with parents who don’t know the faith, creating an environment of welcome in parishes with diverse languages, attracting presiders, involving children, learning how to include the catechized and non-catechized and overcoming the familiar adolescent teen cry of boredom.
Peters pointed out that in order for adolescents and teens to invest in the liturgy, it is important for adults to invest in them, know their name and recognize the gifts in each child.