At Sunday morning Mass in some parishes, children of elementary school age participate in an extension of the Mass known as the Children’s Liturgy of the Word (CLOW). After the Gathering Rites of the Mass, immediately following the Collect/ Opening Prayer — while the assembly is being seated and preparing to hear the proclamation of God’s Word — the presider invites the children at Mass to gather together at one spot in the church. From there the children process out of the main worship space to another room more suited to the needs of their own full, conscious and active participation in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass.

In 1973, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship published a document that supplements the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, addressing the needs of children at Mass. The “Directory for Masses with Children” (DMC) acknowledges and respects the nature of childhood, and offers principles and guidelines for adaptations of the liturgy based on the age and abilities of children. It comments most directly on weekday Masses when the assembly is predominantly children, with a few adults present, such as school Masses, but it also addresses Sunday Mass when there are predominantly adults, with some children present. The DMC makes it very clear that at Sunday Mass the needs of children must be considered, and they must always feel welcome.

“Nevertheless, in Masses of this kind it is necessary to take great care that the children present do not feel neglected because of their inability to participate or to understand what happens and what is proclaimed in the celebration. Some account should be taken of their presence: for example, by speaking to them directly in the introductory comments (as at the beginning and end of Mass) and at some point in the homily.” (DMC No. 17)

In the same paragraph, the DMC gave allowance for a separate celebration of the Liturgy of the Word on Sundays for children.

“Sometimes, moreover, if the place and the nature of the community permit, it will be appropriate to celebrate the liturgy of the word, including a homily, with the children in a separate, but not too distant, room. Then, before the eucharistic liturgy begins, the children are led to the place where the adults have meanwhile celebrated their own liturgy of the word.”

Some parishes in our archdiocese have chosen one Sunday Mass to periodically offer this opportunity to children. This decision is best made after extensive conversation and collaboration between the liturgy committee and the pastor, in consultation with the parish school and religious education program. As with all liturgical ministries, the adults serving in this CLOW ministry need effective training.

Adults who serve as CLOW leaders should not see themselves as teachers, but as liturgical ministers, facilitating the children’s participation in the liturgy. CLOW is not a lesson time; it is ritual prayer in the context of a child’s world. The space used needs to look and feel like a worship space, not a classroom. Music needs to be a major part of the ritual, especially including the singing of the responsorial psalm and the Gospel acclamation. There is always a brief homily, preferably given in the form of an informal dialogue with the children. The Creed and Universal Prayers follow.

Throughout the Liturgy of the Word, the children’s posture should be the same as at Mass in church: standing for the Gospel, Creed and Universal Prayers, and seated for the readings and homily. Other gestures and movement can be added, allowing for the size of the space and numbers of children present. The same intercessions for the Universal Prayers that are offered in the church can be used, or the leader may write his/her own, but they need to reflect the required pattern of prayer — from global to local needs. Singing a standard, repetitive song when the children first gather in the separated space, and, as they prepare to return to the church, can help to effectively settle them during these transition times. The children return to the main worship space after the Universal Prayers and before the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In 1992, the official “Lectionary for Masses with Children” was published. This lectionary follows the same basic structure of the standard Lectionary for Mass, with slight abbreviations, omissions or replacements of readings, all suited to the needs of school age children. It is best if this 1992 lectionary is used for Children’s Liturgy of the Word on Sundays.

For workshops on forming a parish CLOW team, contact the Office for Worship at [email protected] or call 213-627-7262.