Liturgical Celebrations

Significant Directions from the Directory of Masses with Children

December 17, 2007


Kid in AisleIn many ways the Directory of Masses with Children (DMC) is a forgotten document, perhaps more so in North America than elsewhere. More ‘restorationist’ movements have tended to dismiss it, unaware of the pedigree of adapting the liturgy to suit children. An old priest I knew, since dead, spoke warmly of his experience as a child during the first decades of the twentieth century, when he attended ‘children’s masses’ as part of the Latin liturgy. What was then common in Wheeling, West Virginia, could not have been uncommon elsewhere! More importantly, though, the Third Edition of the Missale Romanum endorses the Directory, referencing it in the General Instruction (footnote 32) and establishing the three Children’s Eucharistic Prayers within the editio typica of the missal (Appendix VI). It remains a valued part of our official liturgical landscape.

Yet the Directory has significance for all celebrations of the Eucharist in that it highlights key elements of liturgical participation and pastoral adaptation.

The proclamation of the Word  

Children singingThe Directory seeks that the Word of God be heard by the children so that it is a spiritually nourishing experience (42-44). This implies immediately that any reading must be understandable to the children, within their capacities, and engaging. In effect, the scripture is only proclaimed when the ‘Word is able to be heard’, where ‘hearing’ implies much more than being proclaimed correctly.


The underpinning pastoral nature of preaching is shown in the prominence the Directory gives to the homily (48), even to the point of enabling the priest to allow another person to speak if he feels he is unable to reach the mentality of the children (24). Clearly the message is that any preaching which cannot be understood by the hearers is not a true homily. The Directory also stretches the bounds of what can be considered a homily, offering the option of a dialogue with the children (48).


young serverThe Directory counsels that every effort be made to increase the level and intensity of participation of children in the liturgy (22). The various ministerial roles are to be opened to the young participants. In part this variety is to avert boredom (24), yet it also serves as a reminder that ministering during the liturgy is not just external actions but forms us and leads us to Eucharistic conversion and internal participation (33).

Presiding and leading prayer 

The emphasis on ministry has a particular effect on the priest. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy had long foreshadowed that presiding required more than the observance of rubrics and laws of validity (CSL 11). The Directory highlights that presiding skills are a liturgical and pastoral necessity, even in adult oriented worship (23). This involves deep spiritual preparation, here specifically to lead children in worship. Further good presiding lays aside any exclusive clerical hegemony over the task of preaching (24).

Good order and preparation

ministers praying before MassOne thing that the Directory does not envision for children’s worship is chaos. There is an essential demand for good preparation beforehand (29). This is not set against the spontaneous, but rather is directed at enabling the children to worship as fully as possible with maximum participation. It is something that could well be brought over to liturgies where adults predominate.

Location, location, location 

The general principle that the quality of worship should override any other concern is seen in the Directory where it encourages the celebration of Mass in the church, but with two vital qualifications. The first is that the space in the church for the Eucharist should be carefully chosen: there is no automatic presumption of pews, altars or tabernacles here. The second is that some church buildings are unsuitable (25). The true ‘church’, then, is not the building, but the Body of Christ gathered.

Adaptation for the group present & creativity

Communion processionIn the face of much opposition to outbursts of liturgical innovation, the Directory contains a great deal of encouragement for adaptation and creativity. It firmly sets them within the ritual framework, but puts out a bold challenge to engage the faith dimensions of the young congregation. The priest is reminded that he can offer pertinent introductory remarks, adapt the invitations (23), introduce the readings (47), encourage gestures and postures (33), and remodel presidential prayers (51). Additions, such as the insertion of motives for thanksgiving before the preface dialogue (22) are encouraged, as are visual elements, and even art work as a form of General Intercession (36). The Directory opens out the possibilities inherent in authentic, traditional liturgy.


The Directory seeks to help children readily and joyfully encounter Christ in the Eucharistic celebration and stand with him before the Father (55). In doing this it serves to remind the adult church of the key features of all worship.

Gerard Moore is Associate Professor and Director of Research at Sydney College of Divinity, NSW, Australia and is the author of Understanding the General Instruction of the Roman Missal(Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2007) ISBN 978-0809144525; and Why the Mass Matters (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2006) ISBN 978-0819883094.

Photo Credits: Mike Jensen, Minneapolis, MN


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