In speaking of the homily in general, the Church teaches, “It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the [prayers] of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.”
This is where the Children’s Liturgy of the Word Leader’s personal preparation time and prayer with the Scriptures overflows into an interactive and concrete experience of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of the children.
You may ask questions/discuss, use call/response with a memory verse or line, retell with felt figures or visuals, do action rhymes/gestures, sing songs with a tie to your theme, pass around/touch any objects from home with a connection (i.e. a non-fragile icon, etc.), use whiteboard (for elementary school aged children) for drawing key concepts, dramatizing/acting out re-telling of any of the readings, reinforcing the readings/themes from a storybook, etc.
The reading of the Gospel is “the high point of the Liturgy of the Word,” and like all other Lectionary Readings, we trust in the inspired power of the Word of God present among us to speak through the Scriptures–even to children who otherwise might outwardly appear “inattentive.” LWC will always include the Gospel reading, and like the First/Second readings, it should not be paraphrased or proclaimed from a Bible storybook.
Proclaim from the Ambo/Lectern or Standing using the Lectionary with Children standing. Children can learn that this is set apart from other readings due to the action of standing.
Begin with: “A reading from the Holy Gospel according to…” Children learn (and often enjoy) repetition. Hearing this each week becomes a cue.
Encourage response: “Glory to you, O Lord.” Children can cross their head, mouth and heart while saying these words quietly to themselves: God be in my mind. God be on my lips. God be in my heart.
Proclaim from the Lectionary at Ambo/Standing.
End with: “The Gospel of the Lord.”
Encourage response: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” Because this involves the children’s response, this response can be repeated for emphasis/practice.
Afterwards, can immediately ask if anyone noticed the difference in response (“Thanks be to God” vs. “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”–and what the difference means/shows
Through our acclamation before the Gospel [Alleluia–except during Lent] we stand to greet our Lord Jesus Christ who is about to speak to us, and declare our faith in His words present in the Gospel. Like other Readings, always proclaim from the Lectionary as a visual/symbolic cue for the children, and from the ambo/standing. [All remain standing at the end of the Acclamation in preparation for the Gospel.]
Practical Ideas for the Acclamation
Sing the Alleluia using any simple tune or a common children’s one (i.e. A-le-lu…). Repeating more than with adults is a good way to release energy (voices/movement) before the Gospel, and emphasize this preparation for the “high point” of the Liturgy of the Word.
Encourage actions or gestures as part of the Alleluia song, or spontaneous (i.e. raising hands in praise, etc.)
The Lectionary contains a Scripture verse for the Alleluia. Taking a pause from the singing/movement to speak this is optional, but if done could become part of your memory-theme for the day or a memory verse for the children if appropriate.
Reverence can be shown to this reading by setting it off from other readings with marks of honor, i.e. doing a mini-procession carrying Lectionary with children following around the room, or through the standing children, before returning to Ambo. Note: if doing this, carry the Lectionary lower than a Deacon/Priest typically does to avoid visual confusion of roles (same guidance as for K-2 Leaders leaving Mass with the Lectionary).
Use “Bible book” hand gestures to have have children show in “Bible” where Gospels are located [i.e. New Testament]. Encourage “Bible hands” or “prayerful hands” during your reading of the Gospel as a way to help give active-learners something to do/focus on. Can suggest a gesture/word combination to perform when heard, etc.
As with other readings, can draw attention to a simple, concise theme to listen for. Can have children name all four Gospel evangelists as preparation to listen for which Evangelist the Gospel comes from this week.
In the responsorial Psalm, we are joined with Christ using His “prayerbook” to respond to God’s Word we have heard proclaimed. Singing expresses the authentically human, emotion-filled, power of prayer. After the Responsorial Psalm, the liturgy continues with either the Second Reading or the Acclamation Before the Gospel.
Practical Ideas for the Responsorial Psalm
Use the “Bible Book Gesture” (mentioned in Liturgy of the Word post) to show where in the Bible the Psalms come from.
Sing the Psalm to any tune you’re familiar with–it doesn’t have to be the “right” tune. Feel free to repeat the refrain more than typical with adults, so that the children can join in. Spoken verses of the Psalm alternated with the refrain set to a tune and actions often engages children.
You may use the Psalm designated for your specific Sunday, or any Psalm from the same liturgical season (especially one you can put to a tune) to emphasize a theme. Searching on YouTube beforehand by psalm title and Catholic Mass can be useful for reminding you of tunes you “know” and have heard, but can’t generate on the spot.
Gestures or sign-language can be used during the Psalm to help the children participate more [this is especially important if neither you nor any Assistants/Helpers can sing the Psalm].
Wawel Castle scriptorium – Polona, Public Domain, Link
Reading from the Scriptures at Mass is not the equivalent of reading from a textbook, catechism, or summary of Bible stories. As Catholics, we believe that “Christ is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.” Soak that in for a moment, and consider–how incredible a blessing this is for each of us, and affirmation of Christ living in every baptized believer. “To readin the liturgy is a great privilege of our prophethood, priesthood, and kingshipin baptism with Jesus Christ.”
LWC will always include either the first or second readings (one can select one or both). Though children often squirm or struggle to listen to the proclamation of the Scriptures–trust in the power of Christ, speaking to each child directly as you proclaim. Allow for that potential, rather than substituting a paraphrased Bible story for the Scriptures.
Proclaim from an Ambo/Lectern or Standing using the Lectionary. Children who may not pay attention to the words of Scripture, can learn that this is set apart, sacred reading (unlike any other reading) by your unique use of the distinctive looking Lectionary and place/stance of proclamation.
Begin with: “A Reading from ….”. Children learn (and often enjoy) repetition. Hearing this each week becomes a cue.
Proclaim from the Lectionary (not a photocopied sheet). If you (especially with the K-2 group) need to use the adult Lectionary or a Bible for teaching/preaching purposes, this is a good reason for an exception, as both of these books convey similar solemnity to this sacred proclamation.
End with: “The Word of the Lord” / “Thanks Be to God.” As this involves the children’s response, this response can be repeated for emphasis/practice. (Loud, quiet, etc.)
Sometimes you may find it fruitful to give a short reflection, connection to your theme, emphasis on what to remember, or do an action, rhyme, or short song after a reading (to practically help children take a “break” from listening/stillness). However, this should not be so long that the general shape of the liturgy is lost for the children. For example, your preaching section (after the Gospel and before the Prayers of the Faithful) should be longer than any optional/short activities, so that the “shape” of mostly-readings followed by preaching is discernable over time for the children.
Sacrosanctum Concilium [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy] 1963, no. 7
Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, What Happens At Mass, 44
“Jesus the Word of God,” Lamb Studios Design, Life of Christ (CC-BY-2.0)
The reading of and listening to the Scriptures during liturgy is a privileged, sacred moment in the life of every baptized person and is “of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy” as our Church fathers taught at the Second Vatican Council. The Church teaches that the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist “are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship,” and indeed speaks of a “double table of the Word and Eucharist” where we feast on the Bread of Life. In addition to being fed, we actively reverence the Word of God, venerating the Scriptures as we venerate the Lord’s Body.
Practical Ideas for Preparing to Proclaim
Light the candle on the altar; announce that this reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world or that God’s word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Can invite children to say the verse with you or repeat.
Make a Bible (book) gesture [hold hands like a book; with pinky fingers adjacent link binding and palms pointed up]; explain that the first reading comes from the Old/New Testament and show that this is the left/right hand (respectively). Can have children raise up that hand and wave it to reinforce where the first reading will come from.
Walk Lectionary from the stand on the altar around to children and allow them to touch the cover and silently ask God to help them listen to the Holy Spirit about to speak to them through these Scriptures, while on your way to the ambo to proclaim.
Introduce your theme or one-sentence message of the day (i.e. a phrase for them to remember that you might ask them to repeat during your preaching time, etc.). Or, suggest a word or phrase to listen for (in the readings) that ties into your message theme; can suggest children make a gesture when they hear this word/phrase (i.e. when you hear the word “Lord” raise your hands in praise or when you hear “Moses” clap your hands).
Sacrosanctum Concilium [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy] 1963, para. 24, 5
Synod on the Word of God, Apostolic Exhortation (Verbum Domini) 2010, para. 68
One of the “hardest” sacrifices I make when leading faith formation for teens or adults is to resist feeling pressured to shorten prayer, and to instead embrace prayer time as the most important 4-8 minutes of our time together.
Theologically, it’s obvious! 😀 I mean, definitely better for someone to spend time listening for God’s communication, than to listen to me for 5 minutes more.
Or, as the psalmist writes:
“Better one day in your courts, than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:11).
As a result, I make the time to do lectio divina when forming disciples. I’ve learned that this means not waiting until the end of a time together, because I know that I get wrapped up in whatever we’re discussing and never leave enough time. One way to make the practice unavoidable is to have a group meet first in a chapel, sanctuary, or visibly prayer-inspiring space–and then afterwards walk to a different location for discussion. Or, with a discipleship group that always drifts in late, I lead lectio divina smack in the middle of class–as we transition from discussion of previous material to new material–so that everyone is present (and joke that this is the “height” of class–it’s all downhill from here!). The point is, find something that works for your environment of faith formation–and stick to it, do it.
By actually practicing a prayer discipline like lectio divina during time together, I’m modelling that anyone can do this on their couch, at the kitchen table, with their spouse, etc. at home. I’m providing a concrete, tested way a person could pick up their Bible and start to read and pray with it daily (or maybe weekly!)–whatever it takes to start that habit of conversing with and listening to God. I figure if God can use me in whatever small way to start that habit, then the Holy Spirit can take care of the rest–forming the disciple and guiding him/her in true wisdom through the Word of God.
To encourage you, here’s an awesome graphic organizer tool/template from Katie Anne Bogner:
The first movement of Children’s Liturgy of the Word is welcome and engagement.
In a catechetical setting, we begin by helping children disengage from the world and step into a sacred place, a set apart time. In Liturgy of the Word for Children, we are not disengaging in this same sense (since the children are moving from one liturgical space to another). However, the transition of walking and moving to a new place presents an opportunity to remind the children of their presence in a sacred place and prepare to participate in the liturgy. (While also giving a release for wiggles/squirms before the proclamation of the Scriptures).
Practical Ideas Active:
“What do you see that makes this a place for worship?” (altar, lectionary, candle, holy water, ambo, liturgical colors, etc.) “We can use our bodies for prayer too…we show that we are God’s children by making the sign of the cross on our very own bodies [demonstrate/repeat gesture]; we can walk in a reverent and prayerful way [walk quietly/slowly with hands crossed]; we can bow and/or genuflect because Jesus Christ is our Lord and King [demonstrate/repeat]”
“What colors do you see on our altar?” “What does _____ color remind us of?” [purple=preparation, white=celebration, green=growing (ordinary time), red=Pentecost]; lead into “Liturgical Colors” song. Can have children wearing any of the colors in the song raise hands/stand up during that part of song. Can sing the song a second time and challenge the kids to remember to “freeze” and stop on the correct liturgical season of the day.
Reinforce “Glory to God” as praise [some might remember this from the main assembly]. Can say “Glory to God” loud, soft, fast, and slow to practice listening and preparing for quiet. Or, can sing the tune from Mass for “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will” following various directions (loud, soft, etc.)
Any song of praise can be a good transition to allow children to stand/gesture/move and then deliberately sit them in a different way (i.e. circle, semi-circle, etc.) to prepare them to listen and reduce temptations for moving/touching each other. If the Gathering Hymn was memorable, feel free to repeat that refrain. An“exiting” song [i.e. Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord, Jesus Loves the Little Children, etc.] could also be repeated.
Can welcome children by name/ask name, giving hand shake; dimming lights and lighting a candle for a special moment (and then turning lights fully on) can bring engagement and calm, transitioning into the new space
This question could be asked of any of us, of any age-level–why do liturgy? For each of us, liturgy offers an unparalleled experience of being joined to Christ and made worthy to offer divine worship in the Holy Spirit. This experience is not limited to adults, nor limited to the Liturgy of the Eucharist–it inherently includes all of the baptized, all those filled with Christ and the Holy Spirit. And in doing liturgy, sharing in this divine worship with Christ our Savior, each of us–child, parent in the pews, and Liturgy of the Word for Children is formed.
Liturgy teaches each of us, “not by means of an artificial system of aim-conscious educational influences,” but by simply creating “an entire spiritual world in which the soul can live” as God desires. Doing liturgy in any form disposes us by wrapping an individual in Christian witness, the witness of those present on earth, and of the communion of the blessed in heaven. Liturgical habits can provide words and actions ready to become the response of ongoing conversion, months, years, or even decades later in a person’s life.
While liturgy has an objective aspect (meaning, the Mass is the Mass, even if “celebrated poorly”), the objective truth of liturgy, “has no end in itself apart from the formal, and therefore subjective, response of the faithful.” This is where Liturgy of the Word for Children plays an essential role–encouraging adults to open themselves to the fullness of the liturgy to discern, through the Holy Spirit, how to foster a liturgical environment where our younger children hear, experience, and respond to Christ.
We do this confidently, knowing that in his earthly ministry, Jesus himself affirmed the religious potential of young children, correcting those who would assume that children have no place in the Kingdom of God. Likewise, we trust in the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit who lavishes supernatural gifts of grace on all of the baptized, calling each of us to be committed to spreading the Good News. In doing liturgy, we respond to this call with humility, trust, and love for God and His people.
Teach the history of baseball, beginning with Abner Doubleday and the impact of cricket and imperialism. Have a test.
Starting with the Negro leagues and the early barnstorming teams, assign students to memorize facts and figures about each player. Have a test.
Rank the class on who did well on the first two tests, and allow these students to memorize even more statistics about baseball players. Make sure to give equal time to players in Japan and the Dominican Republic. Send the students who didn’t do as well to spend time with a lesser teacher, but assign them similar work, just over a longer time frame. Have a test.
Sometime in the future, do a field trip and go to a baseball game. Make sure no one has a good time.
If there’s time, let kids throw a baseball around during recess.
Obviously, there are plenty of kids (and adults) who know far more about baseball than anyone could imagine knowing. And none of them learned it this way.
An end of summer examen for us as catechists and teachers:
Is Godin’s example in any way similar to…
how we catechize (adults or children) in parish life?
how we share the faith in Catholic schools?
how we prepare children, adults, and married couples for sacraments?
how we theologically form those preparing for lay or ordained ministry?