"War is Peace! Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength!" — The slogans of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's novel "1984". Orwell must laugh that his insights from his 1948 novel, might be applied with delicious irony to the Holy Roman Catholic Church in 2008. Ripping the heart out of Vatican II while pretending that you love Vatican II and want to see it's reforms rejuvenating the Catholic Church. The latest casuality in this game of casuistry it seems are the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children. Fr Daniel Donovan reviews the thinking that led to the introduction of this reform and voices his protest at the game which seems to be underway at the hands of the Vandals and Visigoths (or is it the old lace and incense queens?) who seem to have invaded the citadel of early third millennium Catholicism. And we all thought the Catholic Church was the last great bulwark against totalitarianism!
The scrapping of Children's Eucharistic Prayers…
Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New York, chairman of liturgy committee of the United States Bishops' Conference has revealed that the Vatican plans to remove the three Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children from the Roman Missal. In place of these three Prayers, the Congregation for Divine Worship will publish a "separate text" at some future time. Children's Eucharistic Prayers (CEP) were an initiative of Vatican II when it established three principles which would underpin its liturgical reforms. These principles are: adaptation, participation and formation were set in place not to dilute the "sense of the sacred" or wonder in the rituals but to foster faith maturity within the Christian community.
The Eucharistic Prayers find their genesis in the blessing prayers which concluded the Jewish meal. During the first three centuries, there was no set formula for these prayers but the person presiding at the liturgy was free to proclaim the mystery of faith but was required to include specific elements: the story of salvation, sacrificial nature of the prayer, invocation of the Spirit, words of Jesus over the bread and wine, the command of repetition, memorial, offering, intercessions, doxology. Justin Martyr (165 AD) writes "the president prays as long as he can" (Apology 1, 66) and when Hippolytus of Rome (215 AD) produced a written text for the Eucharistic Prayer in his Apostolic Tradition, it was not meant to stifle oral improvisation but to provide a model for Eucharistic leaders. Unfortunately, Hippolytus' written prayer was copied and used in other communities.
While the Children's Prayers were developed using the principle of creativity, there has been a long standing concern among some members of the hierarchy about the doctrinal authenticity of these texts. Sadly, this has resulted in a prejudice which has failed to appreciate the pastoral and pedagogical nature of the Children's Prayers. Texts are composed of content and structure and it would be expected that both must be suited to the religious experience and needs of childhood. Eucharistic Prayers are a proclamation of the faith according to the principle that "lex orandi, lex credendi". In other words, the rule of prayer determines belief and not vice versa. If the Children's Eucharistic Prayers are to be excluded from the Missal then it must be on internal criteria alone. However for almost three decades, these texts have stood side by side with the other Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite as authentic proclamations of God's mighty works. If the Congregation for Divine Worship is allowed to remove the Children's Prayers from the Missal then could the same Congregation remove the re-write of the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) and the other three prayers from the Missal without any criteria or explanation?
Adaptation addresses the differences within the worshipping communities throughout the world and allows for a process of inculturation which is meant to facilitate participation and formation. Inculturation which has its roots firmly planted in the soil of the documents of Vatican II has been further elucidated in the writings of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. In the Directory for Masses with Children (DMC #2), children are identified as a significant group who are present in the Sunday assembly and for whom an adapted rite of Eucharist would be beneficial. Actually, there were some in the Church who requested a "new rite" especially for children to facilitate their understanding of and participation in the Eucharistic celebration. However this was judged by the Council to be inappropriate because it would introduce a new rite for children and this would detract from the specific purpose of preparing the children for conscious and active participation in the adult assembly.
Through baptism/confirmation, children were welcomed into the Christian community and the body of Christ. Therefore children (even infants) shared in the community's duty to praise and thank God for his saving works of creation and salvation. The adapted prayer texts faithfully expressed the mystery of faith while respecting "the religious experiences of infancy and early childhood" (DMC #2). This approach to the children's involvement in the liturgy is supported by recent research into early childhood learning. Jesus himself showed a concern for children and adapted his message to their unique situation (Mt 19:13-14, 18:2-6). "Spiritual harm" (DMC #2) results from exposing children to experiences (especially religious experiences) beyond their cognitive and psychological levels of development.
The Children's Prayers are pedagogical and are intended to form children through the "inherent power" (DMC #2, 12) of the liturgy. Through gathering with the assembly, feasts and seasons, listening to the word, gift-giving, thanking and praising, forgiving, colours, gestures, incense (smell), bread, wine, water, oil, flowers, bees' wax, belonging and sharing etc (DMC #9), children access the meaning of the celebration. The liturgy captures the children's imagination and involves them permitting them "to lift up their hearts" to God's abundant love. Children begin to experience and understand the meaning of the Sunday assembly and share its identity. Among the most important values learnt is that Mass is always "the action of the entire ecclesial community" (DMC #24).
Two Celebrations of Eucharist and Formation
The Directory details two celebrations of the mass in which children participate. The first celebration is outlined in Chapter 2, Masses with Adults in which Children Also Participate and is considered the normal celebration. Masses on Sundays and major Feasts are those "with adults" in which children "would also participate". Because on these occasions, the liturgy is focused on adults, a separate liturgy of the word for the children is advised (DMC# 17). These celebrations of the word with children were to be governed by specific guidelines and were never intended to be weekly catechetical sessions. These Sunday sessions tended to use worksheets dealing with the readings, especially the Gospel and a form of lectionary catechesis replaced a serious catechesis of the Eucharist (DMC #12).
The following Chapter 3 of the Directory describes the adapted rite: Masses with Children in Which Only a Few Adults Participate. The Children's Prayers and the Children's Lectionary were developed to be used only in those Masses in which the majority of participants were children (DMC #21). These celebrations specifically use "with" to indicate that the purpose of the adaptation is to lead children towards authentic participation in masses with adults. It is not the intention here to provide a detailed analysis of the theology of the three Children's prayers but simply to stress that all three prayers adequately represent the mystery of faith at the level of the children. The texts lead the children to praise and thank God for his saving work in creation and salvation. Special pedagogical insertions to the structure of the Prayers facilitate and enhance the children's understanding of the purpose of the Prayers to consecrate the worshipping community and the elements of bread and wine. The prayer texts allow the children to grasp the blessing nature of the prayer and appreciate the different moods and literary genres of the prayer. Through the Eucharistic Prayers, God makes the community sharers in the mystery of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
These Prayers required catechetical programs to elucidate and explain the texts to the children. Failure to develop such a catechetical program as suggested in the introduction to the Children's Prayers in the Roman Missal (CEP #21) has definitely limited the Prayers' impact on the Eucharistic formation of children. The Prayers tended to be used at masses with children but in a rather mechanical manner with the priest droning through the texts and children reading acclamations from overheads transparencies. Perhaps when these texts were used, the priest could have chanted the Prayer and the children could have sung their responses to the Sanctus, memorial acclamation and Great Amen? Catechesis would have prepared the children to understand the dialogical nature of the Prayer in which the community praised and thanked God through and with Jesus in the Spirit.
Eucharistic Formation and Inductive Teaching
The plan to remove the Children's Prayers from the Missal marks a switch from an inductive (experiential approach) to Eucharistic formation to a more deductive (doctrinal approach). This deductive approach is best represented in the catechism. Children learn a definition of the Mass from a book and their actual experience of the liturgy's "inherent power to instruct" is secondary. Small children lack the capacity to reason and consequently learn through their senses and perceptions. Is this the reason that recent catechetical materials prepared for Australian Catholic schools are predominantly visuals of priests holding up hosts and chalices for adoration? The issue here is about formation (gradual responsibility for personal faith) of students and must be consistent with their capacity to understand rather than to hope that this understanding will develop at some future time.
This is not to deny the role of the priest and the presence of Jesus under the forms of bread and wine but it is to acknowledge the way in which children learn. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the priest's role is communal and he represents the community before God (1Pt 2:9; Rev 1:6, 5:10). Likewise the presence of Jesus and his unique presence in the Eucharist must be understood within a context of a living community (Mt 18:20).
While some would argue that this is an attempt to correct the "excesses or errors" of recent decades, it is obvious that there is another agenda at work here. Reforms which would seek to reverse or eliminate principles such as those mentioned above and basic to the liturgical reforms of Vatican II must be a major concern for all Catholics. If it is possible to replace the Children's Prayers then what will be next? Perhaps the Christian Initiation of Children of catechetical age will be set aside in favour of reinstating infant baptism as the only working paradigm for children? Or adapted rites celebrated by ethnic or cultural groups will be cancelled in much the manner that the indigenous character of the liturgy in the Sydney parish of Redfern has been abandoned on whims? Will liturgy cease to be gatherings of the local Church in favour of a renewed centralism and rigid clericalism? Will Latin replace the vernacular in the Eucharistic Prayer?
It would appear in the reviewing the Children's Prayers that the principles on which Vatican II based its liturgical reform, have been replaced by a new secret "principle of revision". Ultimately, this principle has the potential to undermine all Church authority. Can the decrees and work of a General Council be revised? At a time, when Church membership is haemorrhaging, it is hard to believe that children and their Eucharistic formation are under attack. Children will always be important members of the Sunday assembly and their pastoral and liturgical needs must be given serious consideration by Church leaders.
Augustine seems to have the correct approach when he tells his community that unity is not a matter of words but of faith. Thus Augustine writes;
Hence there is freedom to say one form of words or another while praying, yet still saying the same things; but there should be no freedom to say different things. (Ep130:12, 22-13:14)
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2008 Fr Daniel Donovan