Recently, I was invited by a pastor to observe his parish’s weekly Catholic school liturgy, which leads me to this post suggesting that it would be a good idea for every Catholic school and parish religious education program to evaluate the liturgical experiences they invite their young people to participate in.
Before I go any further, let me ask you, what is your overriding concern about your school’s or religious education program’s liturgies? I’d love to hear from you!
Here are some of the observations and suggestions that I have generalized to match what I have seen and experienced over the years at both Catholic school and parish religious education liturgies.
- As children/classes gather in the church, this experience can be enhanced and made more reverent by inviting the music minister to provide music in the background. The music may be instrumental or may be hymns—even hymns that might be repeated during the liturgy itself.
- The opening procession can be enhanced by having a representative from each grade walk in procession, perhaps even carrying in a banner that each grade creates.
- To enhance the students’ participation, I encourage the use of pew cards, which would enable the priest to invite them to pray the Confiteor, the Gloria, the Creed, and other Mass prayers without fumbling through a missalette. I recommend these or something similar.
- I would encourage more pauses and moments of silence to foster a spirit of prayerfulness. Young people experience very little silence, and this is a gift that Catholic worship can and should offer them.
- After all have gathered in church and are in place, there can be an invitation for a few moments of silence before the opening song/procession.
- After the Scripture readings and after the homily there can be a few moments of silence.
- After Communion there can be another period of silence.
- Students who do the readings must always be encouraged to slow down. I’m sure this is communicated to them but when they get up there, the natural tendency is to speed up.
- It would benefit the music minister and the students if some hymns were chosen for an entire season and then repeated weekly during that season. This can help children grow in familiarity with certain hymns.
- I encourage a more robust musical presentation, namely, the inclusion of students playing instrumental solos (cello, flute, classical guitar/piano, etc.) at various points before, during, and after Mass. I have no doubt that there are talented musicians in the student body. They can provide instrumental music as the students gather as well as when they are leaving after Mass. Likewise, they can play after the homily, during the offertory, or after Communion as meditations. I would then love to see these young people invited to provide this inspiration occasionally at weekend Masses!
- I recommend that older students “buddy up” with the younger children in pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade. This is a great way for the older students to be more aware of their responsibility to set an example, and it helps the younger ones to pay attention and learn.
- I noticed a fair number of older students who appear to be non-Catholic, which is a reality for most Catholic schools today. I’m wondering if attempts are being made to invite the parents to consider bringing them and themselves to the Catholic faith. This need not be heavy-handed but invitational. In one parish I was at, we served a predominantly non-Catholic school population. We hosted an information session over lunch on a Saturday for parents who were interested in learning more about the Catholic faith, and we had some folks respond positively. We should always be inviting!
- If you want to pursue a more reverent movement of the children back to the school building after Mass, there are a couple of possibilities. One is the possibility of instrumental music I mentioned above. Another is to invite someone to lead a litany—either sung or spoken—so that the students are invited to depart in a prayerful manner. As the litany continues, classes leave one at a time via a signal given by a leader until all have departed. This would be a good way to introduce young people to the tradition of litanies, and different ones can be chosen each month for variety.
What are some recommendations you have to improve Catholic school or RE program liturgies? What are your overriding concerns as you evaluate your own experience?