Evaluating Your Catholic School/Religious Education Liturgies

people singing at Mass

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?

About Joe Paprocki 2736 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

6 Comments on Evaluating Your Catholic School/Religious Education Liturgies

  1. Great suggestions, Joe. The buddy idea is one we use at my parish.

    Teachers who plan these Masses should, of course, be familiar with the principles of “The Directory for Masses with Children.” The children are to take part in the normal ministries of the Mass. Additions should never be things that call attention to individual children or communicate a “performance” mode.

    Also, Mass is not the Little League, where “no child shall be disappointed.” That means that those doing the various ministries need to have some aptitude for what they are doing. We would not put a child who is tone-deaf in a choir. We should not have kids who cannot read loudly and clearly doing readings or intercessions.

    This is, of course, even more complicated for religious education programs – where there is often only one Mass per semester for the children, many of whom are rather unfamiliar with Mass in general – and little time to practice with children in advance. It means we have to be intentional and plan to take some time out of class the week before.

  2. Great list. Our parish has also used Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with children, with the additional acclamations, at our school Masses. It is a great way of encouraging full, conscious, and active participation.

    Your point about encouraging the musical gifts of children is very important. It should be a goal, I think, to also utilize those gifts (and teens too) at Sunday Masses with the full assembly – always in a way of supporting prayer, not performance. The reality is that our young people, especially due to excellent schools, are among the most musically gifted instrumentalists, but sometimes pastoral musicians are afraid to use them, or don’t know how to interact with them. Some collaboration between teachers and pastoral musicians can help. And think about the liturgical formation and evangelization that can happen in these moments – for young people, pastoral musicians, teachers, and assembly alike!

    • I agree, Justin, about using young people’s musical talents for Sunday worship. I would love to meditate before Mass or after Communion to a cello or flute solo!

  3. I am the religion coordinator at a Catholic School. I am looking for better resources for themed K-8 liturgies for our weekly masses. The themes we have are good (ie. friendship, care for the environment, etc) but the materials are old. The resources we have are very old, liturgy books from the ’70s & ’80s. Our current pastor doesn’t like them mostly because of the translation used. Sometimes we’ve gone with the readings for the day, but often those aren’t really the best or most engaging for school aged children. Themed masses are usually better. Every year I look for new resources at the LA Religious Education Congress and come up empty. Do you have any suggestions for resources?

    • HI Mary Beth and thanks for sharing your experiences about themed masses. Personally, I think it is best to start with the liturgical calendar and draw out themes related to/the flow from the feasts and seasons of the Church Year. Take a look at this resource from Loyola Press. Also, take a look at some of these resources from the good people at Liturgy Training Publications.

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