The holy Mass is the greatest prayer. It was given to us by our Lord Himself. The Mass is an intimate exchange – we give ourselves to God, and He gives Himself to us. In fact, it is the most intimate exchange we can have this side of Heaven.
Yet often we hear the same thing from young people: “The Mass is boring,” or, “I don’t get it.” The Mass is anything but boring, but for our children to realize that, we have to help them “get it.” Let’s start by helping them really understand what is happening at each part of the Mass.
The Mass is divided into two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word begins with the start of the Mass, and continues through the Prayer of the Faithful. It is important that our children understand what is happening during this part of the Mass, and that they are able to participate in it.
The Liturgy of the Word is focused primarily around the Scripture, which is one of the four main ways Christ is present at each Mass. The Church tells us that at Mass, Jesus is present in the priest, the assembly of the people, the Scripture, and the Eucharist.
Before even getting to the first reading, however, there are elements of the Mass that our children need to understand. We stand to welcome the priest into the sanctuary. He will be leading us in worship, and will be acting in the Person of Christ at the Mass.
Then we come to the Penitential Rite. Father asks us to think of our sins, after which he will give us a prayer of blessing. This is important because we need to acknowledge our sinfulness and ask God’s forgiveness, and to be purified. It is also important for a very practical reason: anyone who remembers that he has committed a mortal sin must not receive the Eucharist until he has been absolved through sacramental Confession.
Many people go through the motions during this portion of the liturgy, but we should encourage our children to really take a moment to ask God’s forgiveness, and if they are old enough, to examine whether they should receive Communion.
After the Penitential Rite comes the Gloria. This is also important because right at the beginning of the Mass, we acknowledge God’s right to be glorified, and our need to praise Him. Then we have an opening prayer, prefaced by the priest saying, “Let us pray.” Not only is it important to pay attention to the prayer, to which we will all be saying, “Amen,” but silently, if we have a particular prayer that we want to personally offer the Mass for, it is good to think of that at this point.
This is another powerful habit we can instill in our children. The Mass is being offered by the priest for a particular intention, but we can also offer it for our own intention. Encouraging our children to do so helps them engage more fully in the Mass, and recognize just how powerful a prayer the holy Mass is.
At this point, the congregation sits down to listen to the Word of God in the proclamation of the Scripture. At a Sunday Mass, we will hear four Scripture readings – the first reading, the responsorial psalm, the second reading, and the gospel.
Depending on the liturgical season, the first reading is usually from the Old Testament. It will probably contain a similar theme to the gospel, and this helps us see the unity of the Bible. The responsorial psalm is usually from the book of Psalms, and on Sunday we often adopt the ancient Jewish tradition of praying it through song. The second reading, from the New Testament, is usually from one of the letters of St. Paul, and then we come to the gospel.
The proclamation of the gospel is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. We stand up for the “Alleluia” acclamation (except during Lent), and remain standing as a sign of respect as we listen to the gospel reading.
After that, we sit down again and listen to the priest, or a deacon, preach on the day’s Scripture readings. It is important to encourage our children to listen to the homily, and even to discuss some of the themes that come up after Mass.
There are some wonderful ways to prepare our children to most fully appreciate the Scripture readings at Mass. One is to read them together ahead of time. Catholic Brain puts out the daily readings, in child friendly language, and reading the Scripture together before Mass is a great way to help children understand it. You may also want to check the Catholic Brain Web site to see if the day’s gospel reading is one of the videos on the site. Allowing our children to “see” the gospel before or after Mass is another powerful way to help the message take root.
After the homily, the Liturgy of the Word is not quite over. Next, we stand together and recite the Creed. This is a really important prayer to teach our children, because it is a basic catechism wrapped up in a tight, simple package. If our children know the Creed, they know the basics of our Faith. At Mass, it is very powerful to see the entire Church stand together and proclaim what we believe with one voice. It is a beautiful testimony to the unity of Christ’s people.
Finally, after the Creed, comes the prayer of the faithful, at which time we all pray together for the needs of the Church, the world, and our community, usually using the phrase “Lord, hear our prayer,” or something similar.
Thus concludes the Liturgy of the Word. It is good for our children to understand our obligation to attend Mass on every Sunday and holy day of obligation, but also that Mass is celebrated every day. Bringing children to daily Mass is a wonderful thing, but even if that is not realistic, using Catholic Brain to follow the daily Scripture readings is a powerful way to unite our children with the Church and its worship every day.