Monica recently asked TeamRCIA if it was appropriate for child catechumens to join their baptized peers for a children’s liturgy of the word during Sunday Mass. And, if so, then what happens when the children’s liturgy of the word has ended? Do the child catechumens “stay put” and continue to reflect upon the word? Or, do they come back into the main assembly only to be dismissed again prior to the prayers of the faithful as called for in the ritual text (RCIA, nos. 67, 75.3, 83.2)?
Whoa. This is complicated. Let’s sort out all these issues one step at a time. First, let’s talk about the liturgy of the word as celebrated with children.
Children’s liturgy of the word
In some parishes, at Sunday Mass after the opening prayer, children are dismissed to a “separate, but not too distant, room” for a children’s liturgy of the word, including a homily (Directory for Masses with Children, no. 17). It is certainly appropriate for child catechumens to join with baptized children for this celebration of the word. In fact, the RCIA encourages child catechumens to interact with and learn from their baptized Catholic peers (RCIA, nos. 252, 254, 254.1).
Furthermore, the ritual text emphasizes how very important these Sunday celebrations of the word are for the formation of catechumens (RCIA, nos. 81, 83). So, it makes complete sense that child catechumens would be dismissed after the opening prayer with their baptized peer companions to celebrate a liturgy of the word. That’s the easy part.
A “second” dismissal for children?
Before the liturgy of the eucharist begins, the children are led back to the main assembly. My sense is that all the children, the baptized and the catechumens, need to come back to the main assembly. Then, the child catechumens are dismissed along with adult catechumens “to share their joy and spiritual experiences” (RCIA, no. 67.A). Point of clarification: although the child catechumens and adult catechumens are dismissed together, they typically gather with their own dismissal session leader.
Although it may seem like dismissal overdose, I think the “second” dismissal that happens prior to the liturgy of the eucharist is so very important, that the child catechumens should not miss it. It’s hugely significant that the Sunday assembly send forth the catechumens with their blessing and with a show of support. It also helps the community to “get to know” the catechumens when they are present week after week after week being dismissed from the midst of the assembly.
The dismissal rite is important for other reasons, too. See Nick’s article on how the dismissal rite teaches (https://knot.teamrcia.com/2013/04/four-ways-the-rcia-dismissal-teaches-faith/). All in all, it’s important for child catechumens to experience the dismissal rite.
On other hand, if the children’s liturgy of the word space is too far way and you have a large number of child catechumens, it can be cumbersome and disruptive to move the children back and forth for the sake of the dismissal rite. Obviously, you have to weigh the pros and cons and do what’s right for the catechumens. So, let’s take a look at some of those pros and cons. And, consider a possible middle ground.
Some pros and cons and maybe a middle ground?
The pros of having the catechumens return to the main assembly for the “second” dismissal revolve around the importance of the dismissal rite. Another positive aspect of having the second dismissal is that it marks for the catechumens the distinction between the liturgy of the word and the dismissal session that follows. The liturgy of the word is just that – liturgy. It includes proclamation of the word, a responsorial psalm, and a homily. The dismissal session that follows is reflection upon the word of God. It’s a “breaking open” of God’s word.
Another pro of the second dismissal is that it allows for movement. Depending upon the age of the children, an hour can be a long a time to sit and listen and respond and discuss. Remember, the liturgy of the word and the dismissal session are not catechetical exercises when we might do “catechetical activities.” Although at times, an artistic expression is certainly an appropriate response to God’s word.
My point is that getting up and moving is good. The catechumens’ procession out of Mass, following the lectionary, is good. Movement for children is good.
In addition to the disruption of moving children back and forth between spaces, some might argue that children maintain their focus better when they are not moving back and forth. And, that if they do not return to the assembly, then time is not “wasted” in the transition. And, let’s be honest. If the dismissals are done poorly, they can be confusing. Who is who and what is what? I have heard many a presider mix up the language of the dismissals.
Then, when we include the final dismissal at the end of Mass, that’s a total of three dismissals!
A middle ground?
Monica made a suggestion for a middle ground. When the presider dismisses all the children for their liturgy of the word, what if he distinguishes the child catechumens? In other words, the presider might call forward the child catechumens first. Then, ask their baptized companions to join them. He would then explain that the catechumens will not return for the liturgy of the eucharist as they will “reflect more deeply upon the word of God” (RCIA, no. 67, 75.3). Only the baptized children return to the main assembly.
What do you think of this idea? What do you do in your parish? Please, let us know what is working for your child catechumens.
“Hand Colors” by Idea go | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
2 thoughts on “Two liturgies of the word and two dismissals? What’s best for child catechumens?”
Hi Rita. Terrific post! You really did a nice job of exploring all the options.
One point I would add is that the Directory for Masses with Children envisions children’s liturgy of the word as a “sometimes” activity and only if the place in which it happens is appropriate for the celebration of a liturgy, “including a homily.” And I would add, music and environment. Children’s liturgy of the word is almost always done in a classroom. There is no signing and no homily. Also, dismissing baptized children, for whatever reason, fractures the unity of the Sunday assembly.
So I would suggest children not be dismissed for their own word service on Sunday except on rare occasions.
The other point I would make is that if a parish does go with the Monica’s compromise, I would not have the presider distinguish the catechumens at that point since they are not actually being dismissed from the liturgy. I would have the catechumens later formally dismissed from the children’s liturgy of the word. They are still being dismissed from the Sunday assembly, in a sense. But it is a compromise. The larger assembly does not experience all the benefits you list.
Once the baptized children return, the presider or an RCIA team member could note that some of the children have not returned and that they have been formally dismissed from the liturgy.
Good idea, Nick. Yes, I have heard of parishes where the presider for children’s liturgy of the word dismisses the catechumens. Good compromise.
I would like to add this thought. In my experience, I prefer that the child catechumens stay with the main assembly, even if there is a children’s liturgy of the word. The reason is this: then ALL the child catechumens and ALL their parents, and me(the leader of the dismissal session)ALL hear the same proclamation and the same homily.
Sometimes, when the older children stay in the assembly and the younger children go to the children’s liturgy of the word, they hear different homilies and receive different messages. So, as the leader and guide, I find more continuity and cohesiveness when we are all together. But, maybe that just makes it easier for me? There would certainly be ways to make adaptations.