Celebration of the Mass with children

1. Introduction

One of the most wonderful parables of Jesus is that of the sower, which has become a classical inspiration in most catechetical books.  This parable clearly shows us how different people receive and perceive the Word of God in various ways.  Jesus tells us that:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away[1]

The same thing happens to most children.   After having received the four sacraments (baptism, Holy Communion, absolution and confirmation), proper catechesis, and also having enjoyed listening to the stories of Jesus for a period of their lives, their spiritual formation is often still not strong enough and thus they would not have the endurance to remain faithful. 

Being a practicing Catholic, and a Religious Education teacher in a state school, for a number of years, I observe that from the age of eleven, pre-adolescents develop an attitude towards going to church – going to church is perceived as being boring.  Although this is partly normal – because adolescence involves rapid biological, cognitive and socio-emotional changes – the catechetical preparation and the way a child sees the mass being celebrated during the first ten years of his/her life, help the future adolescent develop a positive or negative view of Religion including its liturgical aspect. 

I became ever more curious to delve into the subject in order to unravel the perplexities such attitudes presented to my mind and to my religious sensibilities.  I questioned myself whether it would be possible to help these children integrate more in the liturgical world where the text being read during mass might be too difficult for a child to grasp and understand.

The first thing that has to be explained is why we need to have a mass with children.  One knows that the provision for it lies in the Directory for Masses with Children whichwas published by the Congregation for Divine Worshipon 1November 1973.  This document is referred to by almost all the books and papers which deal with the mass with children.  However, it is now more than thirty years since the Second Vatican Council ended and this Directory was published, and one would have expected that various developments have occurred in the actual practice of this mass. 

The object of this paper is to analyse the developments that have been done since the publication of the Directory for Masses with children.  Moreover, there have been, hitherto, very little theses written for M.A. degrees regarding this matter.   It is thus natural, to look briefly at the social context which lead to adapting the liturgy towards children.   Throughout the last decades psychological discoveries and new ways of dealing with children took place of pride.  Understandably, especially after the second Vatican Council, the modern Church could not exempt itself from engaging into the issue of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ to every individual, including children.  It is this fascinating endeavour which I explore throughout this paper. 

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium had spokenabout the need of liturgical adaptation for various groups and states that “the Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy.”[2]

The above brings about one of the problems that children face.  This problem is that the language of the liturgy is not necessarily easily understood by children.  Here I would like to note that the church had already made some changes.  To make the participation by children easier, soon afterwards, especially in the first Synod of Bishops held in Rome in 1967, the Church began to consider “creating some entirely special rite but rather of retaining, shortening, or omitting some elements or of making a better selection of texts.”[3]  Already the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that it is very important “that the celebration of the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, be so arranged that everybody – minsters and people – make take their own proper part in it.[4]” The Directory for Masses with Children, as a supplement to the General Instruction of the revised Roman Missal published in 1969, did not only provide for changes in a mass where the majority of the congregation are children, but also maintained that a fruitful celebration requires proper catechesis. 

The Directory for masses with children has proved to be an intrepid and pragmatic exponent of age-old doctrines re-tailored to the needs and questions of the modern world.  It all goes to show how much the modern Church entered the heart of this question.  It is unfortunate that these documents were greeted with the silence of the grave in some parishes, and also criticised by some liturgists and commentators.  When speaking about the changes in the Mass, in an address given in 1969, His Holiness Paul VI states that the reform was an “authoritative mandate from the Church” and we are bound to obey the reforms which were not brought about in an arbitrary way but have been thought out by “authoritative experts of sacred Liturgy” and “discussed and mediated upon for a long time.[5]”It is this context which has inspired me to work on this paper which may help those who wish to enable their younger congregation who are full members of the Body of Christ to become full partners in worship.

Inevitably, while writing this paper I found myself being led from one thought to another, from one theory to another, and it seemed imperative to me to present in a coherent way the official documents and other writings which deal with the liturgy and catechesis with children.  I examined the official requirements for an effective participation and children’s capacity to participate fruitfully in the celebration of the Eucharist.  However, it would be unwise on my part to ignore, even despite the official documents, the psychological development and the children’s social relationships.  In other words, although the Word of God is undoubtedly relevant today, we cannot underestimate the fact that the message is not always comprehensible to children.   This is a most fundamental persuasion of the Directory for Masses with children and the Directory for Catechism, published by the Congregation of the Clergy in 1997.  From this it follows that the experience of children in the Sunday Mass must be shifted from a passive to a participative and living experience.  Some church documents which do not specifically discuss the area of children in the liturgy but provided a more general foundation for successive reflections could not be ignored.   The chapter also deals at a substantial length on this development of catechesis and liturgy with children especially after the Second Vatican Council.  The local situation regarding catechesis and children’s religious knowledge is also skimmed through briefly since it is intimately linked to their participation in the mass.

As can be gathered from what I have said so far the aim of this paper is not to document the research which has already been done.  My main interest is to discern more fully the new developments, even in the liturgical field, and how these have affected the Church during these last thirty years or so. 

The Directory for masses with children has been very instrumental in spelling out most comprehensibly the requirements for an effective and participative liturgy.  Children’s participation is even more significant if they do take part in the Mass.  Although no directory has been published since then, which is related to the masses with children, the Church especially during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, who passed away while I was writing this paper, officially encouraged the involvement of children in the mass and in the actual practice encouraged the celebration of the Word of God in a way which they can understand, by the norms established in the Directory for masses with children.  Christ’s invitation to children in the Eucharist, is best described in a simple and spontaneous way by Pope John Paul II, in the Children’s Jubilee, on January 2000, who stated; “Jesus is asking children “Do you wish to help me to make the world more beautiful and welcoming?  Do you wish to be witness to my love in the Church and in the world?”[6]

These words, apart from their value per se, precisely show how much the Church has the participation of children at heart, especially since Vatican II. Indeed it can be asserted that during John Paul’s pontificate the Church has even taken the lead in guiding all those who work with children towards a better understanding and thus in turn to richer effects. John Paul II seems to have established the Church’s standing as a moral teacher quite extraordinarily.  Again in the Angelus of January 2000, he used the role model of Jesus to show them how they can be active participants and states[7]   ;

Dear children, you surely remember what happened when, during the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the 12-year-old Jesus remained in the temple.  Mary and Joseph found him speaking to the teachers, who were amazed at his understanding and his answers (cf. Lk 2: 47 – 48).  You will also remember how he himself, being a tireless preacher of God’s love for men and women, suggested to his disciples that they take children as a model of those who receive the kingdom of God (cf. Mk 10: 14 – 15).

Writings on the liturgy tend to be hopelessly rhetorical unless they are situated in a specific place, such as the places of worship and what proposals would be significant for the future.  The official Church’s reflections are never severed from concrete and pragmatic situations in which some contemporary commentators and theologians find themselves.  Furthermore, though liturgists should experiment to provide more fruitful celebrations, and though they must be ceaselessly open to new ideas, they must never be subjected to the dictates of trendy cultural developments and patterns which are not in accord with norms established by the conferences of bishops.

2. Official requirements for an effective participation

The official document that paved the way so that children would be able to take a more active part during mass was The Directory for masses with children.  This document was published by the Congregation for Divine Worship on November 1, 1973.  The Scriptural command is stated most categorically in the Introduction for the Directory for masses with children; “The Church follows its Master, who “put His arms around the children . . . and blessed them.”[8] Looking briefly at the history of the catechetical formation and liturgy with children, we need to understand where we have come from in order to begin to understand where we are being asked to go.  Although for many centuries there has not been either a celebration of the Eucharist or even catechesis adapted to children’s level, children still participated in worship together with adults, as mentioned further on in this paper. 

The Kerygma in the New Testament meant the solemn announcement of the coming of God’s Kingdom in Jesus Christ[9] while Didache which means “to teach” began to refer to the teachings of the Church Fathers and the prophets.  However, during the first four centuries, catechesis was directed towards adults, not children.[10]  The basic requirements underlying the admission to the catechumenate were the belief in the teachings of the Church, the promise to live as good Christians, and the need to learn how to pray and ask for forgiveness of sins.[11]  Although Christian education was geared towards adults, not children, “the community and parents were responsible for initiating children into the Christian faith” and “Christian centres of learning developed in cities such as Antioch and Alexandria.”[12]  After the Edith of Milan, infant baptism became the norm for entry and catechism was preserved by means of preaching.[13]

Already in 1139, Lateran II[14] condemned those who reject the baptism of infants. The Twelfth Ecumenical Council, Lateran IV[15], in 1215, in Canon 21 which was called for reforms within the church, including those of clerical morals, required that all Catholics who have reached the age of reason are obliged to receive communion at least once yearly, in Easter. 

Many young saints also during the Church history, not only received the Eucharist, but also seemed to be very well prepared for this Holy Sacrament.  Some holy boys and girls, who may be taken as models for children, regarding their importance to the Eucharist were evoked by Pope. John Paul II in his “Letter to Children” – written in 1994 during the “Year of the Family” about the importance of the first communion, who using child language recalled;

Saint Agnes, who lived in Rome; Saint Agatha, who was martyred in Sicily; Saint Tarcisius, a boy who is rightly called the “martyr of the Eucharist” because he preferred to die rather than give up Jesus, whom he was carrying under the appearance of bread.

The fifteenth and sixteenth century were marked by the reform within the Church and the Reformation of Luther.  In 1529 Luther published the small catechism for children and simple-minded believers (Kleine Katechismus für die gemeine Pfarrhern und Prediger).  He insisted that it should be preached from the pulpit, read to children and servants every morning and evening, and learnt by heart according to catechetical tradition.[16]  The Council of Trent was the official answer to the Reformation of Luther.  Trent emphasised both Scripture and tradition, “the validity of the seven sacraments, the hierarchical nature of the Church, the divine institution of the priesthood, the traditional teaching of transubstantiation, and the sacrificial character of the mass.[17]

The catechism instructions that evolved after Trent focused on memorization of texts without the necessity of comprehension.  However this type of methodology was not unique to the Catholic Church.  Nevertheless without mentioning line and verse religious educators such as Fénélon, La Salle, Castellino de Castello, and the Jesuits tried to adapt religious instruction to children’s level and gave significant contribution both to catechism and to education in general. 

Pius V in his Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests reiterated that according to the Magisterium of the Council of Trent, children who are not able to distinguish the Holy Eucharist from common and ordinary bread were exempted from receiving the Holy Eucharist, which was obligatory at least in Easter.[18]  The ability to distinguish ordinary bread from the Holy Eucharist were the requisites for children not to be deprived from receiving communion in Pius X, Quam Singulari[19]. The Council of Trent in the Decree for postponing the definition of four articles touching the sacrament of the Eucharist, and for giving a safe-conduct to protestants, stated that “very many and most accurate conferences, according to the importance of the matters, having been held, and the sentiments also of the most eminent theologians having been ascertained[20]” and one of the enquiries treated was “whether little children also are to be communicated”.[21]

At the beginning of this century Saint Pius X delineated that to acquire the true Christian spirit we must go to “its first and indispensable source, namely, active participation in the most sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.[22]”  Pius X in “Quam Singulari” states that “the age of reason” [23] which, was mentioned in Lateran IV, was often abused by those who asserted different ages for the sacrament of reconciliation and Holy Communion.  The requirement for receiving Holy Communion is only that the child can differentiate the Eucharistic bread from ordinary bread and is therefore prepared to receive Jesus.  Pius X stated that[24] “A full and perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine is not necessary either for First confession or for First Communion.  Afterwards, however, the child will be obliged to learn gradually the entire Catechism according to his ability.”

These reforms surely contradict those who label this saintly pope as ‘conservative’[25]. The requisites of Quam Singulari were officially affirmed by the Magisterium during the successive years.  In a Declaration for first confession and first communion published by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy and the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, on the 24th day of May 1973, it was decided with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI that “everybody everywhere should conform to the degree Quam Singulari”.[26]

In an official letter about first penance and first communion, signed byCardinal James Knox and Cardinal John Wright on the 31 March 1977[27] the practice of the Sacrament of Confession before the First communion in the spirit of Quam Singulari was re affirmed.  This was written as an answer to recent doubts based on psychological and pedagogical studies that children are able to receive communion but are not able to make a confession[28].

The notion of children as “miniature adults” was not an idea belonging exclusively to the Church.  It was not until Rousseau’s Emile and Dewey’s theories of experiential learning[29] and the stage theorists of cognitive and moral development that approaches towards children started to change in education and in society in general.

In the 19th century, catechism began to follow the Munich method which “focused more on how children learn than on the text itself.”[30] The Church not only had to combat certain medieval views concerning children that stretched out their influence from patristic and mediaeval times, but had also to inculcate his vision in the contemporary age, taking into consideration new notions associated with child education and new discoveries in psychological development of children. 

3.     Catechetical preparation in Malta before the Second Vatican Council

Pius X’s enthusiasm to promote the sacrament of communion for children was realised by the catechism prepared by Cardinal Pietro Gasparri who compiled easily understood question and answers about doctrinal facts.[31]  At my disposition I have a 1943 edition of the Gasparri Catechism in Maltese, which was extracted and published by Fr. C. Farrugia[32].  Victor Fenech in his research about the development in Primary Education between 1947 and 1958, stated that the booklet Tagħlim Nisrani was still being used in each class except in the infant class[33]

The Maltese National Catechetical Commission in a study conducted in 1966 discovered that it was used “by 85% of the Catechists entrusted with the younger classes and by the less educated Catechists.”[34]  It was the basis of the M.U.S.E.U.M. syllabus required for the admission to first communion and confirmation.[35]  Children were expected to know all its answers and confess all its religious truths in the right formulation.[36]

Already in Pius X’s times, the Saint Pope already discovered that “teaching the Catechism is unpopular with many.[37]”  One of the reasons for this could be that the child learnt by heart but that does not necessarily mean that he understood what he learnt.  Undoubtedly the methodological approach had to be changed.  Yet, question and answer was the system used until 1960’s in parishes and schools[38] and children had to learn the answers by heart.  The National Catechetical Commission stated that: 

The Maltese version of Cardinal Gasparri’s Catechism is a collection of formulae rather than a textbook.  It is excessively dogmatic to be the common ground between catechist and pupil.  It is too notional.  It appeals to the intellect and memory rather than to the child as a whole.  It gives no attention to child psychology.  Child behaviour is patterned not on notions but on relationship with other persons.  The relationship between child and a personal God is absolutely wanting in It-Tagħlim Nisrani.  Its disadvantages have influenced other post-war catechetical publications[39]

Tagħlim Nisrani’s limitations were increasing due to the secularisation that also came across our islands and “the Old Catechism Book could not have survived without catastrophic repercussions.”[40]  It is very interesting though; that some catechetical books varied a bit in style and methodology from dogmatic questions and answers.  At my disposition I have a small anthology of prayers and catechism, which also includes a brief introduction to the mass – the tridentate mass[41].  More recent is the translation of the German Catechism, Twemmin Nisrani[42] – translated and published by the De La Salle Brothers.  This catechism is divided into three main parts; on God and our salvation, on the Church and the sacraments. 

In 1954, a new catechetical book intended for children was published.  This was Il-Katekiżmu, written by Rev. Anton Vella and published by the Diocesan catechetical commission[43] Il-Katekiżmu included thirty lessons each containing a title, illustrated by coloured pictures, a few sentences and questions which were learnt by the children, explanations, prayers, and exercises.[44]

A report prepared by the National Catechetical Commission in 1966 stated “His excellency, Archbishop, Mgr M. Gonzi, by an official decree, appointed a book-committee of three priests, namely: Mgr M. Azzopardi (President), Rev. Fr J. Borg Micallef, and Carmel Grech, to produce textbooks for the Primary Schools. “

 Also the same report stated that “the Catechetical Commission of Christus Rex has worked out a project with regard to the preparation of children for their First Communion.[45]

4.    The changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council

The Tridentate Mass which was fixed by Pope Pius V promulgated on the fifth of December, 1570,  was very uniform and this left no room for flexibility, apart from the fact that the mass was recited in Latin, which in itself created a language barrier for many people, and more so for children.   This changed with the advent of Vatican Council II which unceasingly draws from the richness of the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church to make the Word of God more comprehensible and every baptised could participate in a fruitful way in the celebration of the Eucharist taking into account their age, culture or way of life.[46] This official teaching provides a solid and cohesive basis for further reflections regarding our duty as liturgists and catechists to proclaim the Word of God in a language which the children can comprehend and celebrate the mass in a way they can participate and experience Christ themselves.    

Vatican II brought significant changes and paved the way for the publishing of new documents; one of which is of utmost importance to this paper, is the Directory for masses with children, which will be dealt in a certain depth.  Other official Church documents which are not necessarily intended for children’s masses but have directives of general importance related to this paper cannot be disregarded.

Vatican II’s endeavour was to re channel Catholic theology towards a more “accurate” – so to say – understanding of scripture and the early Church as a source of “renewal”.  More so, the aim of the Council was to provide possibilities of how the Church could live in a world which was changing politically, socially and culturally and which was advancing in science and technology.  At the Opening of Vatican Council II, in the 11th October 1962, Pope John XXIII, after applauding all the councils of the Church stated that[47]

now the Church must once more reaffirm that teaching authority of hers which never fails, but will endure until the end of time. For that was Our reason for calling this most authoritative assembly.

The present Council is a special, worldwide manifestation by the Church of her teaching office, exercised in taking account of the errors, needs and opportunities of our day.

The Second Vatican Council, reflecting more on St Paul’s description of the Mystical Body of Christ[48]  states that “The faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, are placed in the People of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ”[49].  Infant Baptism is not a new phenomenon in the Church and there has always been opposition and debate within the Church regarding the practice of baptizing infants.[50]  Baptised infants also share in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Jesus Christ.  Children become Temples of the Holy Spirit and share the rights and duties according to their status. 

In the modern period, there was an opposing reaction to the protestant’s anti hierarchal approach, where Catholics put emphasis on institutional and social aspect.  During the last sixty years or so, we had a rediscovery of the Church as a mystery; the Church as the mystical body of Christ.  The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, states that[51]:

Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). As members, they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ. They have the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection. They possess in common one salvation, one hope, and one undivided charity. Hence, there is in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, Greek text; cf. Col. 3:11).

The revised Code of Canon Law which was promulgated in 1983 clearly states[52]:

By baptism one is incorporated into the Church of Christ and constituted a person in it, with the duties and the rights which, in accordance with each one’s status, are proper to Christians, in so far as they are in ecclesiastical communion and unless a lawfully issued sanction intervenes.

 While in the 1917 code the faithful are mentioned in relation with the institution, in the 1983 code we have a more personal orientation focusing on the fundamental freedom of all the people of God.  The present Code of Canon Law states that all the baptised build up the Body of Christ[53].  Through baptism the Christians come to share in the priesthood of Christ.  John Paul II confirms this and states that: [54]

Foremost among the elements which express the true and authentic image of the Church are: the teaching whereby the Church is presented as the People of God (cf. Const. Lumen Gentium, n. 2) and its hierarchical authority as service (ibid n. 3); the further teaching which portrays the Church as a communion and then spells out the mutual relationships which must intervene between the particular and the universal Church, and between collegiality and primacy; likewise, the teaching by which all members of the People of God share, each in their own measure, in the threefold priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, with which teaching is associated also that which looks to the duties and rights of Christ’s faithful and specifically the laity; and lastly the assiduity which the Church must devote to ecumenism.

5.     The Directory for Masses with children

Another great change made by Vatican Council II was that leading to a more participative and lively liturgy. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosantum Concilium accentuated that[55]:

To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures and bodily attitudes.  And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.

In order to meet existing needs and anticipate future demand, substantial authority in the reform of the rites has been delegated to a group known as the Consilium (council) for the Implementation of the Liturgical Reform. This group was incorporated into the Congregation for Divine Worship. It consisted of bishops, and a large group of experts.[56] Thus the Congregation for Divine Worship, headed by Monsignor Balthasar Fischer, a long-time professor and co-founder of the Liturgical Institute at Trier, Germany began an inquiry on the possibility of adapting the Mass for children in March 1971 and assigned to develop both the Directory for Masses with Children and the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children.[57]  The Directory for masses with children was approved by Pope Paul VI and promulgated on November 1, 1973.[58]

   The Directory for Masses with children did not only offer the official guidelines but also allowed discussion in the Church on separate liturgies of the Word with children during the Sunday Mass. It is wonderful to see how the official magisterium, especially since new discoveries in psychology and child development were taking place, was anxious to adapt itself to these developments. “Anxious” because there was much catching up to do. The reform of the liturgy was one of the most important matters of the Sacrosantum Concilium.[59]  It was for this reason that Archbishop Annibale Bugnini who was the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship[60], at that time was secretary for the ‘Commission for Liturgical Reform’ set up by Pope Pius XII, in his memoirs recalled that, “On April 17, 1964, a sturdy, powerful machinery was set in motion that in the next five years’ would bring the ‘new’ Mass”.[61] “However, no one should think that this renewal of the Roman Missal has taken place all of a sudden and without adequate preparation”, explains Paul VI in the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Missal Missae Romanum while delineating the studies that have been made since the Council of Trent. 

It should be noted that careful observance of prescribed actions and guidelines and the adaptations proposed here are only for “children who have not yet entered the period of preadolescence”.[62]   Since this directory is the most important document for the theme of this paper, it seemed reasonable to present this document in sufficient detail.  After an introduction which explains the objectives of the directory, it starts off with the first chapter which talks about the introduction of children to the Eucharistic Celebration.[63]  Amongst others, here the role of parents is emphasised in order to nurture children’s faith.   The second and third chapter differentiates between two types of masses.  These are:

  • A mass where children are present with adults where the former also participate, and this is delved into in the second chapter of the Directory,[64]
    • A mass which is mainly for children with only a few adults present, which is expanded upon in the third chapter of the Directory. [65]  

The third chapter of the Directory for Masses with children, which is the longest in the whole document, is divided into several sub-chapters providing directives and adaptations which may be used in children’s masses, some of which may be employed in the Sunday Mass.  Most important to this paper are the guidelines about the preparation for the celebration and the parts of the mass. 

6.    The introduction of children to the Eucharistic Celebration

The Directory for Masses with children states most categorically that through baptism parents are bound to support the religious Christian formation of their children. Parents should not only share their faith with their children but also walk the faith journey with them with remarkable results[66].  The baptism of children must be in harmony with the participation in the liturgical service[67].  We cannot expect our children, even when they grow up, to participate enthusiastically, if they lack sound catechetical preparation.  In fact, the Directory acknowledges this and states that “indeed it would be harmful if their liturgical formation lacked such a basis.”[68] 

The Directory is denoting that some elements of the mass may be understood more by those children who received proper values in their upbringing including “the community activity, exchange of greetings, capacity to listen and to seek and grant pardon, expression of gratitude, experience of symbolic actions, a meal of friendship, and festive celebration.[69]”  This lack of values is seen more prominently in the classrooms, where discipline causes the most fear and consternation in many teachers.

Due to the importance of promoting these human values, the role of parents becomes very important.  Parents who freely accepted to baptise their children are bound with several duties to promote Christian values and “to teach them gradually how to pray.”[70]  Watching their parents praying together, and going to mass together, children will feel more like imitating their parents whilst feeling that sense of belonging. 

Parents who are weak in their Christian faith should instil at least the basic human values mentioned above, and god parents or other parents with a good Christian formation could help to provide the proper catechesis.[71]  

6.1  Masses with adults in which children are also present

Since this paper focuses on the Sunday masses in which children participate, this chapter seemed to be the most relevant.

 The Sunday mass must never be considered as a “children’s mass’ but always a mass of the Christian community.[72]  A well prepared mass should not only enable children to meet Christ but also their parents in a true Christian spirit of joy and communion. Where the majority of the congregation are adults, they should serve as an example and participate.  Children should not feel neglected and not given any importance during the mass.[73]  The role of the priest who leads the celebration is very important since he must express the children’s  spirit of joy.[74]  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal already delineates that[75]

the pastoral effectiveness of a celebration depends in great measure on choosing readings, prayers, and songs which correspond to the needs, spiritual preparation, and attitude of the participants… In planning the celebration, the priest should consider the spiritual good of the assembly rather than his own desires.

The priest may speak to the children directly “in the introductory comments and in the homily”.[76]  Another suggestion is that the liturgy of the word will be celebrated exclusively for children, “in a separate but not too distant room.”[77]  There should always be the blessing with the whole community since this nurtures the communal spirit.  The Directory shows caution in this regard and states that this should only be done if the place itself and the nature of the individuals permit.[78] Throughout my research I corresponded with Rev Randall R. Phillips, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who also holds a Doctorate in Theology.  Rev Phillips is also the editor of the magazine Ministry and Liturgy. He suggested to me that this should not be a weekly experience but rather once-a-month since children should remain in the assembly in order to learn how to worship in the community by watching their parents and participating alongside them.[79] 

Children may be given some helpful task such as bringing forward the gifts and singing.[80]

In the Sunday Mass, some adaptations and recommendations may also be used wherever the Bishop permits.[81]

6.2    Masses with children in which only a few adults participate     

Masses with children in which only a few adults participate are also recommended for the formative experience of children.  The Mass with children achieves its goal if it successfully leads the children to a fruitful mass with adults. [82]   Although this paper focuses on the Sunday Mass, these masses which are often celebrated “during the week”[83] are very relevant to this work since the liturgical and catechetical preparation of children is of utmost importance.   Moreover, the preparation for the mass and the parts of the mass, which are included in this long chapter, should be known well by all those who prepare the children for the Eucharistic celebration.   There is the sad tendency today that the celebration of the Mass may become more efficacious by ‘breaking the rules’ and norms established by the official documents.  The Directory states most explicitly that the various elements included in the mass should correspond with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal “even if at times for pastoral reasons an absolute identity cannot be insisted upon.[84]

7.   Offices and Ministries in the Celebration

The Directory advocates that the children’s participation is part of their formation.  Children must be encouraged to fully participate by singing in a choir or playing a musical instrument [85],preparing the altar[86], proclaiming the readings[87], reciting the general intercessions, bringing gifts to the altar and performing the gestures of the liturgy.[88]    Children should also be ‘trained’ to meditate and recollect themselves in silence.[89] The greater the diversity of the inclusion of children the less likely children will be bored during the celebration, since they will listen to different voices.[90] Adults, on the other hand, should participate not as monitors but by singing and praying with the children.[91] This diversity does not only enable the adults to set an example for children, but also expresses the idea of a community which is a fundamental value of the Eucharist. 

The role of the celebrant is undoubtedly very important for a festive celebration[92] Understanding children’s development and their capabilities, the official magisterium provides that the celebrant may exercise creativity such as together with children he will give reasons for thanking our Lord before the Preface[93] and expressing “the invitation in his own words, for example, at the penitential rite, the prayer over the gifts, the Lord’s Prayer, the sign of peace, and communion.”[94] Primarily the Celebrant needs to be motivated himself and, be excited about taking on the challenge of making the celebration a festive one, even more than in Mass with adults. Secondly he must communicate these feelings to the children and create this joyful, familial, yet meditative atmosphere.  The Celebrant must also keeps in mind the dignity of children and their right to fully participate in the celebration[95], which are explained in detail in this paper. 

However, time and time again, it must also be noted that genuine enthusiasm to include children may also lead to abuse.  One of the problems is when it comes to the language where the celebrant may be tempted to change the Prescribed Texts of the Mass.  Already the Dogmatic Constitution Sacrosantum Concilum delineated that;[96]

Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop. (2) In virtue of power conceded by law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of bishops’ conferences, legitimately established, with competence in given territories. (3) Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

Subsequent documents, although they do not necessarily deal with the mass with children, instruct against the practice of ad libbing, and like the Directory for masses with children assert that unless otherwise indicated the celebration should correspond to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.  Thirty years after the Directory the Congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacrament published the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist andcondemned this practice of ad libbing  most explicitly by stating that[97];

The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.

The celebrant should impose his presence but this does not mean that he will take centre stage and hinder the Eucharistic presence.  Rather, this should mean questioning the children during the homily and perhaps moving around focusing the children’s attention on Christ’s living presence in the Eucharist before communion.  Children will realise that the priest is enthusiastic because of the strong desire to receive Jesus. 

Children should always be reminded that the summit of their participation is in the Eucharistic Communion and “in all this, it should be kept in mind that external activities will be fruitless and even harmful if they do not serve the internal participation of the children.[98]”  Again, circa thirty years after the Directory for masses with children, His Holiness John Paul II,  in the  apostolic letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine reminds us that Jesus’ announcement “I am with you always[99] lies in the mystery of the Eucharist and the real presence of Christ.[100]  Children should constantly be reminded that “The Lord be with you”, which is said three times during the mass, expresses a desire that the Lord becomes ever more present in each one of them.

8.   Preparation for the Celebration

It must be noted that in the Directory for Masses with children there is a sub chapter which deals with the place and time of the mass before dealing with the preparation for the celebration.  Understandably it has been omitted in this paper since it is not relevant to the Sunday Mass which is celebrated in the church at fixed times.

The Directory insists that the Mass be prepared well beforehand “especially with regard to the prayers, songs, readings, and intentions of the general intercessions.[101]”  More so children should also be encouraged to prepare the altar themselves as this will help to develop the “spirit of community celebration.[102]

Good preparation is a must for every celebration of the Eucharist, whether for children or for adults.  The General Instruction to the Roman Missal had also delineated that;[103]

Since a variety of options is provided, it is necessary for the deacon, readers, cantors, commentators, and a choir to know beforehand the texts for which they are responsible, so that nothing will upset the celebration.  This careful planning will help dispose the people to take their part in the Eucharist.

8.1   Singing and Music

It is deplorable that some masses which are celebrated at a time when children are present do not have adequate music in the service.  Unfortunately in some masses even though children are encouraged by catechists to attend to a particular mass – addressed particularly to children – music is conspicuous with its absence.

Music is fundamental to create a festive celebration.  Some parishes may experience difficulty to find children who may sing and play musical instruments, especially those with an ageing community.  In some cases the use of recorded music may also be used, especially if none of the children is able to play an instrument, but this should be done with care and according to the norms established by the conferences of bishops.[104]

8.2    Gestures

The Directory for masses with children stated that[105];

In view of the nature of the liturgy as an activity of the entire person and in view of the psychology of children, participation by means of gestures and posture should be strongly encouraged in Masses with children, with due regard for age and local customs. Much depends not only on the actions of the priest, [29] but also on the manner in which the children conduct themselves as a community.

There is the practice in many churches where the Mass with children is celebrated, to use some sort of movement and even sometimes dance[106].  Manifestation of praise is sometimes depicted by the use of movement to express a Christian theme within a musical selection. As Ian and Oliver Pratt put it, “The Israelites danced often in their worship, and dance and rhythm have always played an important part in human experience.[107]”  Since movement and dance is very debatable amongst liturgists, it is appropriate to glimpse through the official instructions. Already the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, previously Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship in 1975[108] in an article tried to re open discussion to allow with discretion some form of movement, presumably in the spirit of Sacrosantum Concilium.[109]  Two conditions must be observed.

The first: to the extent in which the body is a reflection of the soul, dancing, with all its manifestations, would have to express sentiments of faith and adoration in order to become a prayer.

The second condition: just as all the gestures and movements found in the liturgy are regulated by the competent ecclesiastical authority, so also dancing as a gesture would have to be under its discipline.

The Church also accepts dance and body language wholeheartedly to meet up with the challenges of enculturation.  The special assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops(10 April-8 May 1994)stated that dance and body language “are greatly appreciated in the Liturgy in some places”.[110]

Very often in Malta children participate in dramatic expressions of God’s word by movement and gestures after the homily as I have found out during my research for the purpose of this paper.[111]  In the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, Principles and guidelines published by theCongregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in December 2001 stated that[112];

Among some peoples, song is instinctively linked with hand-clapping, rhythmic corporeal movements and even dance. Such are external forms of interior sentiment and are part of popular traditions, especially on occasions such as patronal feasts. Clearly, such should be genuine expressions of communal prayer and not merely theatrical spectacles. The fact of their prevalence in one area, however, should not be regarded as a reason for their promotion in other areas, especially where they would not be spontaneous.

Drama is also seen to get foot in the mass where there is a large number of children.  Sometimes some churches choose a small mime or play during the Penitential Act or the Homily Sometimes a mime is used to animate the gospel, and sometimes there is a mime, play or the making of gestures accompanied by singing.  In my observations this involvement of children seem to be evident in most of the parishes where children in that particular mass who are the majority are given their proper and deserved importance.  In the Liturgy of the word, the drama leader tries to deepen the child’s understanding of himself or her self and his or her relation to God “by extending the children’s sympathy and imagination, putting them into situations where they have to pretend to be other people or things, imagining and acting out their idea of what it feels like to be such a person or thing in a given situation.[113]”  Never must dance and movement be used to entertain, not even to encourage children go to church.  They must not create divisions, superiority of some kids over others or a sense of pride.  These will contradict the central theme of the Gospels – love God and others.  Ian and Oliver Pratt stated that,[114]

The value of the expression of feeling through whole body involvement in worship is to engender a real sense of community by experiencing the others present as persons.

Those who have taken part in it have spoken of feeling a sense of liberation, as though generations- old barriers which should never have been there had been removed.

8.3             Visual elements

The Directory for masses with children insists that “The liturgy of the Mass contains many visual elements and these should be given great prominence with children.[115]

Before stretching our imagination of the audio visuals that may be used to celebrate the Word of God with children we should make these children aware of available signs and symbols.  The simplicity of resources is what young children may appreciate most.  The use of Water, bread, wine, oil and the laying of hands need to be explained, and the explanation of their symbolic use should take pride over handouts, audio visuals and other various activities.  Children are also fascinated with other symbols such as the wheat and grapes, paschal lamb and the fish, as shown most wonderfully in our churches frescoes and stained glass.  As the Directory for masses with children states, “this is especially true of the particular visual elements in the course of the liturgical year, for example, the veneration of the cross, the Easter candle, the lights on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and the variety of colours and liturgical appointments.[116]”  Edward Matthews, in his book Celebrating mass with children: A commentary on the Directory for masses with children, also remarked on the emphasis on the signs and symbols present in the Liturgy before introducing others.  He affirmed that[117],

When we are sure the ‘official’ sensory elements are being experienced we can introduce some o the children’s own.  Decorating the place of celebration in one way – posters, cut out pictures, models associated with the Mass theme are other examples.  Later we will see the possibilities of drama.

The use of artwork prepared by children may be used “as illustrations of a homily, as visual expressions of the intentions of the general intercessions, or as inspirations to reflections.[118]” 

9. The Introduction of the mass

A mass with children cannot be fruitful if from the beginning it does not have the children’s disposition and attention.  There are several steps to get the children oriented to and in a spirit of prayer.  The introduction of the mass is therefore very important, and it is good if the celebrant introduces the theme of the mass.

However, “the introduction is not a homily.  One simple idea, expressed in simple straightforward language, is all that is required. [119]

Even with children who are in disposition to pray, it is necessary to gain their interest in the introduction of the mass. Although some children come from families who are used to pray together or even recite the rosary as a family, they may have been involved in some other activity before or after the mass and can be easily be distracted.  Effective ways of introducing the mass should create a felt need on the part of the child to prepare himself or herself to receive Jesus.  

The role of lay persons and those who prepare the children for the mass is very important.  They may guide them before the mass to read a prepared in the introduction of the mass.  “Children are fascinated to hear one of their own number playing such a prominent part.[120]” 

Pictures prepared by the children themselves may also be helpful.  A laptop computer may also be useful to project a short piece of film before the mass[121].  Some internet sites may be used to legally download these short films, especially on special occasions such as mission Sunday.  However, other things may be used rather than audio visuals.

“For instance, a Mass about justice and hunger might begin by the priest unveiling two meals on a tray – one the sort of meal any of the children present might expect to find on arriving home that evening, the other a meal of a starving child in the slums of Calcutta.  Here again, brevity and simplicity are all important.”[122]

In the Penitential Rite the celebrant may also “help the children in an examination of conscience.[123]” so that the children will feel really sorry for what they have done.

10. Liturgy of the Word

It is clear that some disagreement exists amongst Catholic liturgists as to how much the mass is permitted to change. The question of having a separate liturgy of the mass with children prompted a deluge of publications and opinions. This controversial issue stems from the renewed interest of the Catholic Church and, the efforts of liturgists and catechists to achieve a new and deeper understanding of the children with whom they work. Furthermore, and perhaps somewhat more predominantly the controversy is fired from the opposition of some critics who state that “children’s “needs” were often used as an excuse for breaking the rules.[124]” The aim of masses with children is not just to make the mass appealing but rather it is more to lead them to participate in masses with the Christian community.[125] When introducing separate liturgies or otherwise the celebrant adapts the liturgy to children’s level, this should be kept in mind.

   Biblical Readings should never be omitted.  Sometimes it is permitted to leave one or two readings out, as long as the gospel is never omitted.[126]  It is sometimes necessary to choose another reading if the reading of the day seems too difficult.  There is a general assumption in our society, even without the need to prove it with further research, that children have a shorter attention span.  However, the quality of the reading rather then the length of the reading should be the criteria.[127]  Children may enjoy a more lengthy reading, while a short one may be boring or too abstract for their capabilities.  In the  apostolic letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine published for the year of the Eucharist John Paul II affirmed that forty years after the Second Vatican Council.[128],

It is not enough that the biblical passages are read in the vernacular, if they are not also proclaimed with the care, preparation, devout attention and meditative silence that enable the word of God to touch people’s minds and hearts

Catechetical explanation is therefore more important than paraphrasing or simplifying the lectionary. As Edward Matthews noted in his commentary about the Directory for Masses with children[129],

To cut down the number of readings may not be enough.  In any case, quantity of length is not necessarily a bad thing.  A too short reading might defeat its own purpose by being finished so quickly that the children will have had no time to ‘tune in’ to it.

A brief explanation on the central theme may help the children to get into the picture of the Reading.[130]  Even if this is not done, there are various resources which can help those who prepare the children for the mass about the principal theme of the Readings[131].  Children will surely ask questions after the mass or in their catechesis lesson. 

The Directory for masses with children proposed the “composition of lectionaries for masses with children”[132] to enable children to participate fully and actively in the mass and also respond to the Word of God in ways appropriate to their experience and capabilities.  An interesting innovation, which cannot but be noticed, is the Lectionary for Masses with children published in the United States and approved by the Conference of Bishops in 1993.  Our interest in Malta focuses more on the debate rather than the texts and from foreign experience we may learn and avoid mistakes.  Its translation leaves much to be desired and the difference between its adaptation of the readings and those children actually hear in Sunday Mass with adults is substantial enough to confuse them and hamper their Bible reading.  Besides “in attempting to simplify the Gospel for children’s comprehension, the Lectionary for Masses with Children sometimes changes the biblical Message.[133]”   The word “manger” in this adapted lectionary in Luke 2, is changed to a “feedbox”[134]   Another example is on the first Sunday of Lent, year B, where instead of “the kingdom of God is at hand” the Lectionary for Masses with children reads “God’s kingdom will soon be here.”  This difference was unnecessary because while “at hand” is a common expression understood by all children, there is no need to deny the present reality of God’s Kingdom.[135]  In another reading of Lent, in the third Sunday of Lent, year A, in the dialogue with the women of Samaria, the Lectionary for Masses with children reads that “the water Jesus give is like a ‘flowing mountain’ instead of “will become in him a spring of water.”  Instead of simplifying matters, this translation makes use of a metaphor.[136]  In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, on the 26th Sunday in Ordinary time, year C, the Lectionary for Masses with children reads that Jesus won’t listen “even to someone who comes from the dead”[137].

   The homily, which is even more important in masses with children since it explains the word of God and has a pastoral role, “should become a dialogue with them, unless it is preferred that they should listen in silence.[138]”  The General Instruction for the Roman Missal describes the homily as “a necessary source of nourishment for the Christian life.”[139] – already asserted  in the Sacrosantum concilium that “by means of the homily the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year”[140]

Ronald B. Mierzwa published a very useful book related to the homily, Childchurch: Homily Outlines for Preaching to children.[141]  Mierzwa states that an integrated and well prepared children’s homily, which is formative and healthy has several qualities:

The homily needs to be specific to the ages, needs and experiences of their children.[142]

…bear elements of scriptural research and background, catechesis, humor, exhortation, prayer, spirituality, challenge and practical application, resulting in a well blended final version which is shared with the children as an opportunity to see, feel, act on, respond to, and trust the Gospel message.[143]

…combine verbal with non-verbal language[144]

Mierzwa recommends that vague generalities such as telling the children “to be nice” should be avoided and instead one may evoke more practical ideas such as “cooperating with the school bus driver.”[145]  Although the dialogic method of children’s homilies has its advantages of simplicity and ease, various methods may be used but they all require some attention and good preparation.  Mierzwa mentioned six qualities of the process of creating a children’s homily.  The process is the same as that of a homily with adults but greater flexibility is required.  He suggested to sit in silence, pray and meditate upon the Word and the impact of the message in children’s life; preparation required and the resources; keep the homily simple; praise the chilldren’s efforts;  guide the children to do in practice what the Word of God says and finally leave God to work in children’s hearts.[146] 

After the homily the creed follows.  Although the Directory states that the Apostles creed may be used[147] and it parallels their catechetical formation and learning of the central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator, children should become accustomed gradually to the Nicene Creed.[148] Through experience I also learned that the central doctrine of the Divinity and human unity of Christ is much more clearly expressed in the Nicene Creed “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made” rather than in the Apostles’ Creed “his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” Another problem of language and translation is the statement “he descended into hell” which was always controversial, more so the Maltese version refers to the limbo[149].  This again creates further problem, having to explain the debatable state of the limbo to children.

11. Eucharistic Prayer

The Directory for Masses with children states that one of the four Eucharistic Prayers from the Missal is to be used “until the Apostolic See makes other provisions for Masses with children”.[150]

Whether the mass is celebrated with adults, in which the majority of the participants are children and, also in the mass with children, the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses with children may be used.  The Decree of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Postquam de Precibus published in 1974 states:

The  use of Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children,  “is restricted to Masses that are celebrated with children alone or Masses at which the majority of the participants are children.

A community of children means one so considered by the Directory for Masses with Children, that is, one consisting of children who have not yet reached the age referred to as preadolescence.[151]

The acclamations which can be spoken by the children, were very much desired by progressive liturgists for years amongst whom was  Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who was appointed  secretary to the preparatory commission on the liturgy for the  second Vatican council[152].  Three Eucharistic prayers for children are used[153].  These were not formulated with the intention that children have a shorter attention span; on the contrary, they need to be more explanatory and more specific.  This was a progressive official attempt in the Eucharistic Prayer which is at the heart of the entire Celebration to use the language of children.  The language of children, however, does not mean falling into infantile, but it should respect the dignity of the celebration.   In other parts of the mass then, such as the penitential rite, homily, and prayers of the faithful, there is more room for flexibility.  The possibility to encourage children to give the reasons why they should thank Our Lord before the Preface also enables them to get into the spirit of Prayer and thanks giving. The Preface of the first Eucharistic Prayer, illustrates the Creation in words children may understand while the second Eucharistic Prayer encourages the acclamation of children. This sense of communion and celebration is expressed in the third Eucharistic Prayer for children which states that we love one another and we share out joys and sorrows.[154] In the first Eucharistic Prayer, the Sanctus has three parts, which conclude with the acclamations “Hosanna in the highest” lead more the children towards singing this Hymn of Glory.  This is another example how adaptations in the mass for children may lead them towards participating in the mass with adults.  The  French Jesuit, Father Joseph Gélineau, who drafted one of the Eucharistic prayers,states that the Eucharistic Prayers for children “show notable progress toward the development of a thanksgiving expressed by the entire assembly”.[155]  During the Eucharistic Prayer silence must be observed so that “the full power of the words may be perceived and greater spiritual fruit be obtained from them.”[156]

12.     The Communion and other rites

The rites which follow the Eucharistic prayer are the Lord’s Prayer, the breaking of bread and the invitation to communion. “The acclamations and the responses to the priest’s greeting, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Trinitarian formulary at the end of the blessing with which the priest concludes the mass[157]” should never be changed. However the children may always sing the Lord’s Prayer, unless the original words remain intact[158].  The priest may invite the children in his own words at the beginning of the mass or prepare them for the Word of God and also use “the richer forms of blessing.[159]” 

13.     The role of catechesis and catechetical formation in recent years in Malta

The situation in Malta, unfortunately, leaves a lot to be desired regarding the introduction of children to the mass and their catechetical formation.  An in depth analysis of the delivery of catechism lessons requires a far deeper and different study that goes beyond the purpose of this paper.  However throughout my research, I couldn’t help notice some great shortcomings. 

One of the problems that I observed in many catechetical lessons is that of language – the way we talk about God.  The Catechetical preparation for the first Holy Communion must be to prepare the children for the celebration of the Eucharist to be a true participation in the celebration.[160]  Prayer is a form of communication with God, and children should simply enter a true love relationship with God as their creator. On the other hand, one wonders what the child understands when he or she learns the commandments by words such as “Weġġah lil missierek u lil ommok” which is equivalent to “Honour thy father and thy mother”.  The distortion of some significant words some of which have opposite meanings such as “Weġġah” translated as honour, with “weġġa’’”, translated as ‘to hurt’, very often tends to confuse the children.  Some prayers, devotionals and teachings which the children learn have abundant use of language that is abstract, vague or contain vocabulary that is no longer used.  The Salve Regina translation is a classical example of a prayer which uses words which are too difficult to be understood by the child such as “itturufnati” (banished) -, “ulied Eva” – (children of Eve), “nitniegħdu” (we send up our sighs), “wied tad-dmugħ” (valley of tears).        Many of the words are also Italianised such as O pija – (O loving). The 2001 Junior Lyceum report, in which examination the students were asked to complete this prayer, stated that many children recite the prayers but they do not actually know their meanings[161] and the 2002 Junior Lyceum report reasserted the need that children be given explanation about daily prayers, especially when it comes to some difficult words such as “avukata” (our advocate) and the prayer of the Roman Centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof”[162]”repeated in the Holy Mass

These examples show that Religion is not something that can be reduced to prayers and some doctrines that can be memorised by the child.   Children will undoubtedly rattle these prayers off, usually not even thinking about the words.  When they become adolescents they will thrust aside these prayers, together with all Religious stuff.   This parroting of the doctrines and prayers despite their importance may cause more spiritual harm.  In Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul II, mentioned the disadvantages of memorising[163]:

In the beginning of Christian catechesis, which coincided with civilization that was mainly oral, recourse was held very freely to memorization.  Catechesis has since then known a long tradition of learning the principal truths by memorizing.  We are all aware that this method can present certain disadvantages, not the least of which is that it lends itself to insufficient or at times almost non-existent assimilation, reducing all knowledge to formulas that are repeated without being properly understood.

On the other hand religious catechism should not discard the teaching of basic doctrines.  Since we know nowadays, with reason, the disadvantages of learning by heart, we may at the other extreme disregard memorizing completely.  John Paul II in Catechesi Tradendae, again, insists on balance and plurality of different methods[164] as the Fourth General Assembly of the Synod called for “the restoration of a judicious balance between reflection and spontaneity, between dialogue and silence, between written work and memory work.[165]

Most Maltese Children go to catechism until the day they do their “grizma” (chrisma) or sacrament of confirmation.  Some continue to go after receiving the sacrament of confirmation.  It is not enough that children receive the sacrament of confirmation so that they will be able to marry in church.  Catechism lessons have a significant impact on how the children perceive of religion and hence they have to be fruitful.   One has to question also the end results of all the traditions, devotions, and whether children’s spirituality is being hedged about with all kinds of religious encumbrances such as rigid beliefs or practices which are not necessarily related to children’s age and ability such as penances, indulgences, etc.  It must also be noted with some disappointment that most children in Malta get more used to public devotions rather than the central themes of our faith – the Eucharist having a special and unique place.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy remarked that[166] 

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body the Church, is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others.  No other action of the Church can match its claim to efficacy, nor equal the degree of it.

While it is important to raise the children in this Christian spirit,   children should be taught that while it is most important to pray for the intercession of the Mother of God, and to preserve the traditions we have including processions, Marian devotions, wearing medals or badges or the scapular, and also the value of ex-vetoes, the Eucharist surpasses all these actions and without it they will become empty or rather fanaticism and superstition.   The Principles and Guidelines offered to us by the Directory on popular piety and the liturgy, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and discipline of the sacraments commented that[167]

While drawn up in terms less exacting than those employed for the prayers of the Liturgy, devotional prayers and formulae should be inspired, nonetheless, by Sacred Scripture, the Liturgy, the Fathers of the Church and the Magisterium, and concord with the Church’s faith.

Despite all the emphasis on piety and tradition, religious teachings seem to lack the assertion on fundamental truths, as shown most explicitly in the Junior Lyceum Examinations.  The 2003 Junior Lyceum Report states that many students seem to confuse the terms Bible, Gospel, Old Testament and Prophets.  A number of students don’t know they have to fast for an hour before receiving the Blessed Sacrament.  Many children confused the sacrament of the Holy Orders with marriage.[168]  This lack of knowledge about the sacrament repeated itself in 2004.  Some children were not able to describe the sacrament of the Eucharist and instead they focused only on the communion.  Again many students seem that they did not know about the Sacrament of Holy Orders and others confused it with the Anointing of the sick and with marriage.  The Junior Lyceum report also showed its concern that some adults/catechists use modern stories which they are adapted more to children’s needs and the children will fail to learn about Jesus’ times on the basis of the gospels.  The children may confuse the fiction with the reality.[169]  Symbolism sometimes also requires explanation.  The 2001 Junior Lyceum report states that many students answered that Our Lady was born in Bethlehem and she was killed by being plunged with knives in her heart.[170]  The same report also shows concern about confusion of the word “mass” with “church” and lack of information about parts of the mass.

 In 2002 the students confused the members of the Trinity[171].  These basic doctrines were absolutely very clear and straight forward in Gasparri’s Catechism, Tagħlim Nisrani;  “How many persons are there in God?  God is one in the unity of nature in three really distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who constitute the Holy Trinity.[172]

Despite these shortcomings the Local Church is not threading with closed eyes!  The Diocesan Synod documents, which were published in October – November 2003 although they did not issue a specific document on children they offered some important reconsiderations.  The document about the Kerygma states that the Church throughout its history always developed ways to proclaim the Word to different groups.  She committed herself to develop the mass with children and mass for special groups to proclaim the Word of God in a relevant way. Similarly Lenten serves were also developed to different groups.[173]   Nowadays the traditional segmentation is not enough for the times we are going through.  Nowadays the diversification among people is larger, and the Maltese people are not anymore as homogeneous.  Although the message that Christ is our centre[174]  remains the same, it is thought that a new way of segmentation, which caters for different types of people and their work with different levels of education, should be found.  It should be noted that some parishes are working on this proposal, developing new cell groups, also for children.  These children will surely form and retain a good Christian formation.   The aim of the Synod is to have a more relevant message for modern needs.   A distinction must be made between teaching of religion in schools and parish catechesis. The value and contribution of each towards an integral Christian formation must be explained more by the Church to avoid confusion amongst the faithful.[175]  It is the aim of the synod to reach also those children who do not receive any catechetical preparation, whilst respecting their parents’ decision.[176] 

 The document about the Liturgy and the Sacraments states that the Parish Liturgical commission must aim to encourage the full, conscious and active participation of all people who meet the risen Lord around His Table.  Therefore we must make sure that those people who are administrating a service to their ministry are thoroughly taught and instructed on what types of needs there are for the whole participation of the congregation.  They should see whether there are hymn books u leaflets with the readings on them.  Importance should also be given to the active participation of children, and to the different needs of the faithful.[177]  The possibility of praying the liturgy of the hours communally in churches should also be considered.   

Besides the role and duty of the parents to nourish their baptism described in this paper[178] the diocesan synod also gives importance to the duty of the god-parents.  The synod is suggesting a brief catechetical preparation both for the parents and god-parents, preferably in the parents’ home.[179]  The synod is perhaps promoting the role of the god parents which for many years has been secularised by being there for the photographs and the pleasant occasion instead of being there for the children on a daily basis to help them in their spiritual life. 

As stated in this document[180], the problem many people find is not whether children have reached the age of reason when they are able to receive communion but, because of increased studies in psychology and child development, some are concerned with children having a consciousness of sin.  In Malta we are not isolated and we have to learn from other countries’ experience and form our own opinion.  To take one example, the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, in the state of Montana, in its guidelines insists that

Before children are introduced to individual confession of sin, their capacity for moral judgment should be developed sufficiently so that they can distinguish between an accidental wrong and a deliberate wrong. 

They should be able to see the difference between a blameless act and one for which they are accountable.  

It even quotes the National catechetical directory that

 The age at which children develop sufficient readiness for individual reconciliation will vary from child to child.  Some may be ready at the age of seven or eight; others may be ready only when they have reached more mature years.

  This is cited from the National Catechetical Directory (181) which actually provides “guidelines for the catechesis of children and youth”   Yet the age of when children are able to confess is not provided in this document – as underlined in this parish’s guidelines – but speaks more about catechism in general.   The National Catechetical Directory actually stated that

Effective catechesis takes into account the fact that the child’s comprehension and other powers develop gradually. Religious truths are presented in greater depth, and more mature challenges are proposed, as the capacity for understanding and growth in faith increases.

In Malta the Synod affirms that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is to be before their first communion.  First confession should be adapted to children’s capability and it should be enable them to repent and restore their relationships of love and friendship with God.[181]   The sacraments are received by children when they are seven years old.

Although there is no specific document in the Synod which deals about children, there is a special section which explains the values of the synod to children.  On the initiative of Fr Anton Portelli a cd-rom “Sinodu tat-tfal” was published and explains the six values of the synod to children, using multimedia stories and cartoons.[182]

14. Infancy and its importance

Regarding the importance of nurturing children’s faith during infancy, the Directory for masses with children builds on the General Catechetical Directory which was published by the Sacred Congregation for the clergy in 1971.[183]  The Directory for masses with children states that[184]:

recent psychological study has established how profoundly children are formed by the religious experience of infancy and early childhood, because of the special religious receptivity proper to those years.

The more one understands how children develop, and the psychological studies in relation to children continue to develop, the more we come to a conclusion that the mass should be adapted to children’s level.  Liturgists and Catechists and all those who work with children, “need to understand the inner workings of the developing child.”[185]  The more we understand how children grow, the more we can use methods which contribute to spiritual growth.[186] 

Two well known psychologists who contributed enormously to child development and morality are Piaget[187] and Kohlberg.  Kohlberg[188] focused more on moral development.  The enormous depth and breadth of the cognitive psychologists’ works is far beyond the scope of this paper.  The following aspects are however particularly relevant to an understanding of children’s discernment and their participation. 

Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, saw cognitive growth as being governed by the same laws and principles[189] and believed that intellectual development controlled every other aspect of development – emotional, social, and moral. Piaget stated that from birth to 24 months, what he described as the sensory motor period, children develop the concept of object permanence and form mental representation.  His theory explains the origins of intelligence in children.  Piaget found out that forms of intellectual activity are constructed on the sensory motor level and stated that;

Intelligence does not by any means appear at once derived from mental development, like a higher mechanism, and radically distinct from those which have preceded it. Intelligence presents, on the contrary, a remarkable continuity with the acquired or even inborn processes on which it depends and at the same time makes use of[190].

Piaget’s second stage is the preoperational period, from 2 to 7 years.  In the first years, children still lack the concept of conversation and speech is egocentric.  Children consistently react to the consequences given to them by parents, schools, and so forth. These ideas are ingrained into children from birth; therefore they become a part of them. Not only do they become a part of them, but the real reason that they are important gets lost and becomes a “just because” reason.  Piaget stated;

Intelligence is assimilation to the extent that it incorporates all the given data of experience within its framework…There can be no doubt either, that mental life is also accommodation to the environment. Assimilation can never be pure because by incorporating new elements into its earlier schemata the intelligence constantly modifies the latter in order to adjust them to new elements[191]

In the period of concrete operations, from 7 to 11 years of age, the child is also able to use deductive reasoning.  The period of formal operations, which starts from 11 years the child, is able to think abstractly.  It is from this theory that some people falsely assume that adults cannot talk to children less than 11 years of age about God – something which will be shown how it can be dealt with further in this paper. 

Lawrence Kohlberg was very influenced by the psychology of Jean Piaget and of   other philosophers like John Dewey.  To evaluate the moral stages, Kohlberg created a series of moral dilemmas, and for the purpose of his research he took a sample of 72 boys, ages 10,13,16, from both middle and lower class families in Chicago.  Eventually he also furthered his research to include younger children, delinquents, girls and also children coming from other cities.[192]  Kohlberg’s first level is the level of pre-conventional morality.  The first stage “the punishment avoidance stage” can be described as the desire to avoid punishment.  The second stage of this level the “Instrumental Relativist Orientation” can be described as the desire to obtain rewards.  Like the previous one, this stage is characterised by ego-centricism and returning favours.

Kohlberg ‘s second level is the level of conventional morality.  The third stage or first stage of the second level can be described as an attitude which seeks to do what will gain the approval of others.  The second stage of the second level described as “law and order” or the will to abide by the law.  Children also have a desire to do what is good and avoid evil.  If raised properly children will act obediently and conform to the rules set by their parents, including their moral and religious background.  Good moral standards will become in children something they will choose themselves rather than being imposed on them.

These values lead us to the third level which rather than focusing on the rules as an end themselves emphasise more the principles that underline those rules.  The fifth stage or first stage in the “post conventional level” describes laws as “social contracts” which we agree to uphold[193] and genuine interest in the wellbeing of others. The last stage is based on respect for universal principles and the decision of conscience in accord with self-chosen principles

The correlation between the development stages of moral judgement and other factors have been analysed in a research study conducted by Emmanuel Pullicino and Michael Aquilina[194].  I consider this study worth reviewing since it deals with Maltese children rather than presenting theoretical studies of the cognitive psychologists.  More so, it deemed plausible to include a reference to this work because we can understand more the developing child; how he or she can lead to a good moral life which is indispensable to his or her participation in the mass.  Pullicino and Aquilina came up with four different hypotheses relating to children.  These hypotheses can be summarised as follows: [195]

  1. There is a positive correlation between the developmental stages in Moral Judgement and the intelligence of children in the age group of six to eleven.
  2. There is a correlation between the stages of development of moral judgement and the environment which is expressed by his religion.
  3. Girls between the age of six and eleven are at a more mature stage of moral judgement than boys.
  4. There is a positive correlation between the development stages of moral judgement and the age of the child.

For the purpose of his research Pullicino and Aquilina invented two pairs of stories which he then related to the chosen children who were to take part in this research.  These stories had two different themes.  One theme was that of “lying” as a basis, and the other set was based on “breaking of property”.  Pullicino and Aquilina wanted to study what different children of different ages and from different locations, thought about the concept of lying and breaking of property. 

From this study it was concluded that:

 The Maltese children seem to develop moral judgement at a later age than those which were studied by Piaget.  The latter is of the opinion that by eleven the children should have left behind the morality of Moral Constraint in fovour of that of Moral Cooperation.[196]

Pullicino and Aquilina also found that Maltese children at the age of 6 to 8½ years follow the Piagetian pattern of behaviour in Moral Judgement and for them “rules are absolute, unchangeable and surrounded by some sort of mystical authority.”[197]  This means that children consider lying to their parents as a graver matter than lying to their friends.[198]

By the time a child from 9 years old to 11 years old he or she begins to realise that after all rules are his to make up and adhere to.  He wants to understand the meanings of the rules which might be imposed on him or her.  This means that a child would want to know why an action is wrong, that is, an action is not wrong because he was told so but an action is wrong because it hinders his interaction with society.

In his study, Pullicino and Aquilina also found that intelligence is not a significant factor with regards to moral judgement[199].  Another factor was age and they found out that moral judgement correlates with it.  They found that their target group “follows the Piagetian pattern i.e. moral realism at the pre-operational stage, and morality of cooperation at the concrete operational stage.”[200] 

15.    Children’s capacity to worship

Some people falsely interpret Piaget theory of development that children cannot conceive of God.  God is a spiritual being and since children have not yet entered the formal operational stage they cannot think abstractly.  This is true if we do not set up the right atmosphere so that children feel involved in the mass themselves and feel that they belong to the celebration.  In the Holy Scriptures, far from being exposed to signs and symbols which are abstract and incomprehensible, children could experience the signs and works of God themselves in ways which were so clear and explicit, such as the exodus in the Old Testament and the presence of Christ Himself in the New Testament.    In the Old Testament children were involved in most of the events of the Jewish people.  One cannot but mention the Exodus narrative where the Jews “journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot [that were] men, beside children.[201]”  Regarding the rite of the Passover feast Moses told them that when children ask them what do they mean by this observance, they shall answer “’It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.[202]‘  This quote reminds us of the way we should celebrate the Mass with children and teach them about the celebration: ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord, for he delivered us from sin’ 

Children are also there in the crises mentioned in the prophetic literature and in the crisis during King Jehosophat’s reign as it is clearly expressed, “And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.”[203]

Children as well as women were also happy when the great walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and together with other adults they praised God.[204]  Children also learnt the traditions of the Jewish feasts and the law of their fathers.

The Holy Scriptures endows us with ways how we can provide an environment that is conductive to the inclusion of children.  In the Old Testament children needed ways to come close to God.[205] They needed symbols to show that God was with them, as children nowadays, with whom we participate in the mass and with whom we grow spiritually in the catechism lessons are also fascinated with Jesus’ stories, colourful pictures and other Catholic symbols and popular devotions.  The Bible people had no audio visuals and modern technology.  Yet they used the resources which they had available to enable their children to have direct experience of the message they were trying to pass on to their children.  Joshua 4, 5-7, is a perfect example how the Bible people used available resources to accentuate their teachings.  Joshua told the men to pass over before the ark of the Lord and take a stone upon their shoulder and told them;

That this may be a sign among you, [that] when your children ask [their fathers] in time to come, saying, What [mean] ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.[206]

In the New Testament the basic and most fundamental impression on those who work with children’s spirituality is certainly God’s very nature as God and a human being who has been divinely conceived by Mary.  While we often depict Jesus as a mature adult we must not forget that “Jesus came as a baby and lived each phase of childhood.”[207]  

Jesus as a child lived with his parents who gave him his proper home education and he perhaps learnt the trade of a carpenter from his father Joseph.  Jesus’ participation in prayers during his childhood has been recalled by the simple but profound reflections of His Holiness John Paul II in his letter to children in the year of the family.[208]

The Child whom we see in the manger at Christmas grew up as the years passed. When he was twelve years old, as you know, he went for the first time with Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. There, in the crowds of pilgrims, he was separated from his parents and, with other boys and girls of his own age, he stopped to listen to the teachers in the Temple, for a sort of “catechism lesson”.

There also was great emphasis on celebrating God’s action in liturgical ceremonies.  “During the Bar/Bat Mitzah ceremony, the young boy or girl was required to recite passages from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus would have studied the scrolls and chanted the psalms in prayer as any other Jewish boy did “[209]

This text expresses most eloquently the immense significance and remarkable prestige of children in the Bible, especially by the example Jesus Himself sets. It is surely a wonderful example to follow.  Children’s right to hear what God has to say to them, then, comes out clearer when viewed in relation to God on the basis of the Holy Scripture.  Children have dispositions towards worship such as sincerity and honesty which sometimes are much desirable in us, adults.  Their attitude towards life and mystery is still one of spontaneity and wonder.  They haven’t as yet been touched by the cruelty of the world and know how to feel and show their joy at simple things in life.  They also know how to feel thankful and show their gratefulness.   Constance Tarasar suggests that “children naturally worship”[210].  He states that[211]  

Worship understood as the entering into of another reality, the reality of the kingdom, is something the child can readily resonate with, perhaps more readily than the adult. When the child is told that one goes to church to meet God and that the church is God’s house, the child accepts and believes.

Catherine Stonehouse, in her book, “Joining the children in worship” states that even being young, children are developing “the elements of their personhood with which they will relate to God.”[212]  Children love to listen to or read the Word of God.  In His Word, God’s love is expressed in a clear and logical way, especially the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In the community where I work as a teacher, even though illiteracy is quite high, even children who are not fervent readers enjoy skimming through Bible stories.  The praying qualities of children including their sincerity, honesty and disposition towards worship were those perhaps requested by our Master when he told the disciples that we should “become like little children” .[213]  These capabilities of children to worship are well documented by liturgists of mainline denominations – most of which are from their experiences with children. David Ng and Virginia Thomas in their book, Children in the worshipping community, state that[214]

Children have certain abilities and attitudes which lie at the heart of worship. They are aware of their environment and the community around them. They are capable of intense identification and imaginative hearing. They are infectiously enthusiastic. They can be sacrificially generous and honest in their responses. They respond physically and emotionally to what they see and hear.

These qualities far from discourage us to celebrate the mass with children!  It is no wonder that children go in the front seats of the church, sing and actively take part in the mass!  Caroline Fairless in her book, Children at worship – Congregations in Bloomstates that “our children have the identical claim on the space, ritual, style, and content of worship as adults.[215]”  St Augustine states our hearts are restless till we rest in Him. Even young children have that restless questioning in their hearts.[216]  Professor Sofia Cavalletti, who researched children from three to six years of age, states that even children who had no religious training expressed a deeply innate belief in the Creator.[217]  Pius X was prophetic in this regard when in the Encyclical Quam Singulari he recommended that differentiating the Eucharistic bread from ordinary bread was enough for children as a  requirement to receive the first Communion.- something which will be recalled further in this paper.  This innate belief in the Creator is also a requisite why we should not be afraid to enable children in the mass.  Sara Covin Juengst in her book Sharing Faith with Children: Rethinking the Children’s Sermon, suggests that the role of adults should not be to teach the children how to pray.  She states that[218] 

Their wonderful openness, their colorful imaginations, and their sense of wonder all combine to put them in a state of readiness for worship. Our problem has been that we have insisted on treating them like little adults.

These words surely encourage those who are skeptical in believing that children are capable to worship despite their minimal knowledge of catechesis.  Mary Catherine Berglund states that “children’s sense of wonder is not yet jaded[219]”  More so, Children have not yet reached Piaget’s final stages of development which enable them to think abstractly as already stated above; and this may be an advantage since children “are willing to stand unembarrassed before mystery”.  As Berglund puts it “Adults, who understand so much, want to understand everything. … Adults all too often look upon the unexplained as weird, foolish, and impossible; but children live in a world still bursting with miracles.[220]

16.    How to talk to children

Two things have to be beard in mind when one comes to talk to children.  Children have a capacity to worship, and use their senses to acquire information and infer meaning from what they feel, hear, touch and see; as explained in the previous chapter.  On the other hand liturgists and catechists should use language which is comprehensible to children and make sure that they grasp the attention of the children with simplicity but yet profound style. . 

From the age of five children want clear answers for the questions they ask.[221] Sofia Cavaletti states that children have insatiable hunger for God and when we talk to them about God it is not unnatural to them.  More so God is the one who inspires the children to know more about Him[222].  As Saint Paul said “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.[223]”            However adults have to be very cautious when they talk to children about religious matters.   Children’s ability to think in a logical manner is still yet to develop.[224] In catechism and in their spiritual life adults should not confuse them.  Some prayers and religious knowledge which contain elements which require further explanations, some of which may be profound and theological in their nature, should be avoided in our talking to children about faith.  We have to be sensitive to their desire to communicate when they are ready.  As Cavalletti accentuated[225],

we must not anticipate and confuse the times.  If we do, we preclude the child’s access to that aspect of God the child most needs.  In our estimation, we compromise the child’s very moral formation, which should be based on love, and should be the response of the child’s love to the love that God first gave him, or her.

A theory which may help us when and how to talk to children is that of Frits K Oser, who proposed a model of stages of religious judgement.  Fritz K. Oser of Fribourg University, Switzerland suggested that the development of the religious personality is different from other areas of development.  More so there is a distinctive structure of religious reasoning which acts as mother structure responsible for the child’s spirituality.  Oser is influenced by Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, Kohlberg’s moral development theory and also Fowler’s stages of the development of logical thinking.  His research consisted of interviews and he suggested five stages of what he described as “religious knowing” or “religious judgment.” Oser’s first stage of religious judgement suggested that   “children assume that everything is guided, led, or steered by external forces[226]“. Children’s view of the “Ultimate” springs from their parents’ behaviour, but yet is different.  God is also full Power and full choice and only at the end of this stage “the child questions the one-way street of the Ultimate influence and actions[227]

The second stage is characterized by bargaining and dealing with God.  In this stage rather than God being unmediated and we accept this as is, “persons can talk, bargain, interact with the Ultimate and even placate it[228].”  In Malta, bargaining with God by making vows is not uncommon and children become accustomed early in life to traditions of popular religiosity.   Surely our children need to move beyond this stage and perceive God as love, and be guided by correct guidelines and proper catechesis for popular piety.[229]  Faith should be nourished because like the seed which fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil[230] it will wither and die  At the start of  their adolescence children will start to realize of good things they can acquire themselves with our without prayer, and the frailty of nature which is beyond their control.  The above was the impetus of this paper, which is mentioned in the introduction.  Oser noted that “…one day, he discovers that he does well on examinations even without a prayer or religious engagement. Uncertainty befalls him. He feels ‘exploited.’ From that point on, he intends to take all responsibilities onto himself.[231]

Oser’s third stage of religious judgment is characterized by clarifying the perspectives of God and man, their difference and autonomy.  In Oser’s words “Transcendence and immanence are separated from one another.[232]” In this stage people will start building relationships with God on their own will. 

Oster’s fourth stage of religious judgment is characterized by reconciling human’s free will with God’s divine plan.  People will start to accept God’s divine plan and when it comes to the world and our existence God gives us strength, spirituality, mercy; in Oser’s own words  “God constitutes the condition for human action[233]“.

Oser’s fifth stage can be characterized by an optimal balance of the previous stages: People will accept immanence and transcendence, our freedom and God’s power.  Humans by their actions manifest God’s existence.

The Ultimate Being is realised through human action, wherever there is care and love. Freedom and dependence, transcendence and immanence, all of the polar dimensions come equilibrated to produce a way of being that can at times seen strange and marvelous.[234]

In Oser ‘s sixth stage, which is the highest possible structure of religious reasoning, “God can be experienced as the possibility and fulfilment of absolute meaning mediated through finite freedom in fragmentary action of powerlessness and love.[235]

In conclusion one can say that these stages cannot be disregarded when one comes to talk to children about moral and religious matters.  Better understanding of children’s development helps us more to nurture properly their faith and will eventually result in a more fruitful participation in liturgical services.

17.    The role of parents in child catechesis

The role of parents in child catechesis is delved into by several authors and also other Church official documents such as the General Directory for Catechesis, published by the Congregation of the Clergy in 1998.  One of these authors who has been mentioned previously is Catherine Stonehouse who stated that “The child’s faith is inspired when he or she belongs to an inclusive community that seeks to live out God’s love.[236]”  For the child, the family is his first community.  It should be noted that young children do not go to church on their own, especially if distances impede them from doing so.  Observing their parents going to church, praying together, and creating this sort of religious atmosphere helps the child to start to learn about his creator.  Oliver and Ian Pratt in their book, Let Liturgy live. A handbook of practical worship, entailed that“the family presents an ideal field for introduction to liturgical experience that grows out of the concerns and needs of the participants and is adapted to their situation – something we call ‘situation liturgy’[237].” Never is the role of parents left out in catechetical and children’s liturgy articles and books.  When children are ready to receive the communion it would be nice if parents themselves will prepare them, perhaps together with other parents.[238]

In every Parish nowadays one may find a commission for the family[239] and its role is to meet, discuss, pray and decide on certain issues concerning the family.  On a less formal scale there is also the Family Christian group[240] where many parents may discuss problems related to their children – but first and foremost how to raise a family with a Christian vision.  Catherine Stonehouse spelled out the advantages of being in such a Family Christian group:

Living out God’s love and grace in relationship with children would be part of what these groups could explore.  This can be a setting for seeing out adequate answers to the difficult questions children ask; such a search may be a means of parents coming to know God more fully.  As groups of parents explore God’s Word together and share their lives, they can support one another as they build values into their families.  Their children, then, will have friends whose families share their values and reinforce parental teaching.[241]

In our Catholic Church we are rich in this form of pastoral care and rather than creating new groups it is better if parents would join some of these existing groups.  Children who are raised in such catholic environments would become familiar with the church’s activities and celebrations, with the mass occupying a special place.  Having devotionals and other Christian resources at home, children will get used to signs and symbols in Catholic worship amongst which those used in the mass.  Colouring a picture of a chalice, the altar, ambones, or a priest celebrating the mass, will prepare them to what they expect to find during the mass.

As Catherine Stone house stated; “Parents can set the stage for natural conversations about God.  Tapes of age-appropriate Christian music can fill the minds and hearts of children and adults with thoughts of God.[242]”  Time and time again, in our catholic bookshops one may find statues, children’s bible stories, children’s books, colouring pages and various resources which create a catholic atmosphere in our homes.   Children will come to love reading Bible stories and “books about God’s ways and Bible stories can become the child’s favourite for nap or bedtime.[243]

The General Directory for Catechises states that by the gift of Baptism children become privileged members of the Kingdom of God and “more than in the past”, children demand full respect and guidance in their holistic development[244].  The General Directory for Catechesis states that[245]; “Those who have given life to children and have enriched them with the gift of Baptism have the duty continually to nourish it” This is quite similar to what we found in the Declaration on Christian education; Gravissimum Educationisproclaimed by Pope Paul VI on 28 October 1965 which insists upon the duty of parents as primary and principal educators[246]

   The General Directory for Catechesis states that the catechetical process must seek to “develop those human resources which provide an anthropological bias for the life of faith, a sense of trust, of freedom, of self-giving, of invocation and of joyful participation.[247]”   While recognising the family and the school as two important educational places, the General Directory for Catechesis states that nothing replaces family catechesis as the first experience of faith.[248]  Another Official Document, The Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by John Paul II in 1992 emphasised once again the role of parents[249];

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues.

It goes without saying, how much the previous Pope John Paul II had the unity of the family to his heart.  Being taught his first catechesis by his parents remains one of the most wonderful and precious moments for the child.  In the Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, John Paul II asserted that, “The very short prayers that the child learns to lisp will be the start of a loving dialogue with this hidden God whose word it will then begin to hear.[250]” John Paul II also had great respect towards mothers who dedicated their lives to their children. In a rare humane openness of his inner feelings, speaking to Vittorio Messori, John Paul II confided his personal and deep respect for women who are mothers;[251]  “Perhaps I was also influenced by the climate of the time in which I was brought up – it was a time of great respect and consideration for women, especially for women who were mothers.”

Children would develop wholesomely if and when there is total support for and unity of the family. Healthy personality development facilitates children’s openness to God, “whereas developmental dysfunction creates barriers to a life of trusting, growing faith.”[252]  Environmental, social, and economic factors have a powerful effect on children’s catechetical formation and their participation in the mass.   Economic and social problems, exposure to drugs or violence at home, dysfunctional families place a child at greater risk of losing interest in religious affairs.  The General Directory for Catechesis required that in these cases, the community should provide appropriate forms of education and catechises to balance out this loss.[253]   When the Parish catechists, the parent and the teacher cooperate together[254] – everyone comes out ahead – Catechists and teachers, parents and children.

However it should also be noted that nowadays even those children who grow up “through a strong osmosis with the family” are active consumers of messages from the wider society including the school, mass media etc.[255]  Catherine Stonehouse asserted that “in our search for truth about spiritual formation calls us to be attentive to the experiences of children and their parents.  We must ask how children are experiencing life in their homes, communities, and the ministries of our church.”[256]  The trepid preparation of teachers, priest and children together is very important and “if any one of these three is missing, then the celebration will suffer accordingly[257].  Preparing the child towards the sacrament is not an easy task and requires the catechetical and moral formation

Ultimately, those who work with children should be the parish, school and preferably their parents have to give importance to catechesis for the mass.  This should lead to an understanding of the Holy Sacrifice, the main rites and prayers and “the place of the Mass in the life of the Church.”[258]  Proper catechesis should start from the child’s experience to the privileged state of meeting God though the Blessed Sacrament.[259]  John Paul II describes this catechesis as one that should give[260]

 meaning to the sacraments, but at the same time it receives from the experience of the sacraments a living dimension that keeps it from remaining merely doctrinal, and it communicates to the child the joy of being a witness to Christ in ordinary life.

18. Conclusion

The changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council and other subsequent documents, including the Directory for Masses with Children, cannot but be isolated from the social context in which the Church is moving.  Now in the civil society for instance we are talking about children’s rights, whereas in the educational field child centred education has taken pride. Many people who work with children have demanded that democracy be given its true meaning and that institutions and organisations involve them most conspicuously in their sphere. Children nowadays are not prepared to take the back seat any more.  The Directory for Masses with children fully recognises that these developments may not favour their spiritual progress unless sufficient adaptations were to be made.[261] It is a clear sign that we have moved – in Annibale Bugnini’own words who was one of the great minds behind the liturgical reforms – from a non participative  and incomprehensible liturgy to “worship in spirit and truth”.[262]

Maybe the Directory’s authoritative contribution on the matter of children was, first and foremost, that it spoke about the formation of children, rather than just the communion, and the role of parents in this regard. Its second contribution is to inculcate its vision in the contemporary taking into consideration the adaptations needed to meet the needs of modern times.[263] Thirdly, it endorses most wonderfully psychological developments associated with child developments. One of these major studies concerned how religious comprehensibility in infancy and early childhood contribute to a deep religious experience.

When reading through Official Liturgical Documents and related encyclicals, apostolic letters, exhortations, and other speeches, one takes the immediate impression of the Church’s committed attitude towards more active participation of the faithful in thecelebration of the Eucharist which is “the heart of the mystery of the Church”[264]. It is actually impressive and even refreshing, to live in an age when the magisterium is so engaged to contribute to a more conscious, active and fruitful participation of the faithful.[265] Other Christians in other ages, even only fifty or sixty years ago, were not so fortunate. In his apostolic letter Dies Domini, John Paul II states that “there is a need to ensure that all those present [in the celebration of the eucharist] children and adults, take an active interest”[266] and “live their baptismal priesthood”[267] in their lives.  There is no distinction, besides of roles, between the celebrant and the faithful because they all share the “common priesthood received in Baptism.”[268]   John Paul II, who the world mourned so deeply at his death happening at the time of completion of this work, is a visible and clear sign of the tremendous growth that has occurred, at least on this score, during the last twenty or thirty years or so.

Some innovations in the liturgy have also created considerable ripples.  It was not easy, understandably, that the magisterium embraces such changes in the highest form of worship.  Unfortunately this field of thought also has so many thorns and many consider some innovations in the church to be a menace or a threat; some even prefer the traditional Tridentine Mass.  On the other hand, some faithful today may want more and more, and that is quite comprehensible, but maybe they must appreciate a bit more the many that has been done in such short time. Other achievements will surely come along, and the Church will continue to find in the Eucharist light and strength

Undeniably, the Church’s understanding of the development of children, their capability to understand, and their religious formation in contemporary times has given more credence to the long tradition of the Church and the teachings of  Jesus Christ, our light and Saviour.


[1] Lk 8, 4-18

[2] Vatican Council II. Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Dogmatic Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 Dec 1963),  14: Dominican Publicatins, Dublin, 1975, 7.

[3] De Liturgia in prima Synodo Episcoporum: Notitiae 3 (1967) 368.

[4] See General Instruction on the Roman Missal, (26 March 1970), 2 : edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 162.

[5]“La riforma perciò, che sta per essere divulgata, corrisponde ad un mandato autorevole della Chiesa; è un atto di obbedienza; è un fatto di coerenza della Chiesa con se stessa; è un passo in avanti della sua tradizione autentica; è una dimostrazione di fedeltà e di vitalità, alla quale tutti dobbiamo prontamente aderire. Non è un arbitrio. Non è un esperimento caduco o facoltativo. Non è un’improvvisazione di qualche dilettante. È una legge pensata da cultori autorevoli della sacra Liturgia, a lungo discussa e studiata; faremo bene ad accoglierla con gioioso interesse e ad applicarla con puntuale ed unanime osservanza. Questa riforma mette fine alle incertezze, alle discussioni, agli arbitri abusivi; e ci richiama a quella uniformità di riti e di sentimenti, ch’è propria della Chiesa cattolica, erede e continuatrice di quella prima comunità cristiana, ch’era tutta «un Cuor solo e un’anima sola» (Act. 4, 32).”  See Pope Paul VI, Address to a general audience (November 19 1969) :  http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/audiences/1969/documents/hf_p-vi_aud_19691119_it.html

[6] John Paul II, Sunday Angelus Children’s Jubilee, (2 January 2000), 3 (online) :  http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2ja2.htm

[7] Ibid, 4.

[8] Mk, 10, 16.

[9] See ch dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, London 1936, 3.

[10] See Alfred Lapple,  Breve Storia della Catechesi, Brescia,1985, 58.

[11] See Johannes Quasten, The Beginnings of Patristic Literature, I, Utrecht 1950, 246-340.

[12] Kevin Treston, A new vision of Religion Education. Theory, History, Practice and Spirituality for DREs, Catechists and Teachers, New London 1993, 24.

[13] See Henry G  J Beck, The Pastoral of Souls in South-East France during the Sixth Century, Rome, 1950, p.262.

[14] See Henry Joseph Schroeder, Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils. Text, Translation and Commentary, St. Louis/mo  1937, 195-213.

[15] Ibid., 236-296.

[16]See Emile G Leonard, Histoire générale du Protestantisme. La Réformation, I, Paris 1961, 107.

[17] Joseph Bezzina, Church History.  Including an account of the Church in Malta.  Gozo: 1994, 96.

[18] See Pope Pius V, Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests, edited by John McHugh and translated by  Charles Callan, Metro Manila 1974, 250-251.

[19] Pope Pius X, Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments on First Communion Quam Singulari (8 August 1910), 3 (online) :  http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10quam.htm

[20] See Council of Trent, The 13th session The Holy Eucharist (26 January 1564) : London 1848, 89.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini (November 22 1903) : The Liturgy,  Boston/ma 1962, 178. 

[23] Pope Pius X, Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments on First Communion Quam Singulari (8 August 1910) (online) :  http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10quam.htm

[24] Pope Pius X, Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments on First Communion Quam Singulari (8 August 1910), 2 (online) :  http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10quam.htm

[25] Such clichés, often down poured by modern media threaten the modern church and very often prove to be wrong.

[26] Sacred Congregation for the Clergy – Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Declaration for first confession and first communion Sanctus Pontifex (24 May 1973) : edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 241.

[27] See James Knox – John Wright, A letter from the Vatican. first Penance, first communion (31 March 1977) (online) : http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cclergy/documents/rc_con_cclergy_doc_19770331_penance-communion_en.html

[28] Psychological theories of cognitive development of Jean Piaget, development of moral judgement such as Lawrence Kohlberg and also independent studies including local papers concluded that there is a gradual development of moral judgement and some people interpret these studies as children not being able to conceive of sin.  

[29] For further reading, see John Dewey, Experience and education, New York 1938.

[30] See Treston, 1993, 25.

[31] First edition of the Gasparri Catechism was in 1905 but a revised simpler edition was published in 1912.  For further reading , See Silvio Riva, Insegnamenti catechistici del Beato Pio X, Rovigo, 1953.

[32] See Plate, Tagħlim Nisrani for children of STD IV and a 1953 edition for the children of the first class.

[33] See Victor Fenech, L-iżviluppi fl-edukazzjoni Primarja fi żmien l-awtonomija, 1947-58 (1964)  Unpublished bachelor’s paper, University of Malta, 32.

[34] National Catechetical Commission, Maltese Catechists at Work, Malta 1966, 32.

[35] See Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Pope Pius X, Encyclical Letter Acermo Nimis (15 April 1905), 14 (online) : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_x/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_15041905_acerbo-nimis_en.html

[38] E. J. Zammit, The making of a religion textbook for Infants Year One (1981), Unpublished Bachelor’s paper, University of Malta, 5.

[39] National Catechetical Commission, 1966, 32.

[40] E. J. Zammit, 1981, 17.

[41] See Gabra zgħira ta’ talb u tagħlim, Oxford 1936, 14-15.  Concerning photo of the original source, See appendix, plate Gabra zgħira ta’ talb u tagħlim.

[42] See appendix, plate Twemmin Nisran.i

[43] Victor Fenech, 1964, 32-33.

[44] Ibid.

[45] National Catechetical Commission, 1966, 34-35.

[46]See Vatican Council II , Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 December 1963), 19: edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 9.

[47] Pope John XXIII,  Address at the Opening of Vatican Council II, in The Encyclicals and Other Messages of John XXII, with commentaries by John F. Cronin – Francis X. Murphy – Ferrer Smith, arranged and edited by the staff of The Pope Speaks magazine, Washington DC/WA 1964, 423.

[48] 1 Cor 12, 1-31

[49] Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964), 31, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 388.

[50] See Frank Borg , Il-Magћmudija tat-trabi.  L-izvilupp storiku-liturġiku dwar il-kwestjoni, Malta 1996.

[51] Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964), 32, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 389.

[52] (c.96).

[53] (c. 208)

[54]Pope  John Paul II, Apostolic constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges. For the promulgation of the new code of canon law (25 January 1983) (online) : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_25011983_sacrae-disciplinae-leges_en.html

[55] Vatican Council II , Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 December 1963), 30: edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 11.

[56] See Susan Benofy, The Directory for Masses with children (=What have we done to our children? How Catholic children became guinea-pigs for liturgical experiments 1), in Adoremus Bulletin 4/8 (November 2003) (online) : http://www.adoremus.org/1103ChildrenLiturgy.html

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] See Vatican Council II , Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 December 1963), 1: edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 1.

[60] As from 28 June 1978 became known as Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

[61] Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-197, Collegeville/MN 1990, 341.

[62] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, (1 November 1973), 6 : edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 255.

[63] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses,  8-15.

[64] Ibid, 16 – 19.

[65] Ibid., 20 -54.

[66] Ibid., 10.

[67] Ibid., 8

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid., 9.

[70] Ibid.,  10

[71] Ibid., 10-11.

[72] See  M. Filippi, Iniziazione dei fanciulli all’Eucaristia, in Catechesi, 43/7 (1974) 68.

[73] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 17.

[74] Ibid.,  23.

[75] See General Instruction on the Roman Missal, (26 March 1970), 313 : edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 199

[76] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses,  17a

[77] Ibid., 17b. 

[78] Ibid., 17b.

[79] See Appendix : Correspondence with Randall R. Phillips. 

[80] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 19.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid., 21.

[83] Ibid., 20.

[84] Ibid., 21.

[85] Ibid., 32.

[86] Ibid., 29.

[87] Ibid., 24.

[88] Ibid., 34.

[89] Ibid., 37.

[90] Ibid., 24.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Ibid., 23.

[93] Ibid., 22

[94] Ibid., 23

[95] Ibid.,23.

[96] Vatican Council II. Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Dogmatic Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22.

[97] Congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacrament, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, 59 ( 25 March 2004) (online) : http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20040423_redemptionis-sacramentum_en.html

[98] Ibid., 22.

[99] Mt 28:20

[100] Pope John Paul II, Apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine (7 October 2004), 16.

[101] Ibid., 29.

[102] Ibid.

[103] See General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 313.

[104] Ibid.,32.

[105] Ibid., 33.

[106] See Chapter 4, Expereinces of the children in Malta.

[107] Oliver- Ian Pratt, Let Liturgy live, p. 93.

[108] The Canon Law Digest, Vol. VIII, pp. 78-82, originally appearing on Notitiae, 11 (1975) 202-205

[109] Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples. Anything in these peoples’ way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit, See . Dogmatic Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 37.

[110]Holy See Press Office,  Synodus Episcoporum Special assembly for Africa
of the synod of bishops
(10 April – 8 May 1994), 135 (online) : http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_13_speciale-africa-1994/documenti/13_speciale-africa-1994_instrumentum-laboris.html

[111] See Chapter 4, Experiences of children in Malta.

[112] Congregation for Divine worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Directory on popular piety and the liturgy. Principles and guidelines  (December 2001), 17 (online) :   http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020513_vers-direttorio_en.html

[113] Oliver- Ian Pratt, Let Liturgy live, p. 93

[114] Ibid, p. 96.

[115] Ibid., 35.

[116]  Ibid., 35.

[117] Edward Matthews, Celebrating mass with children. A commentary on the Directory for masses with children,  p.108,

[118] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses,  36

[119] Edward Matthews, Celebrating mass with children. A commentary on the Directory for masses with children,  p.118

[120]Ibid., .118.

[121] The short film may be inserted on a PowerPoint presentation and insert some explanations or comments which can be done in Maltese to present the message clearer. 

Edward Matthews, Celebrating mass with children. A commentary on the Directory for masses with children,  p.118.

[123] See Ibid., p.121,  The author of this book radically put statement such as making the penitential rite after the readings or rewording the acclamation “May almighty God have mercy on us”

[124] See Susan Benofy, The Directory for Masses with children (=What have we done to our children? How Catholic children became guinea-pigs for liturgical experiments 1

[125] See  M. Filippi, Iniziazione dei fanciulli all’Eucaristia, in Catechesi, 43/7 (1974) 66.  See also Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 21.

[126] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 42.

[127] Ibid., 44.

[128] Pope John Paul II, Apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine (7 October 2004), 13 (online) : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20041008_mane-nobiscum-domine_en.html

[129] Edward Matthews, Celebrating mass with children. A commentary on the Directory for masses with children,  p. 132

[130] Ibid.,  p.134

[131] See Chapter 5.

[132] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 43

[133] Randall R. Phillips, Wanted: A revised children’s lectionary  (online): http://www.rpinet.com/ml/2806phil.html

[134] Do we really need a “Children’s Lectionary”? Task force of bishops to study the question for two more years, in Adoremus Bulletin 6/10 (February 2001) (online) : http://www.adoremus.org/0201lectionary.html

[135] Randall R. Phillips, Wanted: A revised children’s lectionary  (online): http://www.rpinet.com/ml/2806phil.html

[136] Ibid.

[137] Ibid.

[138] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 48.

[139] See General Instruction on the Roman Missal, (26 March 1970), 41 : edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 172.

[140] Vatican Council II , Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 December 1963), 52: edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 17-18.    

[141] Ronald B. Mierzwa, Childchurch. Homily Outlings for Preaching to Children, San Jose/CA 1996.

[142] Ibid. p.5.

[143]Ibid., p. 6.

[144] Ibid. 

[145] Ibid., p. 5.

[146] Ibid.,10.

[147] See Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 49.

[148] Ibid., 39.

[149] The limbo refers to  a) the Limbus Infantium for those children who die and are not yet baptised  thus are excluded from the beatific vision and (b) Limbus Patrum for those people who died before our Jesus Christ saved us from the Original Sin.  See Frank Borg, Il-Maghmudija tat-trabi, 93-115.

[150] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses,  52.

[151] Sacred Congregation for divine worship, Decree Postquam de precibus quibus Preces eucaristicae pro missis cum pueris et de reconciliatione (1975), 4.

[152] Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-197, Collegeville/MN 1990, 341.

[153] Appendix: Comparison of the three Eucharistic prayers for Masses with children, divided into the main chief elements. 

[154] See Appendix: 3rd Eucharistic prayer for children.

[155] Joseph Gélineau, The Eucharistic Prayer: Praise of the Whole Assembly, Portland/or 1985, 13.

[156] Congregation for Divine Worship, Circular Letter on the Eucharistic Prayers Eucharistiae Participationem (27 April 1973) : edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, 240.

[157] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 39.

[158] The Maltese version of Our Father, Tigi Saltnatek (A C Aquilina), changes the original words of the prayer. 

[159] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses, 54.

[160] See M Paternoster, Messa con I fanciulli, in Rivista Liturgica, 64 (1977), 104.

[161] Ir-rapport ta’ l-ezaminatur ewlieni tar-reliġjon.  L-ezami tar- reliġjon. Dħul fil-Junior Lyceum 2001 (2001) (online) :http://www.curriculum.gov.mt/docs/religion_jl_report_2001.pdf

[162] In Maltese, “Mulej ma jistħoqqlix li tidħol taħt is-saqaf tiegħi.”

[163] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae  (16 October 1979), 55 : published by the Daughters of St Paul, Bombay 1983, 61

[164] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae  (16 October 1979), 55.

[165] Ibid.

[166] Vatican Council II , Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7

[167] Congregation for Divine worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Directory on popular piety and the liturgy. Principles and guidelines  (December 2001) (online) :   http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020513_vers-direttorio_en.html

[168] Ir-rapport ta’ l-ezaminatur ewlieni tar-reliġjon.  L-ezami tar- reliġjon. Dħul fil-Junior Lyceum 2003 (2003) (online) :http://www.curriculum.gov.mt/docs/religion_jl_report_2003.pdf

[169] Ir-rapport ta’ l-ezaminatur ewlieni tar-reliġjon.  L-ezami tar- reliġjon. Dħul fil-Junior Lyceum 2004 (2004) (online) :http://www.curriculum.gov.mt/docs/religion_jl_report_2004.pdf

[170] Ir-rapport ta’ l-ezaminatur ewlieni tar-reliġjon.  L-ezami tar- reliġjon. Dħul fil-Junior Lyceum 2001 (2001) (online)

[171] Ir-rapport ta’ l-ezaminatur ewlieni tar-reliġjon.  L-ezami tar- reliġjon. Dħul fil-Junior Lyceum 2002 (2002) (online) :http://www.curriculum.gov.mt/docs/religion_jl_report_2002.pdf

[172] Karm Farrugia, 8

[173] See  Archdiocese of Malta, Dokument tas-sinodu djoceza  Xandir tal-kelma (2003), 11 : Floriana/Malta 2003, http://www.sinodu.org.mt/docs/Xandirtal-Kelma.pdf

[174] 1 Cor 3, 11-15

[175] See  Archdiocese of Malta, Dokument tas-sinodu djocezan  Xandir tal-kelma (2003), 13.

[176] Ibid., 14.

[177] See  Archdiocese of Malta, Dokument tas-sinodu djocezan  Litugija u Sagramenti.  Imsiħbin f’dak li hu ta’ Alla (2003)15

[178] Concerning the duty of parents See Chapter 1 Official Requirements for an effective participation. Children’s spiritual formation and development, 1.9.

[179] [179] See  Archdiocese of Malta, Dokument tas-sinodu djocezan  Litugija u Sagramenti.  Imsiħbin f’dak li hu ta’ Alla (2003), 25

[180] Concerning the debate when children have reached the age of reason to receive first communion and whether this should follow first penance

[181] Ibid., 27.

[182] See appendix CD-Rom  Sinodu tat-tfal

[183] See Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, General Catechetical Directory,  (April 1971) : http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cclergy/documents/rc_con_cclergy_doc_11041971_gcat_en.html

[184] Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on children’s masses,  2.

[185] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining children in the spiritual journey. Nurturing a life of faith, 12.

[186] Ibid, 12.

[187] For further reading, see Jean Piaget, The Moral Judgment of the Child,  New York, 1965.

[188] For further reading, see Lawrence Kohlberg, Essays on Moral Development. The Philosophy of Moral Development1, San Francisco, 1981 and Lawrence Kohlberg,. Essays on Moral Development: The Psychology of Moral Development 2,  San Francisco, 1984.

[189] Clement B.G. London, A Piagetian constructivist perspective on curriculum development, in Reading Improvement 27 (1988) 82-95.

[190] Jean Piaget, The psychology of intelligence. New York, 1963, .21

[191] Jean Piaget, The psychology of intelligence, 6-7.

[192] William Crain, Theories of Development, 1985, 119.

[193] William Crain, Theories of Development, 123.

[194] See Manuel Pullicino – Michael Aquilina, The development of moral judgement in children , unpublished Bachelor in Education paper, Faculty of Education, University of Malta, Malta 1979.

[195] Manuel Pullicino – Michael Aquilina, The development of moral judgement in children , unpublished Bachelor in Education paper, Faculty of Education, University of Malta, Malta 1979, 53.

[196] Ibid., 103.

[197] Ibid., 103-04.

[198] Ibid., 104.

[199] Ibid.,.105.

[200] Ibid.

[201] Ex 12, 37

[202] Ex 12, 27.

[203] 2 Ch 20, 13.

[204] Ne 12, 27-43.

[205] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining children in the spiritual journey. Nurturing a life of faith, Grand Rapids/MI 1998,30.

[206] Jos 4, 6-7.

[207] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining children in the spiritual journey. Nurturing a life of faith, 34.

[208] Pope John Paul II, Letter to children in the year of the family (13 December 1994) : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_13121994_children_en.html

[209] Kevin Treston, A new vision of Religion Education. Theory, History, Practice and Spirituality for DREs, Catechists and Teachers, New London 1993. 23.

[210] Constance Tarasar, Taste and See. Orthodox Children at Worship, in The Sacred Play of Children, edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, New York 1983, 53.

[212] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining children in the spiritual journey. Nurturing a life of faith, 21.

[213] Mt 18,1-5.

[214] David Ng – Virginia Thomas, Children in the worshipping community, Atlanta/ga 1981,16.

[215] Caroline Fairless, Children at worship. Congregations in Bloom,  New York 200, 9.

[216] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining children in the spiritual journey. Nurturing a life of faith,137.

[217] Sofia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child: The Description of an experience with children from ages three to six, translated by Patricia M. Coulter and Julie M. Coulter, New York 1983, 31-32.

[218] Sara Covin Juengst,  Sharing Faith with Children: Rethinking the Children’s Sermon, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville/ky, 1994: 19.

[219] Mary Catherine Berglund, Obeying mystery. Worship and the very young,, in Beginning the journey.  From infant baptism to first Eucharist, United States Catholic Conference, Washington D.C./wa 1994: 43.

[220] Ibid.

[221] Lettere ai Genitori 21/da dove vengono I bambini? da cinque a sei anni (6)

[222] Sofia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child: The Description of an experience with children from ages three to six, 56.

[223] Rm 8, 26,

[224] See chapter 2.2.

[225] Sofia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child: The Description of an experience with children from ages three to six,.87.

[226] Fritz Oser – Paul Gmünder,  Religious judgement: A developmental approach. Birmingham 1991, 69.

[227] Ibid.,71

[228] Ibid.

[229] One of the videos which I have prepared with my students (11 – 12 years old) aimed to foster their total personal and spiritual maturity is https://youtu.be/sbmA_39CzKo

[230] Mk 4, 5-6

[231] Fritz Oser – Paul Gmünder,  Religious judgement: A developmental approach p. 73

[232] Fritz Oser, The development of religious judgement, in   Religious development in child-hood and adolescence, edited by Fritz Oser and  W.George Scarlett, San Fransisco/ca 1991, 10.

[233] Fritz Oser – Paul Gmünder,  Religious judgement: A developmental approach,. 76.

[234] Oser, 1991a, p. 12

Fritz Oser – Paul Gmünder,  Religious judgement: A developmental approach. 81.

[236] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining children in the spiritual journey. Nurturing a life of faith, 37.

[237] Oliver- Ian Pratt, Let Liturgy live. A handbook of practical worship, London 1973, 35.

[238] Quando dunque penserete che la vostra piccola Barbara o il vostro Torrenno siano disposti a ricevere la comunione, e’ particularmente bello che siate voi stessi a preparli.  Magari insieme con altri genitori!  Lettere ai genitori da cinque a sei anni (6), 22, come preparare l’entrata nella scuola, elle di ci editrice. 

[239] Diocesan SynodThe Official Synod Document, “Zwieg u familja” about the family and marriage proposed the foundation of a diocesan commission for the family – for the official document see, http://ww.sinodu.org.mt

[240] Translated into Maltese will be, Grupp Familji Insara.

[241] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining children in the spiritual journey. Nurturing a life of faith, 38-39

[242] Stonehouse Cathierine, p.25.

[243] Stone house Catharine, p.26

[244] Congregation for the Clergy, General directory for catechesis, Nairobi 1998, 129.

[245] Congregation for the Clergy, General directory for catechesis,.129.

[246] “As it the parents who have given children their life, on them lies the greatest obligation of educating their family.  They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education.”;  See Vatican Council II, Declaration on Christian education; Gravissimum Educationis(28 October 1965), 3 : edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975,  728.

[247] Ibid.

[248] Ibid., 130.

[249] Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), 2223 : Maltese edition published by the Archdiocese of Malta, Blata l-Bajda, 523.

[250] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesis tradendae  (16 October 1979), 36 : published by the Daughters of St Paul, Bombay 1983, 44

[251] John Paul II, Crossing the threshold of hope, edited by Vittorio Messori, New York 1994, 217.

[252] Catherine Stonehouse, Joining children in the spiritual journey. Nurturing a life of faith, 21.

[253] Ibid., 130.

[254] Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, General Catechetical Directory Ad normam decreti (11 April 1971) : AAS 64 (1972), 79.

[255] Synod of Bishops, Catechetics in our time with special reference to catechetics for children and young people. (For the use of the Episcopal Conference), Vatican City 1976, 12.

[256] Stonehouse.

[257] Matthews, E. p.81b

[258] Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Eucaristicum misterium (25 May 1967), 14 :  edited by Austin Flannery, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975,  112.

[259] See  M. Filippi, Iniziazione dei fanciulli all’Eucaristia, in Catechesi, 43/7 (1974) 67.

[260] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesis tradendae  (16 October 1979), 37.

[261] Ibid., 1 – 2.

[262] Annibale Bugnini, 283.

[263]“… it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy.”  See Vatican Council II , Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1.

[264] Pope ohn Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003),1 : published by Paulines publications, Nairobi 2003, 7.

[265] The liturgical reforms of Second Vatican Council are applauded in Ecclesia de Eucharistia.  See John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003),10.

[266] Pope john Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dies Domini (31 May 1998), 51 (online) : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_05071998_dies-domini_en.html

[267] Ibid.

[268] Ibid.