My most hope-filled moments for the Church occur on the first and third Sundays at my parish’s 9:00 liturgy, just after the opening rite. That’s when the presider invites forward the children and leaders for the Children’s Liturgy of the Word, which is celebrated in a room adjacent to the main church. As the group gathers before him, the presider takes from the altar their votive candle, already lit, and the children’s lectionary, placing them in the hands of two lucky volunteers from among many outstretched arms. After he says a few words of blessing, the choir begins the dismissal verse and the group turns to process out.
Without fail my eyes sting as the child carrying the lectionary, completely unprompted, lifts the book over his or her head and moves to lead the group out, the candle holder moving alongside, seamlessly. It unfolds this way almost every single time. Having been a CLW leader for many years, I know that the child participants receive no training in how to conduct a procession. There is no sign-up for the program; all children of an eligible age who are present are invited to attend.
That simple detail of lifting the book overhead says that the children are imitating what they’ve observed, and it warms me to witness that something is being passed on. A new generation is learning full and active participation in the liturgy in the very best way possible, by doing it for themselves.
The basis for CLW lies with a document issued in 1973, inspired by Vatican II, called Directory of Masses with Children. It supplements the 1969 instructions on the liturgy to assist children to better participate in the assembly. To that end, the training I received emphasized that CLW is worship, not instruction. Leaders are meant to be presiders of prayer, not catechists. The environment is to reflect the church setting in symbolism and atmosphere. The rite consists of readings, songs, scriptural reflection, creed and prayers of intercession, not arts and crafts, and the children return to the full assembly for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.