Fr. Leo Hofmann distributes Communion to children during a teaching Mass at St. Benedict's School in Leduc, one of several ways parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese try to involve children more in the liturgy.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Fr. Leo Hofmann distributes Communion to children during a teaching Mass at St. Benedict's School in Leduc, one of several ways parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese try to involve children more in the liturgy.

October 20, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Children are an important part of the Church family. The basis for having separate ministry programs for children is that they have specific needs. Kids learn differently than adults and typically have shorter attention spans.

Therefore, priests, pastoral associates and teachers across the Edmonton Archdiocese turn to Sunday school, children's liturgies, teaching Masses and other child-specific programs in an effort to meet the unique needs of their younger parishioners.

At Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove/Stony Plain, children's liturgy draws about 30 to 60 children at each of the three weekend Masses.

"The benefit to the kids coming in here for children's liturgy as opposed to sitting out there at the regular Mass is that they're hearing the same thing but they're hearing it at their own level," said Sheila Rossi, the parish's children's liturgy coordinator.

Rossi started leading children's liturgy about 27 years ago in the former St. Joseph's Parish in Spruce Grove. It started with six children, then a dozen, and more and more as the months went by.

She keeps the instruction at children's liturgy as close to the regular Mass as possible, including the readings.

Especially in the summer, she sees the younger children who sit in Mass with their parents grow fidgety and eager to exit the church. With children's liturgy, however, the children stay enthused through crafts, stories, singing and other amusing activities.

If the children stayed with their parents throughout Mass, "they would be sitting there eating Cheerios, waiting for Mass to end," she said.

Once the children have received First Communion, Rossi urges them to stay with their parents and experience Mass firsthand. Some become altar servers or serve the Church in other capacities.

"I am blessed to have one of my kids (Robert Lee) who was here in children's liturgy soon becoming a priest. It makes you feel really good for them, not that I was responsible but that I was a part of it," said Rossi.

St. Michael's Parish in Leduc has a children's Liturgy of the Word every second Sunday at the 11 a.m. Mass. The parish's pastoral assistant, Linda Boire, said the parish is likely one of the fastest growing for young families.

"I personally prefer if the kids stay up with the adults because you learn about Mass by being at Mass. I am a big fan of parents sitting up front with their children. We have some families who do this every Sunday, sitting up front explaining to their children what's going on," said Boire.

After Mass, those same parents will ask their children questions about the Gospel readings and the homily.

Derrick Kapicki, Kendra Stewart and Kadia Nicholls, Grade 4 students at St. Benedict School in Leduc, prepare to bring up the gifts during a school teaching Mass.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Derrick Kapicki, Kendra Stewart and Kadia Nicholls, Grade 4 students at St. Benedict School in Leduc, prepare to bring up the gifts during a school teaching Mass.

"That's the kind of family participation I like to see and that we encourage very much in our sacramental preparation with the parents," she said.

Boire wants the children as active participants at Mass, singing the songs and saying the responses aloud. During Baptisms, she said the children are always encouraged to get up close and watch.

"Sitting at the back of the church, where all the children see are the backs of heads, is not really a good way to get your children involved in Mass," she said.

The community has two Catholic elementary schools and a Catholic junior/senior high school.

"We usually celebrate Mass at all three of our schools, not quite every month but almost. We have a good relation with all three schools," said Boire.

Each year they get about 40 children for First Reconciliation in the fall and First Communion in the spring.

"Father Leo Hofmann does a lot of multigenerational homilies. There is usually something in it that everyone can relate to. He tends to make his homilies interesting enough for everyone, and there's always something for the kids to remember. But they are not kiddy homilies," she said.

While Boire is familiar to the students whose families attend Mass at the church, one reason she decided to have teaching Masses at the schools was to involve the children who do not otherwise attend church.

A teaching Mass was held for Grade 4 students Oct. 3 at St. Benedict Catholic School in Leduc. Hofmann led the Mass in the school gymnasium. Although it is like a regular Mass, Hofmann explained what was going on step-by-step, providing frequent instructions.

Fr. Andrzej Lukaszewicz (center) celebrated a Mass for Catholic schools in Wainwright.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Fr. Andrzej Lukaszewicz (center) celebrated a Mass for Catholic schools in Wainwright.

Bev Hansen, a Grade 4 teacher at St. Benedict School, said that the teaching Mass was successful.

"I loved it when Father Leo stopped during the Mass and explained what was happening . . . great teachable moments. The students felt comfortable in a smaller group and were not afraid to comment or ask questions," said Hansen.

"The students connected to Father Leo on a more personal level. Father talked about his own experiences."

PERTINENT DETAILS

Afterwards, the students said they enjoyed when Hofmann spoke of his vestments, explained why he kissed his stole, defined "embolism" and provided other pertinent details that they would not otherwise hear at a regular Mass.

Kadia Nicholls, a Grade 4 student, liked asking questions at the end of Mass. Kendra Stewart liked when Hofmann gave names of the paten, chalice and other items.

Father Michael Schumacher is pastor at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Vegreville, St. Gregory the Great in Holden and Holy Heart of Mary in Viking.

Students from Vegreville's elementary school come to the church on a regular basis. He visits the junior high school and high school every week, and he also celebrates teaching Masses.

"The teaching Mass explains some of the things in the Church, and what Father is wearing and why the vestments. I give them a chance to ask questions because some of them have no idea, if they're not practising Catholics or from a different denomination, and they have different ways of worshipping," said Schumacher.

He said the benefit of having a children's liturgy, as they have in Vegreville, is that the children "can be reached where they're at," ministering to them in ways they will grasp.

"A drawback is that they may not have a chance to grow accustomed to and be comfortable with the regular liturgy if they are regularly separated from their parents," said Schumacher.

With fewer children, the churches in Viking and Holden do not have children's liturgy. Viking once had a children's catechesis following Mass, but there were not enough children to sustain it.

HOMILIES, FELLOWSHIP

Schumacher's homilies are not directed to children specifically because the majority of the parishioners are adults.

"When we have special Masses, for example, when the schools come in, then it's predominantly children, so in those cases my homily is going to be directed at their level, their understanding," he said.

In Vegreville, there is fellowship after Mass, and many young families with children stay for the food and hospitality.

Sheila Rossi

Sheila Rossi

"The main thing is making an effort to meet the children and getting to know them. My experience is that they are more often than not excited that you're interested in them, that you care about what they like and what they're doing," said Schumacher.

Father Andrzej Lukaszewicz, pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wainwright, recently led a Mass for all students in local Catholic schools.

"Not all of them are Catholic, but every one of them comes to the church, from elementary school to high school. Some of them are practising Catholics, but it's an occasion for the others to be in church too," he said.

"The schools bring all of the children and that's good because even if they're not Catholic, they still believe and we all worship one God."

Lukaszewicz said there is good cooperation between the parish and the Catholic schools.

INVOLVED TEACHERS

"The teachers are dedicated and involved in the church. Some of them are readers or extraordinary ministers. They invite me for celebrations at the schools, Christmas concerts and special dinners they organize. Sometimes I'm asked to visit the classes, especially for the small children before their First Communion."

At Blessed Sacrament, a good percentage of the parishioners are young families with children. The families come to Wainwright for the job opportunities, whereas pastoring previously in Saskatchewan, Lukaszewicz said it was mostly older people.

"This town is growing and it's full of life," he said.

Common to most churches, the young boys and girls are involved in the church as altar servers and in the choir. As well, Juniors of Blessed Sacrament (JOBS) is a youth group, for ages 10 and older, that meets at the church every Saturday afternoon for prayer, learning, service and fun.

"We have a brief liturgy for children before Sunday Mass. Usually we have mothers and volunteers helping," Lukaszewicz said.

"After the readings, after the first prayer, I invite them to go for their own liturgy. I give them a blessing, a cross and a Bible, and they go to their own room for prayers and songs and to learn about the Gospel. After about 15 minutes they come back to join their parents."