June 25, 2024

Bringing Children Closer to God in the Liturgy of the Word

Bringing Children Closer to God in the Liturgy of the Word header

Are children learning about the liturgy today? How can we teach our children about the celebration of our Christian faith? What methodology can we use to empower their learning about the liturgy? The answers to these questions are complex, and yet an old saying gives us a very solid clue: we learn to swim by swimming. The best way for children to learn about the liturgy is by actively participating in it.

The Hispanic experience of “celebration” can provide valuable insights toward promoting such active participation. Las Posadas are a good example, as children are the protagonists. Just like with the birthday cake song, children learn about these celebrations without special instruction.

But participating is not enough. Some adults take children from celebration to celebration just for entertainment, without ever thinking about their meaning. The result is that children are less likely to appreciate the celebration as adults or pass them down to their own children.


Rosamaría Mora and I give workshops on liturgical catechesis and liturgical ministries. One of the most frequently asked questions is: what can we do to avoid “losing” our young people in the liturgy? We lose our children when families limit their children’s involvement to the minimum catechesis required to receive the sacraments, when catechesis and liturgy are presented as not related to one other, and when catechists and parents don’t grasp the connection between faith and life. We lose them when we settle to have them simply there, routinely exposed to rituals they don’t understand and without the vigor of their active participation

The General Directory for Catechesis says: “Catechesis today needs to … present itself as a valid service to evangelization of the Church with an accent on missionary character” (33). Catechesis and liturgy should refer to one another. If celebrating the liturgy requires faith formation, then catechesis becomes an initiation in fully living and enjoying the liturgical signs, above all the sacraments. The responsibility of catechesis is to penetrate the hearts of believers through the liturgy. Thus the liturgy becomes catechesis in action. As Sacrosanctum Concilium affirmed: “The sacred liturgy … contains much instruction for the faithful” (33).

The Directory defines liturgical catechesis as that which “prepares for the sacraments by promoting a deeper understanding and experience of the liturgy. [It] explains the contents of the prayers, the meaning of the signs and gestures, [and] educates to active participation, contemplation and silence. It must be regarded as an ‘eminent kind of catechesis’” (71). In other words, liturgical catechesis is the teaching that empowers us to taste and see the promises of our faith. It brings us to full awareness of our communitarian experience as the body of Christ, touching our hearts and moving our will toward mission and service.

I remember the liturgies from my childhood. My father was a catechist by nature, always bringing our attention to the meaning of signs and gestures. He used to whisper in my ear: Breathe, my dear. Can you smell the incienso? Can you see it spreading over the altar? Close your eyes and breathe in deeply. After Mass, he would give us a more detailed liturgical explanation on the ride home. As for my mother, she took the initiative on devotional practices, while my dad explained, with delight, their meaning to us. In my home there was no such thing as empty rites. Even the blessing before getting to school was filled with expressive conviction. If my parents had never said a word about the meaning of rites and devotions, their reverence before the sacred was a lesson in itself. Symbols and movements were experienced without rushing: a candle in our hands, bells that resounded amid the assembly, intense contemplation of the Holy One and, above all, songs speaking of God and the things we loved. Our way of participating was not to “do” things, but to become aware of what was taking place. Easter and Christmas were imprinted in our minds and hearts, weddings and funerals were unforgettable experiences.

Today, human sciences are increasingly interested in the importance of symbols and rituals for the human person. Education sciences explore different paths to learning through multiple intelligences. In the arena of ministry formation, there is a growing consensus that knowledge is more effectively transmitted when it engages the senses and the affections; when it involves movement and promotes awareness of attitudes. Now we know that our sensorial perception of things is channeled through symbols, and that our thoughts are expressed through the complexity of language and exact sciences. All this has been present in the wisdom of the Church. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal speaks of this when it says that the Church has a well-kept treasure in the sacraments, so lovingly cared for by each generation. Our task is not to create something new and original with each celebration, for we do not reinvent the liturgy. Rather, our vocation is to accompany new generations as they immerse themselves in it. The liturgy precedes us in its mystery, in its magnitude. Our role is to facilitate the access to it, and that is not an easy task.

Liturgical renewal has emphasized that liturgy is a celebration involving the whole person. Liturgical catechesis needs to include this principle within its goals. This means children learning to celebrate with their bodies, senses, affections, intelligences and wills. Let there be no part of them that is not engaged by the sacred action of the liturgy. In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Church insisted that the participation of the faithful in the liturgy needs to be active, simple, conscious and fruitful. Rites, though profound, are not inaccessible. Children can participate in them with effective catechetical guidance. The solution consists in not limiting the learning experience to the classroom. Rather, learning needs to be an experience of celebration leading to the sacred. A religious feast should be an experience of joyful children going to recess not sitting down before a blackboard. Children are very good at expressing contrition, forgiveness and gratitude. They know how to do it with songs, gestures, signs and colors. Engaging in a procession, an embrace of peace, and kneeling down are more than gymnastics or mechanical movements. Children do not express themselves like robots. When they participate in the liturgy, they express themselves to the degree that they’ve been catechized. The Liturgy of the Word is a particularly educational moment within the celebration of the Eucharist. The General Directory for Catechesis says that the word of God is a source of catechesis when it “is mediated upon and understood more deeply by means of the sense of faith of all the people of God, guided by the Magisterium which teaches with authority” (95).

Liturgical Catechesis

The Scriptures are more enjoyable, better understood, and more likely to be put into practice when they are well explained. Ordained ministers responsible for the homily have the opportunity to break the word open in a truly catechetical and evangelizing way. This is more challenging when the homily needs to address people of different ages.

Fortunately, there are parishes where the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated with children in a separate space. This celebration provides the children with an easy-to-understand Scripture proclaimed from an age-specific lectionary. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of ministers trained to bring together catechesis and liturgy in this way. In our visits to various parishes, Rosamaría Mora and I became keenly aware of the great need for solid formation in Scripture, liturgy and in the art of teaching—all of which would strengthen this ministry.

The number of children participating in Children’s Liturgy of the Word in Spanish is surprisingly high. There is a need for well-organized and -trained catechists to work effectively with such numbers. This requires close collaboration between liturgists and catechists Sunday after Sunday. It involves the coordination of the send-off, the procession with the Lectionary, the proclamation of the word, the responsorial psalm in song, the reflection on the Scriptures, the commitment, and the prayers of the faithful. It also includes preparing the gathering place with the appropriate colors and ambiance for the particular liturgical season. In addition, ministers need to be in compliance with underage safe-environment requirements.

Preparing for the children’s Liturgy of the Word needs to follow a multiple-intelligences approach that includes movement, music, visuals and a clear reflection with good questions for the children. Emphasis can be given to sounds or silence, gestures or colors, sharing and listening by the children, the appreciation of a melody, or reenactments of Gospel stories such as Epiphany and the Prodigal Son.

We need to avoid reducing this time to simply entertaining the children, going over a catechetical lesson, or having them recite random prayers. In some parishes, we have seen this time used for a “Sunday school” kind of program, mirroring those in Protestant communities. We don’t have to invent anything new. Our task is to make accessible to the children what adults are experiencing on a different level in the main church. Treehaus Communications has excellent guides in Spanish based on the Lectionary for years A, B and C ( However, we need more people involved in creating resources for ambiance and music for children, including psalms, processionals and seasonal songs. The music of Lorenzo Florian is an excellent example of the kind of children’s music the Church needs.


I would like to close by asking, who is responsible for liturgical catechesis? Is there a specific ministry for this task? I believe the best answer is: all of us. Each assembly needs to ask this question, and if adolescents and young adults are not coming to church, their absence calls for our sincere response. We need to form ministers who are able to weave liturgy and catechesis together. Let us be inspired by the call of Isaiah. As the voice of God resounded in the temple, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah responded readily: “Here I am, … send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). Let us hope that many people in our assemblies will be moved by the same Spirit to say yes to this most important ministry, which brings our children closer to Jesus in the Eucharist, his word and the community of faith.

Translated by Alejandro Aguilera-Titus

Published originally in Liturgia y Canción © 2009 OCP. All rights reserved.

Petra Alexander works for the office of Hispanic affairs of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California. She has a communication degree from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico and is a member of the National Hispanic Institute of Liturgy. She gives classes on the human and spiritual development of Hispanics and has published articles and books about spirituality through Liguori Publications.