Just for a moment, think about your favourite Christmas music album, beautiful seasonal music about snow, and coming home, and bells, and shepherds and stables. It may be very moving, it may tell the story of Christmas night, it may be full of the excitement and joy of celebrating Christmas, but how much of it is really suitable for liturgy? A lot of Christian music written for children is like that, an excellent vehicle for teaching, fun and engaging and moving and easy for children to understand, but not all of it has the characteristics that make it suitable for liturgy.
Liturgy, not Catechesis
Children’s Liturgy of the Word, because it is liturgy in its own right and not primarily catechetical, should have music that reflects that. CLOW parallels the Liturgy of the Word which the rest of the assembly is celebrating at the same time in the main church. It has a similar structure, simplified and sometimes shortened so that the Word is easier for children to understand and internalise it. Music has the same role in CLOW as in the adult liturgy, gathering, celebrating, uniting, enabling prayer and praise. Music is integral to the celebration of the liturgy of the Word, so it should be integral to CLOW too. The children should not miss out on what music can do in liturgy, enabling them as it does, to celebrate the liturgy more fully and more consciously. CLOW also prepares them to participate in whole-assembly liturgies, so it should mirror the complete liturgy as fully as possible.
Expressing the Action
Music written specifically for catechesis, for instance, songs about a particular prophet or saint, or an episode in the life of Jesus, rarely find a place in liturgy, although they may be perfect for the classroom, for SRE or RCIC or sacramental preparation. Devotional music, such as musical settings of prayers, Our Father or Glory Be or Hail Mary, is irreplaceable for helping teach the words of the prayer but it usually doesn’t sit well in a liturgical context. Music specifically for liturgy has to connect to the action, to elucidate it and express the action that it accompanies. The gathering song gathers and unites and tells about the season of the liturgical year; the sending song sends. If there is a song at Thanksgiving, it gives thanks and praise. Singing during the Communion procession expresses the oneness of the Body of Christ.
Singing the Psalms
The responsorial psalm is often omitted from CLOW, but if you decide to include it for pastoral reasons, there are lots of options to make it easy to sing.
- sing the response only
- sing the response with the verses spoken in between
- use a setting written especially for children in mind (eg. Simple Psalms – Adapted; Simple Psalms from the Children’s Lectionary)
- Use one of the common psalms for the season throughout the whole season, e.g. Ps 51 ‘Have mercy on us Lord’ throughout Lent, or Ps 118 ‘Alleluia – This is the Day’ for Easter time
Bringing the Gospel to Life
In the main church, the assembly stands to greet the Gospel in song – why shouldn’t the children do the same for CLOW? They can sing ‘Alleluia’ to the same familiar melodies, or if you’re looking for variety or something simpler, try singing ‘Alleluia’ to another easy, well-known melody like a traditional spiritual. And after the Gospel is proclaimed, the children can be invited to respond in song, taking advantage of their ‘natural affinity for music’, especially songs that incorporate clapping or dancing, or actions of some kind.
If you gather in a separate space for CLOW instead of being dismissed from the main celebration, it might be a good idea to sing a gathering song to unite the group and introduce the season or particular feast. If you have some distance to travel from the church to the place where CLOW is held, the group could sing a repeated refrain as they process along the way. You could even sing the same song as you process back to the church after CLOW. With some organisation and careful timing, and the cooperation of the music ministers, the children could re-enter the church singing as part of the offertory procession, and the rest of the assembly could join them in their song.
Responsorial Psalm settings
Songs for Processing
Guest Writer: Patricia Smith