The Church has, in its collection of official books, a lectionary of scriptural readings that is intended for use at liturgies where there are large numbers of children. This lectionary was approved in 1991 for use in our parishes. In this book the readings for each Sunday and feast of the liturgical year correspond as closely as possible to the readings that adults hear each Sunday, but these children’s readings are adapted to the needs and capacities of children. The existence of such a book of children’s scriptural readings tells us that there is no absolute way to translate the scriptural readings. There may be various translations, depending upon cultures and the particular pastoral needs of peoples. In adapting the scriptural texts for use with children, the Church’s goal is to nourish their faith and to lead them to “active, conscious and authentic participation” in the worship of the whole assembly, but not, at the same time, to establish a different rite just for children.
When would this lectionary for Masses with children be used? When, on a given Sunday, an unusually number of children are present. An example would be a Sunday liturgy where there are a large number of Boy or Girl Scouts, or a large number of children from a nearby Catholic summer camp, etc. The special lectionary would also be used at liturgies where the children present leave the church to celebrate their own liturgy of the word elsewhere. And, of course, the children’s lectionary could be used when most of the people present at the liturgy are children, for example, at a school Mass.
The reason why we have this special collection of readings is that the Church has concern for the pastoral care of children. This pastoral concern finds concrete expression in the Directory for Masses with Children, published by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship in 1973. This remarkable document provides for adaptations that can be made when the Eucharist is celebrated with young children so that the words and actions of the Mass will be more suitable to the comprehension of the children. The Directory, in particular, provides for the adaptation of the liturgy of the Word.
Although there may be reasons why the lectionary for children might be used at a Sunday celebration, the norms for its use explain that it should not be used on a regular basis: “Proper balance and consideration for the entire assembly should be observed. Therefore, priest celebrants should not use this Lectionary for Masses with Children exclusively or even preferentially at Sunday Masses, even though large numbers of children are present.” In addition, the norms state that on Christmas Day, Epiphany, the Sundays of Lent, Easter Day, Ascension, and Pentecost this special lectionary may be used only when the liturgy of the Word with the children is held in a place apart from the main assembly. This is to ensure that on these days, in the main body of the church, the regular lectionary of readings will take precedence over the lectionary for children.