Q: The Director of Liturgy and Music at the parish where I am the new associate is insisting that the priest offering the Mass During the Night for Christmas sit at the floor of the Sanctuary while the youngsters sit on the floor around him as he proclaims the Gospel as if telling a story.
My reading of the Missal (rubric 15) and the GIRM (## 43, 60, 133 & 134) suggests to me that this would be improper way of proclaiming the Gospel. The pastor is inclined not to permit this innovation, but suggested I get your input before responding to the parish staff and Liturgy Committee. What do you think?
A: The missal offers no provision for having priest and children sit for the proclamation of the gospel.
That said, there are cultures where sitting is regarded as more respectful than standing. In Tanzania, for example, I witnessed Catholics all be seated for the proclamation of the gospel because to Tanzanians that showed more respect than standing would.
In the RCIA, the Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer takes place with the elect entering the sanctuary and standing around the ambo while the priest (not a deacon) proclaims the gospel in which Jesus teaches the disciples the Our Father.
The Directory for Masses with Children permits including children in the procession of the Book of the Gospels (34). But it makes no other reference to involvement during the proclamation.
Apart from these rubrical considerations, entering the realm of sign and symbol, I can see two different interpretations for the custom you describe. One is the praiseworthy hope of drawing children more closely into the liturgy. But another is a more disturbing notion that the Christmas gospel occupies territory similar to that of a children’s story. It reduces the message to something that children may appreciate, and that adults may outgrow.
I realize that the parish has established a custom, and that breaking it may look like a heavy-handed imposition by newly assigned clergy. But here is a case where I think that a better solution could be reached that would honor the rubrics of the mass and the desire to keep children closely attuned to the liturgy.
An alternative, therefore, would be including children in the procession of the Book of the Gospels. You could even lengthen the procession along a path that could enhance the ceremony. I could even justify letting children stand gathered around the ambo for the proclamation so that they could be the first hearers. Having everyone stand for the gospel shows its usual dignity, and drawing children into the ceremony could underscore the mystery of our God, who became a child so that we could become like him.