04 November 2013

An Encouraging Move that Deserves to be Imitated: St. Raphael School Institues Daily Mass Attendance for its Students

photo by Lisa Johnston
In Friday's edition of the St. Louis Review, Jennifer Brinker writes about some very good news that gives hope for Catholic education in this Archdiocese.  St. Raphael School in St. Louis Hills, under the leadership of Monsignor Henry Breier, has implemented the practice of daily Mass attendance for all students at the school.

Certainly, there is much to lament in the state of Catholic education throughout the world, and particularly in this country, where the slide has been well-documented in terms of catechesis, retention of faith, Mass attendance, etc.  Any initiative, such as this one, that aims to increase the Catholicity of the school, and to make the sacraments more widely available, is worthy of praise.

Daily Mass seems like a natural and easy thing to do, but as the story points out, there is opposition to the practice, and it can take some logistical planning to accommodate it within the school day.  An excerpt from the full story:

Students at St. Raphael School see fruits of attending daily Mass

When Caroline Cyr started going to Mass with her classmates, she seized the opportunity to pray for her family. She also thought it couldn't hurt if she said a few little prayers for her upcoming tests at school.
The eighth-grader at St. Raphael School in south St. Louis is enjoying something new at her school this year -- going to daily Mass. Since the start of the school year in mid-August, students have been attending daily Mass as a required part of the school day. Previously, the students had been going once a week.

"I really like going to Mass because I feel like we get to start each day with God, and we get to carry that grace with us throughout the school day," said Caroline.

The effort to change from a weekly to a daily Mass came after months of discussion and preparation among students, teachers and parents. The effort was led by pastor Msgr. Henry Breier and the school principal, Kim Vangel. In order to accommodate the academic schedule, an extra 20 minutes was added on to each day to allow students to attend Mass. On most days, first- through eighth-graders attend the regularly scheduled 8 a.m. Mass, which lasts about 25 minutes. On special feast days, all students (including kindergarten and on occasion preschoolers) go to a slightly longer Mass, where students participate as readers, gift bearers, the choir and in other roles. There are about 190 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and 50 in the preschool.


Vangel noted that some families outside of the parish boundaries -- including one family from Ballwin -- are choosing to send their children to St. Raphael specifically because of daily Mass. Frank Hogrebe, a parent of six children, three of whom are students at St. Raphael, counts himself among those who are grateful for the change.

"It's something we have always wondered about why all (Catholic schools) didn't have daily Mass," said Hogrebe. "Mass is the centerpiece of our faith, so it's great the kids at an early age are being made aware of that." [...]

In the sidebar story, Ms. Brinker writes about other schools who have this practice and gets a take from the Archdiocese's Office of Worship.  In the story, she notes that the Directory for Masses with Children, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1973 (yes, that 1973) actually discourages daily Mass attendance for children.  You read that right:

"weekday Mass in which children participate can certainly be celebrated with greater effect and less danger of boredom if it does not take place every day" (DMC No. 27).

Let that statement, written by the Vatican Congregation in charge of the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, sink in.  Ask yourself: Can the Mass really be celebrated with greater effect if it does not take place every day?  Does it matter if children are there?  Does it matter if they are bored? 

Sorry, the Mass is effective because it is the propitiatory sacrifice of the Lamb of God.  It "works" whether or not we are there, and whether or not we care.  It is the action of Jesus Christ, through the priest acting in persona Christi capitis.

That statement from the Directory betrays a mindset that might be best described as a departure from the Catholic understanding of the Mass.  It exhibits a mindset, so common today and directly related to the destruction of the Mass following a certain Council, that sees the Mass as only "effective" if we all "participate" somehow.  Not "actual participation" as noted in Sacrosanctum Concilium, but the misunderstood "active participation" as deemed by the liturgical experts whose revolution emptied the parishes when it denuded the Mass.

Keep that in mind when you read this excerpt:

Msgr. William McCumber, director of the archdiocesan Office of Sacred Worship, noted that while offering daily Mass for school children is not an easy accomplishment, it can be done, with thoughtful preparation and the dedication of the school community.

"Anytime you're dealing with young children, there's always that possibility that this could become repetitious or rote for them," he said. "The directory is written from a precautionary standpoint of taking in consideration the entire child. It does not forbid (daily Mass) but certainly implies that done correctly, it's going to require work and the cooperation of everyone -- not only the students, but the parents and the school staff. No one can walk into school and say the next month we're going to start doing this."

With all due respect, and acknowledging that the basics of scheduling have to be arranged, I disagree.  We can just do it.  Tomorrow. Mass is already being celebrated daily.  Take the children to it.  It isn't a performance that needs to be orchestrated for their enjoyment.  It is Mass.

This quote from a priest at another parish that has daily Mass for children highlights this:

The priest said he believes that going to Mass frequently can have a very positive effect on children, but there's also a big responsibility on the priest to make sure the experience is one that they can appreciate.

"When they have invested five days a week (at Mass) for eight years in this school, it would be harder for them to walk away from something they have invested in," he said. "You're not there to be an entertainer, but want it to be meaningful to them so that it is a positive experience when they walk away."

Yes.  I agree there is a big responsibility on the priest-- and that he is not there to be an entertainer.  The way to do this is to celebrate the Mass according to the rubrics without regard for time, place, or who assists.

Finally, kudos to the Review's editorial staff for publishing this editorial calling for daily Mass attendance at all Catholic schools; certainly it is in line with Archbishop Carlson's effort to revitalize the educational system of the Archdiocese.  An excerpt:

...The centerpiece of our Catholic faith is the Eucharist. It's what defines us and gives us our strength to serve as witnesses to Christ's love for others. Mass is the place from which everything else flows -- our prayers, our service, our spirituality. Perhaps, then, more schools could consider daily Mass as part of their culture, their core Catholic identity. Childhood is a prime time in which Catholic parents and educators must offer proper faith formation, to help them better understand our faith through the prayers of the Mass....

The restoration must begin somewhere.  What better place than with our Catholic children?


Anonymous said...

WHo'da thunk this would be so "radical" or "revolutionary."

I was shocked when I learned that my parishes (over the years as an adult) did NOT have daily mass for students.

Anonymous said...

P.S. There is something that modern educationalists despise about "rote" and "repetitive" training. They despise memorization as a learning technique. It's too boring for teachers. Apparently our public district thinks that memorizing multiplication tables is best conducted as an independent study at home...after 8 hour during which the kids learn vital topics such as "doubles plus one". (google it.)

X said...

But you see the Novus Ordo mass is boring, it's also banal and insipid. What good is salt once it has lost it's flavor? You can't revive a malnourished soul with watered down gruel. Daily Novus Ordo mass won't make a difference because it didn't make a difference some 40 years ago when I was in grade school and we went to the Novus Ordo mass everyday.
The people ask for bread and you give them....more stones.

thetimman said...

X, I can't deny the very great deficiency of the novus ordo compared with the ancient Mass, nor that its accidents are as you describe them.

That being said, the Sacrifice occurs and Eucharist is the Eucharist; receiving the Eucharist must have a beneficial effect upon the children, even if it comes at a level beyond their apprehension.

To use your terms, watered-down gruel may not cause one to be robust, but it does stave off deathly starvation.

Until the Mass is restored to its proper place, this is better than nothing to children, most of whose parents will not expose them to the traditional Mass.

Anonymous said...

Further thoughts re: X's post.

I agree w/Timman. Also, note the masses are 25 minutes. That means little time for silliness, and the homilies are brief. Maybe only processional and recessional hymns if any. I find the weekday NO fairly tolerable as there is little music, if any (depending on the parish). My weekday mass attendance led me to find the Sunday NO too busy and distracting. So, the fruits of this decision may be beyond our expectations. The children may one day be exposed to the EF and may find the peace and focus on the sacrifice more clearly in such a mass than in the busy, loud festive typical Sunday NO. The EF will remind them of this childhood experience.

Karen said...

Yes, we have to start somewhere. This is good, even if not really good enough, but better than not at all. God can work through anything and to think that He can't do anything with the NO, is not true. Let us pray that it increases some faith in the children and that this trend grows and eventually includes the Traditional Mass at some school somehow. Wouldn't that be a great day?! Let us pray for that to happen. God bless the priests who are starting somewhere!