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Our Family Mass: Resources for the Family …

01 July, 2011

familymassBThis is a comprehensive collection of ready-to-go Liturgies of the Word for every Sunday of Cycle B, as well as the major feast days. It is a companion volume to the one for Cycle A published by the same author last year. Whether setting up a Family Mass from scratch, or looking for fresh ideas, this book gives you:

• Advice on the practical aspects of operating a Family Mass
• Dramatisations of Scripture
• Adapted Penitential Rites
• Ideas for Processions Homily suggestions
• Background information on all readings.

Bernadette Sweetman is a primary school teacher with a Masters in Religious Education (Primary). She lives in Co Dublin with her husband and daughter.


1. Is this the book for you?
2. Getting the most out of the materials in this book
3. An outline of the contents of this book

A. Getting Started
1. Team work!
2. Location and space
3. Practical considerations — being realistic
4. Creating the sense of the Sacred
5. Maximising the liturgical experience
6. Parts of the Mass

B. Setting the Scene — The Liturgical Year Cycle B
1. Seasons and Feast Days
2. Colours and Themes

C. Background Information on Readings

D. Liturgy of the Word
I. Advent
II. Christmas
III. Lent
IV. Easter
V. Ordinary Time: Feasts of the Lord in Ordinary Time; Sundays in Ordinary Time
VI. Some Major Feasts

E. Appendices
Appendix I: Mass Responses and Everyday Prayers (English/Gaeilge); Signing
Appendix II: Additional Prayers and Services
Appendix III: Dramatisations of Gospel Readings
Appendix IV: Penitential Rite

F. Recommended Resources

227 pp. Veritas Publications 2011. To purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie


Let the little children come to me; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs (Mark 10:14)

 A. Getting Started

Whether you are at the very beginning of your journey or you have already established a Family Mass in your parish, it may be useful to look over the following questions as a checklist to help you make the most of the experience.

1. Teamwork!
A Family Mass needs a Family Mass team: who is willing to put in the time and effort (and it can be a lot!) to provide the assistance required?

In your team, what different talents can your members bring — organisation, overseeing weekly practices, sourcing symbols/artwork, music, etc.? It would be best to give your team members the chance to work at what they are most suited to, have a particular talent for or interest in, and have the necessary time for.

As children grow older, and younger children arrive, how open is your Family Mass team to accepting new members and ideas?
How can you maximise cooperation with local schools? Perhaps school work, for example from religion classes, could be incorporated into your Family Mass.

How can you include people with special needs? Is there someone in your community who could, for example, sign during the Mass, so as to improve the experience of anyone who has particular hearing or other language difficulties?

Can people with special needs be involved meaningfully in all the different areas of the Family Mass? It is for everyone, and everyone has the right to contribute.

A good team can flourish with effective leadership. On the other hand, everyone on a team deserves to give input. How can you make sure communication in your Family Mass team is kept open and accepting? Have regular meetings to ensure that your Family Mass is the best it can possibly be.

2. Location and space
Where will your Family Mass take place? The local church, school hall, etc.?

What alterations or additional equipment are needed to facilitate a Family Mass? Perhaps extra chairs or microphones?

If your Family Mass is taking place outside of the local church, for example in the school hall, what furniture will need to be set up — the altar, arrangement of seating to facilitate communion and so on. Who will be in charge of this?

Within your church environment, where is the best location for readers, participants in processions and so on? Any movement to and from their seats should be kept to a minimum to avoid unnecessary distraction.

Is there an option to allow younger children gather at the altar for the Gospel reading? If so, do you need special mats or cushions?

How big is your space? In a Family Mass, where more young children are present, the use of incense can unfortunately be problematic in a small space (think of asthmatic children; or if one child coughs, invariably others follow!)

Where will you store the items for processions? (Keep in mind that you will hopefully use them again next time.)

At the Family Mass, where can you place any items for display, such as symbols brought up in a procession, or artwork?

How can you appropriately decorate the church? See Section B, Setting the Scene, for the seasonal colours; you could use them as a basis for your decoration.

3. Practical considerations — being realistic
If you aim to establish a Family Mass, start off on a small scale. Is it feasible to use everything suggested in this book right from the start? Probably not!

Can a Family Mass be facilitated every Sunday? If not, how about trying a seasonal approach, for example for Lent/Advent.

Is it possible to have a Family Mass on feast days that coincide with school days?

As a rule of thumb, anything that makes a participant (be they young or not so young) feel embarrassed or ill at ease should be avoided. For example, if a reading is too difficult for a child, have a parent read it instead; if someone is too nervous to take part in a procession, ask someone else to do so.

At all times, the focus is on the liturgy, not on any element of performance.

4. Creating the sense of the Sacred
Whether your Family Mass takes place in your local church or school hall, how can you highlight the need for reverence and respect? Here are some useful suggestions:

Consider an entrance procession. It is not likely to be a regular Sunday Mass experience for most people and it would help mark the beginning of a special occasion.

Appealing to the senses can be beneficial in creating a different atmosphere.

Try highlighting a particular act at various Family Masses. For example, the priest could explain why we genuflect before the tabernacle (and then we could all practise it together), or why we stand for the Gospel.

A Gospel procession including candles, the Lectionary, cross and so on can emphasise that this is God’s Word. (Each liturgy provides specific suggestions relevant to themes of that day).

The Offertory, when the bread and wine are brought as gifts, could be extended to include the actual preparation of the altar. Consider, perhaps during a piece of music, preparing the altar by covering it with a special cloth, placing the collection (if any) and the gifts upon it. It is a visual way of helping the congregation prepare for the Eucharistic Liturgy.

5. Maximising the liturgical experience
The focus should always be on the liturgy — recognition of being in the presence of God, encouraging receptivity to God’s Word and ultimately the celebration of the Eucharist. Taking care of the ‘little things’ will help keep the liturgy centre stage:

Is the church warm enough and is there enough light?

Can everyone hear the readers and see processions or dramatisations?

How can you keep the liturgy fresh and dynamic? For example, it is perfectly acceptable to replace a dramatisation with a song if it is becoming staid or unfeasible.

How can you bring the locality into your liturgy? For example, if your parish is a fishing community, how might you reflect this in your choice of prayers, symbols or decoration?

How can you maximise the use of the senses?

Remember: a Family Mass is for the family, not just children, so how can you involve parents, grandparents and other family members in a meaningful way?

Consider giving a task at the end of one liturgy that will be relevant to the next Family Mass. This might be bringing a memento of a baptism in preparation for the liturgy of the Baptism of the Lord, or perhaps asking the congregation to notice particular elements of nature in the week preceding a harvest-time liturgy.

Think about it
Our children will acquire skills such as listening, appreciating the need for silence and praying, as well as developing a sense of belonging and of celebration — from their home life and the wider community. As a family team, how can you assist families as they nurture these things in their children?

The Family Mass is special for everyone involved. Young and old, we can all have a better and more meaningful experience of liturgy when we are comfortable, can see and hear what is going on, when our senses are engaged, and when we feel welcome to participate. It is especially important to involve those with special needs such as impaired mobility, sight or hearing.

It is very important to remember that we acquire meaning through the use of our senses. An effective liturgy recognises this. For young children, appealing to their senses can help make their experience special, and in the long-term, develop a sense of ‘sacred space’ when they attend a liturgy. But everyone else can benefit too!

The Senses in a Family Mass
Sound Ensure audibility and clarity in readings and prayers.
Bells; silence; music; encouraging vocal responses and vocal prayer (out loud).
All these create an atmosphere of sanctity when used appropriately.
Sight Ensure clear visibility of the altar, ambo, crucifix and tabernacle.
Use of candles or lamps are effective to highlight God’s presence.
Use of signing for certain prayers can deepen their meaning and encourage participation.
In some cases, the absence of sight can be useful.
For example, a reader who cannot be seen could represent God’s voice in a dramatisation.
Smell Flowers and candles can help create ‘special’ scents for the congregation.
Use of incense when appropriate can be tremendously powerful in engaging the congregation.
Touch Sometimes it may be possible to invite younger children to the altar for the Gospel.
At such times, it is beneficial to have special material placed down as cushions/mats for them.
This can increase the ‘special’ associations for their liturgical experience.
Alternatively, displays may contain particular materials that can be touched
either before or after the liturgy.

From a child’s perspective
Young people may find some of the concepts and messages of the readings and Gospels difficult to understand. Try to include some reference to characters from children’s programmes or films that could help them understand.

‘But why?’
Most of us know lots of children who love asking ‘why?’. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they wished to question the liturgy? There will be lots of things in the church – objects, places, banners, colours, symbols – that can spark the children’s imagination. Many of the readings contain difficult concepts, and perhaps even older members of the congregation might like to ask about the meaning. It is important that when planning your liturgy, reflections and homilies, you take into account the kind of questions that children may like to ask and try to address them in as brief and succinct a manner as possible. Think about it from a child’s perspective.

For further information on planning family liturgies, please refer to the Recommended Resources section for a useful list of books and websites.

‘… the witness of adult believers can have a great effect upon the children. Adults can in turn benefit spiritually from experiencing the part that the children have within the Christian community. The Christian spirit of the family is greatly fostered when children take part in these Masses together with their parents and other family members …’ (Directory for Masses with Children, 1973, n.11 http://www.adoremus.org/DMC-73.html )

6. Parts of the Mass
There follows an outline of the parts of the Mass that may provide opportunities for participation by the family in terms of readings, dramatisations and processions. Remember, these are suggestions. The best Family Mass will be whatever is most suited to the conditions, location and ability of the people involved. At all times, the focus is on the liturgy and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Entrance Procession This can mark the beginning of the celebration. It should include the priest(s), altar-servers, readers and gift-bearers. Symbols can be introduced during the procession and then displayed for the duration of the Mass.

Theme Especially useful during the seasons of Advent and Lent, the theme can provide the overview of the season and the relevance of this particular liturgy to the overall theme. For example, the decoration of the Jesse Tree during Advent or the description of the Lenten Garden could be referred to in the theme.

Penitential Rite The Penitential Rite prepares us to hear the Word of God by helping us to recognise our need for forgiveness and God’s grace in our daily lives. It helps to build a sense of community for the congregation. For young people in particular, the atmosphere of togetherness can contribute greatly to their understanding of Christianity as community.

Introductions to Scripture Readings Ideally part of every liturgy, the introduction should set the scene for the upcoming Scripture readings. It could begin by making a connection between our everyday experiences and the content of the readings that follow. The introduction is of great benefit in assisting the congregation in ‘tuning in’ to the liturgy and being more receptive to the Word of God.
‘All the elements that will help to explain the readings should be given great consideration so that the children may make the biblical readings their own and may come more and more to appreciate the value of God’s Word. Among these elements are the introductory comments which may precede the readings and help the children to listen better and more fruitfully, either by explaining the context or by introducing the text itself.’ (Directory for Masses with Children, 1973, n.47)

First Reading This can be read by a member of the congregation. Depending on difficulty level, it could be read by a child or adult minister of the Word.

Gospel Procession To emphasise the sanctity of the Word of God, a procession with candles or the lectionary could be of benefit. At this point, if possible, younger children could gather around the ambo to listen to the Gospel.

Homily The task of the priest or deacon is to bring the Word of God and the Mystery of the Eucharist to the congregation in a meaningful way. It aims to heighten the congregation’s awareness of God in their everyday lives, and how this particular celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy and Liturgy of the Word can bring us closer to God.

N.B. The priest/deacon is the only person who should give the homily (GIRM 66). Accordingly, the suggestions in this book are just that —suggestions. They may prove useful in explaining the Word of God by way of contemporary examples or analogies. However, the extent of their inclusion is up to the celebrant.

Prayer of the Faithful (The Universal Prayer) The special relationship of the family of God can be greatly highlighted in this part of the Mass. The priest introduces the Prayer of the Faithful and invites all to pray. The prayers should reflect the needs of the congregation, the parish, the locality, the wider Christian community, and particular global needs, e.g. areas caught in civil war or a natural disaster. The Roman Missal sets out the desired sequence (Roman Missal Veritas, Dublin, 2011, p. XXXIX):

  • For the needs of the Church
  • For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world
  • For those burdened by any kind of difficulty
  • For the local community.

Offertory The only gifts to be brought to the altar at the offertory should be the bread and wine.

Reflection/Thinking PrayerAs the introduction is intended to ‘tune in’ the congregation, the reflection aims to consolidate the main messages of the Scripture readings. The most effective thinking prayers will inspire the congregation to take on board this message and act upon it in their day-to-day lives, thus meaningfully connecting faith and life. There is an opportunity in this section to give the congregation a task for the week in preparation for the next liturgy: for example, on the feast of Christ the King, they could be invited to reflect on how they lived by the Gospel over the past year, before the new liturgical year commences the following Sunday.

‘The invitation the precedes the final blessing is important in Masses with children. Before they are dismissed they need some repetition and application of what they have heard, but this should be done in a very few words. In particular, this is the appropriate time to express the connection between liturgy and life.’ (Directory for Masses with Children 1973, n.54)

Many children will encounter stories, poems, prayers and celebrations in the course of their religious education in school or after-school groups. Explore the programmes in use in your locality and avail of their reflections, prayers and ideas. These will be familiar to the young members of the congregation and are pitched at a level that is easy to understand. furthermore, what a great way to connect your parish, school and home!

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Colour Green
Suggested Décor Images for readings
Theme Jesus is the Bread of Life
Entrance Procession  Bread,
poster depicting the Host,
Rubik’s cube
Gospel Procession Candle,

Welcome to our Family Mass. Ask yourself why are you here? Is it a habit? Or is it something more? Let’s take a moment to remember that we are gathered together here in this wonderful sacred space for a reason.

Just as we did last week, we bring some bread. Our bodies need energy to grow and to play. This bread represents all food and drink – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and treats.

We present the Host. This is an image of the bread used at Holy Communion. In our Mass today, we will continue to learn why the Bread of Holy Communion is so special.

We also bring a Rubik’s cube. This is a children’s puzzle. The aim is to get all colours matching on all sides. It is very tricky. Just when we think we have it solved, we find ourselves no better off than when we began. It is easy to get frustrated and give up.

In today’s Mass we will hear about how followers of Jesus and even Elijah, the prophet, were frustrated and wanted to give up on God. We have our ups and downs, our frustrations and troubles too. Open your ears and hearts and allow God to teach you today.

Introduction to First Reading
Elijah was a great prophet of God. He listened to God and followed God’s instructions to travel and spread the Good News of God’s love. We might expect that people like Elijah had it easy – working for God would surely mean they would be looked after, not left to starve or not be treated badly by people, right? Well, let’s listen.

First Reading
This reading requires three participants.

A reading from the first book of Kings (19:4-8)
Narrator Elijah walked the whole day into the wilderness. He stopped and sat down in the shade of a tree and wished he would die.
Elijah It’s too much, Lord! Take away my life; I might as well be dead!
Narrator He lay down under the tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him.
Angel Wake up and eat.
Narrator He looked round, and saw a loaf of bread and a jar of water near his head. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The Lord’s angel returned and woke him up a second time.
Angel Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.
Narrator Elijah got up, ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to walk forty days to Sinai, the holy mountain.
The word of the Lord.

Introduction to Gospel
In last week’s Gospel reading, we listened to Jesus describing himself as the bread of life. He did not just do this once, he did it again and again. We hear it again today. Why do you think he repeatedly taught this message?

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John (6:41-51)
The people started grumbling about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ So they said, ‘This man is Jesus, son of Joseph, isn’t he? We know his father and mother. How, then, does he now say he came down from heaven?’ Jesus answered, ‘Stop grumbling among yourselves. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. But the bread that comes down from heaven is of such a kind that whoever eats it will not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give him is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.’
The Gospel of the Lord.

Song ‘I am the Bread’ (from Alive-0) (13).

Homily Suggestions
In both our readings today, just as we heard in last week’s liturgy, people continue to complain and moan about the difficulties of their lives. We can relate to this too. It seems that we always find something to grumble about — not getting what we want, feeling that bad things keep happening to us. Refer to the Rubik’s cube —just when we think our lives are stable, something can crop up and upset us. This often affects our faith. Provide some time to reflect on times this may have happened to us.

Refer to other focal objects of bread and the image of Host. Reiterate how this liturgy is part of a series that focuses on the theme of Jesus as the Bread of Life. Invite the congregation to think about why Jesus repeated this message:

  • Why are we taught some lessons more than once?

Suggest that the repetition is to get the message through so that we really believe it and truly remember it. Compare it to a skill, such as playing a sport: if we do not practise, we lose our competency.

Refer to our First Holy Communion experiences. Highlight that this is a special occasion and that much celebration surrounds it. Focus on the word ‘First’ — reminding the congregation that the celebration of our First Holy Communion is just the beginning. When the ceremony that day is over, it is not the end of the special occasion, but the beginning of another wonderful aspect of our relationship with God. Just as Jesus repeated the message that he was the Bread of Life, we return to Mass to receive Holy Communion again and again. Provide some time for the congregation to reflect on the significance of receiving Holy Communion on a regular basis.

Emphasise that during Mass over these number of Sundays special attention will be given to the elements of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. (See Ordinary Time —An Overview, p. 102.)

Prayer of the Faithful

  • We pray for our families. Help our love for each other support us during our good days and our bad days.
  • We pray for our Church. May a deeper understanding of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the practice of Eucharistic Adoration strengthen the faithful.
  • We pray for our leaders. Be with them as they try to overcome the many difficulties and problems in the world.
  • We pray for those who despair and find it difficult to hold on to any hope in their lives. Through the Eucharist, may they find hope in you.
  • We pray for our parish family. May our shared experience of the Eucharist bring us together as the community of Christ.

Reflection/Thinking Prayer

Jesus, you are the Bread of Life.
Thank you for feeding us with your life and love.
Thank you for the gift of the Eucharist.
Help us to treat the Eucharist with love and respect.
It is you. You are the Bread of Life. We love and adore you.

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