Children, the Eucharist, and the Inter Diocesan Conference

The Inter Diocesan Conference (IDC) has just authorised a new Great Thanksgiving Prayer “suitable for children”. There are a number of issues and questions that dampen the enthusiasm of this reviewer.

I well remember visiting a church where my children were offered lollies at communion time with the words “the body of Christ given for you”. Having received communion from their baptism, this kiddification of the Eucharist was surprising to them. To say the least! Children are well capable of entering into mystery, and drama, and symbolism in a way that adults often find it difficult to rediscover.

It concerns me, then, to find this authorised Great Thanksgiving Prayer has been systematically stripped of anything recognisable from our other eucharistic rites. Every familiar response has been removed. The responses that go back to Jesus, and beyond him into our Jewish heritage – all gone. Any response a child becomes familiar with here, will be of no use in a Eucharist “suitable for adults”. A child who has been nourished with the verbal equivalent of lollies, will most likely find the eucharistic prayers of our Prayer Book disaffecting. Rather than encouraging children and young people into our worship life, the presumed intention of this venture, the opposite may be the experienced result. A liturgical equivalent of Sunday School being so different to Sunday worship, that many were unable to make that leap.

Creation, a child’s wonder at nature, the environment, beauty, the world freshly experienced, gets a scant two lines: “God, you made us, and the world and everything in it. All the good we see comes from you.” The rest of the great acts of God are reduced to some general points about Jesus, his last meal, his death and rising. I cheekily wonder which of the recently discovered gospels the words of Jesus at his last meal come from. Interestingly, I wonder why Jesus' words “to remember” are glossed, but “body” and “blood” stand without elucidation.

There is a fixed refrain – a plus. And an interesting one: “We are alive in Jesus”. Certainly here there is theology to grow into (the reading age of the text is about 8-10 years). But there is no cue. The child must read the text to know when to come in. There is no chance to watch and participate without a text. Unless of course the text is sung and the refrain comes at a clear point in the musical score. Unlikely.

There are lawyers who argue that the Inter Diocesan Conference (IDC) is unable to authorise liturgical texts for Tikanga Pakeha. They argue that doing so is contrary to the Church of England Empowering Act 1928. Perhaps that is the reason for the carefully phrased motion that was passed: "That the great thanksgiving in the schedule as printed in the programme of business be authorsied for experimental use within Tikange Pakeha, in any diocese in which it has been ratified by the respective diocesan synod, until the last day of the next ordinary session of the Inter Diocesan Conference"

We have already the facility in our Prayer Book to produce Great Thanksgiving Prayers appropriate to our particular context (NZPB pp. 512-514). There are four presented in Chapter 21 of Celebrating Eucharist. One of these (Eucharistic Prayer 2) is particularly worth comparing to the newly authorised text. And in the light of comments above.

IDC Great Thanksgiving“suitable for children” (PDF)
Eucharistic Prayer 2 from Celebrating Eucharist

[More thoughts on this topic in Chapter 11 of Celebrating Eucharist about writing Eucharistic Prayers, and Chapter 18 about Children at the Eucharist].
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