Teaching liturgy today is both a wonderful opportunity and a challenge. We asked a number of excellent educators of children and youth to give us a snapshot of where they begin, and why. Here are some of their responses:
As a catechist of children ages 3-12, and a course director for catechists preparing to use the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I have approached the liturgy through the language of signs. The most significant moments of our liturgies are made apprehensible through concrete objects or gestures. These can, in turn, be offered to young children (ages 3-6), who are capable of repeated and deep reflection on their meaning. This reflection may be wordless for many months, but then articulated with piercing insight.
For example, we begin the year by introducing a model altar, “the table for the family of God”, and showing the children how to prepare it with the altar cloth, chalice, paten, crucifix and candles for the Eucharist. One boy repeated this exercise for a year. Then one day he completed his preparation and turned to the rest of the class and announced, “Dinnertime!” With this word he acknowledges that Eucharist is essentially a meal, his classmates are his Eucharistic family, and that all should be invited. (Is it not ironic that this four-year-old Catholic child announces his own invitation to the meal he and his peers cannot yet receive?)
Each sign introduced has a limitless depth of meaning, rooted in nature, life, Biblical history and liturgy. We gently set the children on the path of searching for this meaning for themselves and their community. There is no test, no complete answer, no required lesson beyond the simple words that begin the search: “The altar is the table for the family of God.” “This is my body given for you.” “This is my blood.” The sign is a true beginning, meaningful for the child of three, and full of possibilities for a lifetime of reflection.
Catherine Maresca is the founder and director of the Center for Children and Theology (www.cctheo.org) and a catechist at Christian Family Montessori School since 1982.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Elementary Education major in Religious Education, teaching at the public school was a challenge. The students were not that oriented to doctrine, morals, and worship. What I did, to encourage them to attend and be attentive to the subject, is to celebrate the Word of God with songs, readings, and reflection. Afterwards I asked my students to write what they have learned and what can they do to apply the Word of God. I always encouraged them with these words: “The Word of God is life and your hope!” Hope is a weighty word for them, especially those students in the public school belongs to Class C and D of the society. They have so many dreams and desires in which sometimes they are discouraged because of their status. God is their only hope. Much more significant, I accompanied them to Sunday Mass at the Cathedral and encouraged them to serve as lay ministers. After Mass, I played and ate with them, helping them to integrate Christian values into their lives. I wished to be “Jesus” in their midst. Though I am not worthy, God really works in mysterious ways. Thanks be to God, almost all of my students are now active Catholics.
After two years as catechist, I worked as Campus Minister of the Cathedral School in the diocese. Another challenge, as it was the biggest parochial school in the diocese. Children’s liturgy is a gift of Vatican II, and I used it well. I believe that good celebration leads to good faith and good Christian living. I pray and hope that it may succeed. The students thirst for that good celebration and where their faith is deepened and their Christian living is enriched.
Dave Ceasar Dela Cruz, CCS, currently teaches theology at Siena College, Quezón City in the Philippines.
I am a catechist for children and teens who are catechumens and candidates in the RCIA. When I “teach liturgy” I am usually leading children toward their first celebration of a sacrament. I always start with one of the liturgical symbols. I start here because it’s something the children can see, touch, taste and grasp. For example, I start with water, oil, bread, wine, or the laying on of hands. First, I help the children identify their everyday human experience of the symbol. From there, we move to what the symbol means in the life of the Church. All of this is then brought together when the young people experience the symbol in the actual ritual celebration. After they have had a ritual celebration with the symbol, then we once again unpack the meaning of the symbol from the post-celebration perspective. These kids come up with some amazing insights!
Rita Burns Senseman is a catechist at St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute, IN.