Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
- That God and the child have a unique relationship with one another, particularly before the age of six
- That the growth of this relationship should be assisted by the adult, but is directed by the Spirit of God within the child.
- That the children need their own place to foster the growth of that relationship That the child's spiritual growth is best served through tangible but indirect means.
God and the Child with the Adult
An interpersonal relationship is always a mystery, all the more so when that relationship is between God and the child. We believe that there is a deep bond between God and the child which produces in the child the desire to draw near God. The catechists' role is to prepare the environment and to make presentations that "call forth" the child's response rather than "pour in" information. They listen with the child and together ask, "God, who are you" How do you love us?" the adult is a co-wonderer with the child as they together enjoy meditating on the questions generated by the Scriptures with the prepared environment as a developmental aid.
The Prepared Environment/The Atrium
The atrium is one of the elements that helps the relationship between God and the child to flourish. After a theme has been presented, the child is free to choose an activity that will make possible the inner dialogue with the "Interior Teacher."
How does the atrium help to nourish this relationship?
1. The atrium can be compared to a retreat house facilitating recollection and silence.
2. The atrium is a place for religious life, for community and worship, not a classroom for instruction
3. The atrium is a place of work which becomes a conversation with God.
4. The atrium was the place in the early church where the catechumens were prepared. For the child, too. The atrium is a place of preparation for involvement in the larger worshiping community.
The materials in the atrium are attractively displayed inviting children to explore and deepen experiences at their own rhythm. The most important characteristic of the materials is their close link to the biblical and liturgical sources. The shelves might include maps of Israel and miniature environments representing the elements of parables and historical events from Scripture that have been shown to satisfy the spiritual needs of the child. The arrangement of the altar and its related furnishings conveys the centrality of the Eucharist. The Baptismal font and other liturgical items initiate the child into the liturgical life of the church.
For the young Child (ages 4 - 6)
The 4 - 6 year old child is particularly capable of receiving and enjoying the most essential elements of our faith - the announcement of God's love, in the person of the Good Shepherd, who died and is risen.
Materials on the life of Christ and his teachings help make the mystery of God concrete for the child. The geography materials establish Jesus as a real person in time and space and Israel as the land through which God realized salvation for all. Infancy narratives announce the Incarnation with the words of Scripture, moving from Annunciation, to the Birth of Chris, to the Flight into Egypt. The model of Jerusalem and of the empty tomb are the starting point for the Paschal narratives which the child lives in a special way in celebrating the Liturgy of the Light.
Selected parables serve as keys to unlock the mystery of the kingdom of the God and to nurture the child's natural sense of wonder. How beautiful and precious is the kingdom of God! How small it begins! How slowly it grow! How magnificent it becomes!
Through the arranging of the chalice, paten, altar cloth, candles, and crucifix, the child becomes familiar with the articles of the Mass. The child lives his relationship with God in a particular way in the liturgy. The 4 - 6 year child enters the mystery of the Mass through the most important gestures including the preparation of the chalice, the epiclesis and offering, and the gesture of peace. From these gestures the Mass emerges as the Sacrament of the Gift. The child becomes acquainted with the historical character of the liturgy through the events of the Last Supper, Christ's death, and, His resurrection.
The liturgical colors and calendar situate the child in the church year expressing the Paschal Mystery - Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. A prayer Corner reflects the liturgical cycle with appropriate colors, prayers, songs, banners, and readings to enhance the rituals and celebrations of the seasons.
For the Older Child (Ages 6 - 12)
While the heart of the catechesis for the child under six revolves around the parable of the Good Shepherd, the elementary age child is captured by the image of the True Vine. "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing." The proclamation responds to the deep need of the older child to know better their relationships with God, family, friends, and the larger community.
The child at this age seeks guidelines, The moral parables offer a model for comparing their behavior with that of the Pharisee, the Tax Collector, or the Good Samaritan, The Good Sheep, the Found Coin, and the Prodigal Son are examined as the children prepare for sacrament of reconciliation. The proclamation and meditation stress God's love, which is constantly forgiving.
The elementary children see the parts of the Mass - The Liturgy of the Word, the Preparation of the Gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Communion - as one unity. A retreat prior to the celebration of Confirmation and First Eucharist allows the children the opportunity to plan several liturgies and to participate fully. Preparation of personal missals filled with illustrations and prayers is a process which deepens their love and understanding of the Eucharist.
The imagination of the older child and his or her agility with the concept of time are powerful stimuli to explore the past and the future. The first time line, a ribbon fifty meters long, focuses on the high points in the history of salvation from the creation through the redemption to the parousia. Another presentation focuses on the many gifts we receive from God - rocks, minerals, flowers, fruit, friends, family - culminating in God's gift of His own divine life, in the person of Jesus, a gift which will pervade the whole universe at the completion of history.
With the older child (ages 9 - 12) a third presentation f the history of salvation focuses on the plan of God in history as a plan of communion, a plan which links all people together. The emphasis is on our response to this unfolding generosity of God and the responsibilities that come with receiving God's great gifts. "What is the kingdom of God and my place in it?" is a cosmic query which begins to lay the foundations for a life's commitment.