The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
When one is preparing to be a catechist for children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd the rhythm of the day reflects that of the rhythm of the Atrium time with the child. In both, we remember Sofia Cavalletti’s words of wisdom: “If we want to help the child draw nearer to God, we should with patience and courage…seek to go always closer to the vital nucleus of things. This requires study and prayer. The child himself will be our teacher.” It was through study and prayer and observation that Dr. Sofia Cavalletti, a biblical scholar, and her colleague, Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori-trained educator, gave us a way of being with children in God’s presence and guiding them as they form an authentic, faithful relationship with God. The content of the 90-hours of on-site training, as with the content in the Atrium itself, goes to the vital nucleus of things.
From an ecumenical perspective the presentations given, reflect both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal liturgies and traditions, and their general understanding of Scripture – going always to the essential Christian proclamations. At the core of each is an essence of faith and theology that the child does not outgrow, but in which matures with the child. Each level of the Atrium evolves in harmony with the developmental stages of the child.
The young child (ages 3-6) is particularly responsive to the announcement of God’s love, experienced through Jesus the Good Shepherd, who died and is risen. Through beautifully crafted materials in the prepared environment, the mystery of God is made concrete for the child. The geography materials help to establish Jesus as a real person in time and space. A relief map appropriate for the child’s size, invites the child into this place. The map might be made by the catechist at an extended or special session for materials making.
Into this space the Infancy Narratives are presented, while a model map of the city of Jerusalem and the empty tomb, helps to engage the child in the Paschal Narratives which the child experiences in a special way through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Light. The child enters into the mystery of the Kingdom of God through reflection on selected parables. Like the tiny mustard seed that grows slowly from something very small into a magnificent tree, they too grow in their understanding of what it means to be a part of this magnificent Kingdom of God.
The child is introduced to the Eucharist by arranging the articles on the model altar and is drawn deeper into its mystery by repeating the most important gestures of epiclesis and offering, and the sign of peace – experiencing in essence the Eucharist as the Sacrament of Gift. The historical character of the liturgy is expressed through the Last Supper presentation. Throughout the life in the Atrium as the church year unfolds it is the great Paschal Mystery that is expressed – Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Further details of the content for this age can be found in The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey by Sofia Cavalletti, Patricia Coulter, Gianna Gobbi, and Silvana Montanaro.
As the catechist continues preparation to work with the older child a new Formation Course builds upon the themes and learning of the earlier one. For the 6-8 year old child, the adult is prepared to lead them into an experience of God’s Covenant of Gift and Response. Through preparation and retreat time the child comes to delight in being at home at the Table of the Lord receiving the Gift through the Eucharist and meditating on their response to the Gift – a life time of living their “thank you.”
This age child is ready to move beyond the Sheepfold with its focus on the individual relationship with the Good Shepherd to an image of the True Vine and their place in community seen as the branches on the vine. Moral Parables help them to reflect on their responsibility, experiencing and expressing God’s forgiving and reconciling love.
The capacity to explore the concept of the past and the future allow them to contemplate the unity and vastness of the History of the Kingdom of God presented with a fifty meter long ribbon focusing on the key moments of creation, redemption and parousia. This presentation along with the one following, introducing the Gifts of God, from the natural world, to the Gift of God’s own self – is a material that the catechist finds equally challenging but fascinating, and most enjoyable to make.
The work is captivating and draws the catechist forward to be trained for working with the older child (ages 9-12) in which the core presentations takes them through an over all scope of the plan of God in history, and God’s ever present love linking people together. Within this context, key stories from the Old Testament are explored from historical and cultural perspectives. The child from one’s own present cultural reality begins to see oneself as a collaborator with God in the unfolding drama of salvation history – and contemplates the question – “What is my place in it?”
Genelda Woggon has been ministered to and by children for over 40 years in her professional work as a Christian Formation Leader, most especially through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the past 20 years.