Holy Week at Home

As we move towards Holy Week and this years’ Lenten fasts seem to be including Mass as well, let us meditate on what is most precious to us in this most holy of seasons.

With your family, prepare a sacred space with a prayer table and perhaps some sort of diorama that tells the story of Easter. Just as we do at Christmas. Perhaps using a box or paper prepare the space where he will be laid. Have a last supper area, a way of the cross. Get everyone involved in making this celebration more meaningful and personal in a way that brings the responsibility home to you.

Passion Sunday

I have been noticing suggestions for Palm Sunday, such as putting a branch on your door to show that you are celebrating the feast. I invite you to go even further. In the church we call the coming Sunday Passion Sunday, the day we read the passion of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 26:14-27:66). As it happens, the Gospel we read at the beginning of the Mass on the entry into Jerusalem of Jesus on a donkey is also from Matthew (Matthew 21:1-11). What if you begin as a family reading the Gospel of Jesus entering Jerusalem at your front door (just as we do in Mass) and then lay your palms on your doors or near your entry way? This then makes your house the place where the event will occur in holy week.

Your family can journey through holy week reflecting on each of the four Gospel writings on the passion. Perhaps you may reflect on how similar or different they are from on another and how with all of the versions we get a fuller account of the message of Jesus.

Back to Passion Sunday. Read ALL of the readings (Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 22:8-9,17-18,19-20,23-24), Philippians 2:6-11). As the first Gospel proclaims what happened on Calvary was to fulfill what the prophets had said. You get a picture painted of what is to come and that it is all part of the Plan of God. The Psalm could be written out and the response shared by the family.

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Did God truly abandon Jesus? Was his pain and suffering, his death, all for nothing? We see that it is through suffering that God works his greatest work. In Jesus’ suffering and death, death (not Jesus) was overcome. Now we know that we will never die forever but will rise to eternal live with him. Sounds like cause for excitement for us all who are suffering at this time. From the darkness God brings his light. And in that light, darkness flees, the light overcomes the darkness EVERY TIME. As we pray this psalm, we can reflect that, yes Jesus suffered and maybe even felt abandoned, but we also know Jesus knew this psalm and he was aware that God had a plan for all of us. A plan that required us to pay a price and a plan that would be so much more than we could ask or imagine.

 The verse before the Gospel shows us:

“Christ became obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.”

With a small amount of preparation, you could then share out parts for the reading of the Gospel, according to the reading ability and the sensibilities of your children and household members. If you have a small household, you could link via video with another household (or two) to share this retelling of a narrative so central to our faith. This story of our Salvation.

Holy Week

A time of final preparation. A time to reflect. Prepare a quite space to pray individually and as a family. Prepare candles to be lit to show the light of the risen Christ who is stronger than the darkness of death. You could have one for each family member. They could decorate them with their name or own unique symbols.

Some ideas for decorating candles could include

  • Painting on them with acrylic paint
  • Adding a sleeve which could be drawn on (be careful of fire hazards and place the sleeve away from the flame)
  • Placing the candle on a unique saucer or paper plate
  • Putting a ribbon around the candle
  • Having different styles or heights of candles to reflect individuals

Holy Thursday

Again, reflect on the readings for the Mass. Prepare a meal for your family in which you remember the events on that night. The words of Jesus. As you read about breaking bread, share the bread on your own table. It is not the Eucharist, but the people gathered are the Eucharist for one another. Just as Jesus shared his body with us, we share our lives with one another.

To help you here are the readings for Holy Thursday, read them and reflect on them with one another.

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14

Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18

1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

John 13: 1-15

Wash one another’s feet. Serve one another.

Set up a family roster to pray all through the night.

Good Friday

The way of the cross. Get the family to help prepare the stations of the cross around your home. Each place is prepared and reflected on by the same person. Get family and friends to do a station each and share the prayer via video chat. There are many great resources to help you reflect on each station, but make it personal, make it understandable. Imagine yourself as a witness to the events for each station. Pray for the world, pray for yourself, pray to have the courage and love of Jesus.

Wear red.

The readings from the liturgy for Good Friday are:

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Psalms 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25

Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9

John 18:1-19:42

Be still. Have a time of silence with the whole family stopping normal activities and just being still with Jesus.

Easter Vigil

This is the most wonderful of liturgies, the High Mass of the year. We recall our history and we look forward to life in glory with God.

The vigil begins with a liturgy of light, where we see the light of the resurrection growing larger to chase away the darkness. You can use your candles you made here. Darken your rooms and light the candles and see how the darkness is chased away. Sit silently and enjoy the new light as it begins to fill all of creation. There are many beautiful prayers in the liturgy and you can see them here. http://liturgies.net/Liturgies/Catholic/roman_missal/eastervigil.htm

What a great opportunity to enjoy all of the readings and psalms, a feast for us of God’s word and his work throughout all of time.

Spend time together with these words.

Then celebrate

Alleluia he is here!

Make Alleluia posters to put all over the house. Finally, we can sing for joy. He is alive and our salvation is at hand.

If you have built a tomb, crack it open.

Easter Sunday

We begin the party today. This celebration will last 50 days. Have you stocked up for it? Have you filled your home with Jesus life and light? Stockpile his love so that you can share. As you contact family and friends, begin with Allelluia!

Have your egg hunts and your chocolate, but even more fill yourself with the power of rebirth, a new life is here for all of us. It is awaiting us as we too will rise from our hiding places.

Go outside and shout to your neighbours

“Allelluia, he is risen indeed!”

“God’s not dead, he is alive”

Enjoy this Video

Pause Awhile

As we are all over the world being asked to go into exile from our normal day to day business. We are asked to only have contact with those in our households, our families. We are asked to look at what is essential and do that, buy that. What a great opportunity God has provided us with in the Lent of 2020. Just as Jesus was called into the desert before the major part of his life’s’ work commenced, we are called to go into a different desert also, a desert of suffering and pain (for some physical others spiritual and others emotional). Many have been asked to stay away from things we hold very dear such as Mass.

God has been speaking to me about all of this in some songs.

I recall a song I learned many years ago by a group called The Dameans, “Pause a While


Pause a while, pause a while
In the humdrum of the city and behind a cloister wall
In the early morning and when shadows start to fall
See creation bending to the maker of it all
And all we have to do is pause a while

We were made to build the earth and share it with each other
All of us together at the work of Christ our brother

Tho’ the troubles of the world may tempt you to despair
Look around just one more time and you’ll see Christ is there

Ev’ry tree in ev’ry valley, ev’ry running brook
Bear the mark of Love’s design for those who learn to look

The spirit promised long ago moves just where he will;
In this high-speed, neon world, somehow he’s moving still

Barriers of ev’ry kind, must shatter into dust;
Nothing done is nothing won where we can’t dare to trust

I noticed as these lyrics floated in my mind that God was calling on his people all over the world to Pause Awhile, to stop and listen to just be still. As we pause, all of creation is being renewed, life is returning to places we have neglected or damaged by our busy lifestyles. The smog is lifting in some places, wildlife is returning to city areas. https://twitter.com/ikaveri/status/1239660248207589383

With our children in the atrium, we finished a little early with the Liturgy of Light. We recalled Jesus sharing his light with us all and asking us to share it also with others. The light will grow so bright, that the sun will be dimmed. All of the darkness will be chased away. We sang some songs that reminded me of God’s plan to bring his life and light to all people, everywhere.

Christ Be Our Light (Bernadette Farrell)

Longing for light, we wait in darkness
Longing for truth, we turn to You.
Make us Your own, Your holy people
Light for the world to see.

Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.

Longing for peace, our world is troubled
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has pow’r to save us.
Make us your living voice.

Shine Jesus Shine (Graham Kendrick)

Lord the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining
Jesus Light of the world shine upon us
Set us free by the truth You now bring us
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine Jesus shine, Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze Spirit blaze, Set our hearts on fire
Flow river flow, Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth Your word Lord and let there be light

Lord I come to Your awesome presence
From the shadows into Your radiance
By the blood I may enter Your brightness
Search me try me consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness
So our faces display Your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story
Shine on me,  shine on me

Alleluia, Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord (Donald Fishel)
Alleluia, Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord,
Alleluia, alleluia, give praise to His name.

Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
He is the King of creation.

Spread the good news o’er all the earth.
Jesus has died and has risen.

We have been crucified with Christ.
Now we shall live forever. 

God has proclaimed the just reward:
Life for all men, alleluia! 

As I sang and pondered these words, I was amazed at how clear the message for me was. “Do not worry, my light is stronger than the darkness, my life is stronger than death.”

Pause a while and soak in his light so that when the time comes you will rise radiant in his splendor to shine and fill the earth. It is the desert before the ministry. The darkness that is overcome by the light.

This pause, now, becomes a time of great hope and renewal for all of creation. I am filled with joy and hope.

Come and See

An Introduction to the Environment of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

Inviting a visitor to “come and see” has often been the best way to “explain” what the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is. When invited in, an adult will become quiet and wonder at all the different materials they can see. One material may catch their eye, something familiar, the altar table, the Cenacle. Just like the children who first walk through the doors, the adult longs to look with their hands, to open boxes and see what treasures are contained within. Perhaps, less like the child, they hesitate in case they are not allowed to explore further. Left alone, they may take things off the shelf and pick up the contents for closer inspection. They may get their phones out and take a few photos.

The first encounter in an atrium is one of wonder and perhaps awe. If parents walk in with a child, they like to share their knowledge of what they see, moving into teaching them the names or concepts the adult relates to in the work. Little children first seem to like to touch, to feel what has been prepared for them. They long to know, “Who made this?” They know it is a space for them because everything is just the right height and size for their smaller bodies. In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd it is the environment that becomes the teacher. The young children learn more from interacting in their environment than through direct instruction. That is why it is so important that the catechist prepares the environment to entice the children to draw nearer to God and to form a loving relationship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

If our goal is to help children enjoy a relationship with God, we must consider carefully the question, “What kind of environment will respect and cultivate their needs and capacities at their level of development, especially in terms of their spiritual development?”

The atrium therefore is not a classroom “not a place of religious instruction, but of religious life” (Sofia Cavalletti, Religious Potential of the Child). It does not replace the Church but instead prepares them to become full participants in the life of the Church. This work cannot be the work of the catechist or the atrium alone. As Sofia says “The initiation of a child into the Christian life is not a work that can be fulfilled by the catechist alone, nor by the parents alone. It is the whole Christian community that proclaims Christ, and the child must enter into contact with the whole Christian community. The catechist’s work… must be sustained and confirmed by a community that lives what the catechist proclaims.” Ideally the atrium should hold a place within a parish community.

The Atrium is a place of Prayer and Worship, a place of quiet and peace, a place of retreat. A place where quite spontaneously, work and study become meditation, contemplation and prayer.

We invite you to come and see the space we have prepared for the children. You will find the details on our website. https://www.cgswa.org.au/events/

Or you can contact us via email goodshepherdwa@gmail.com to make a time to visit.

Why Formation in Pairs?

Sending people out two by two for formation.

Often when people want to be formed as catechists in The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, they make arrangements with a formation leader to come and give the formation. This involves some organisation and some cost. So why does The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd recommend that two formation leaders give formation? Doesn’t that make it harder and more expensive?

First of all, anything that we have to invest time and money into will be valued higher than something given for free. There is something in our human nature that values something that costs us over that which is given to us. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is like a Precious Pearl (Matthew 13:46) which a merchant searched for his whole life until he finally found it, then he sold everything he had to buy that pearl. Sometimes it may be more like a Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44) which we discover by accident in a field, then sell all to buy it. Whether we are searching for it or just come across it we find it is a treasure worth paying for.

Having two people give formation is a blessing both for the new catechists and for the formation leader. For the catechists, it allows them to see two different styles of presenting which helps to break the “script” idea that some tend to have when first beginning in The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. There is a richness is being able to experience different approaches and styles and seeing the individuality of each Catechist as part of the gift (perhaps part of the wrapping) without changing the essential elements.

Two people presenting and reflecting, is also a way of overcoming listeners fatigue. Hearing a change in voice or having opportunities to divide up the reflections and promote discussion is also a catalyst for all participants to share their thoughts and discuss the work. Two people bring two sets of skills to offer. For example, one may be better at materials making, another may suit the pastoral needs of individuals better, etc. Two people also help to keep the formation from going off on a tangent or spending too much time in a discussion.

Jesus when he sent out his apostles to share the good news, sent them out in pairs (Mark 6:7, Luke 10:1). I wonder why that would be? Would it not be easier for people to host just one apostle? Would they be able to cover twice as much ground if they went alone? So why would he choose that model? Perhaps the answer is also given by Jesus when he says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). Perhaps the answer lies in the need to have a second witness to enable people to see the word as truth.

I see the gift of having someone else on the team as someone to support me when I cannot find the words to answer a question, or when I need an experience to illustrate a point, but the memory does not come to mind. Sometimes people have questions or challenge the method and having someone there with you to problem solve helps. Sharing the load also makes the formation leaders more available to the participants and better meet the needs of the group. Each evening there is time to reflect together and choose the direction of the coming day, so that the formation is individualised to the needs of that particular group of catechists.

But I can see that there is something else that having two formation leaders gives. It brings the presence of the love of Jesus. Two people can model in their relationship the love of Jesus and the gift of friendship which is a charism of this work of The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Relating the Paschal Narratives to Children

In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, especially with the 3-6-year-old, we do not dwell on Jesus’ suffering and death. Instead we always link his death to his resurrection. Many of the works allow a time to recall that Jesus life was stronger than death and we remember that whenever we light candles, and most especially the Paschal candle in the Baptism Area. The light of the risen Christ is given to each one of us on the day we are Baptised.

There are, however, a few works that are particularly relevant to this Lenten season and in particular to the Paschal Narratives which we encounter during Holy Week. In the atrium of the youngest children, we recall the words of the Last Supper, where Jesus said, “This is my body, this is my blood”, in a work we call the Cenacle. The Cenacle is the name for the Upper Room where Jesus met with his disciples to celebrate the feast of the Passover. The children enjoy preparing the small table as the Apostles did on that day. They sit and consider the words of Jesus and the events that unfold after this time. We pause briefly to consider Jesus’ death on the cross. Then we move on to light candles to recall the resurrection. After all everyone dies, but only Jesus conquered death.

Another work in the atrium which allows us to consider the last days of Jesus is the City of Jerusalem. This is a model of what Jerusalem may have looked like during the time of Jesus. It is a walled city and the most prominent building is also walled, the Temple. This geography material allows the children to imagine the sort of place Jerusalem was., but its primary purpose is to recall the last days of Jesus. The children consider the places and events that occur in Jerusalem beginning with the Last Supper in the Cenacle and moving to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and was later arrested.

We recall that Jesus was taken to the house of Caiphas, the high priest. He was put on trial there. Next, we move to the place where Pilate, the Roman Governor lived, the Tower of Antonia. Those who arrested Jesus, told Pilate that Jesus said he was the King of the Jews. Pilot decided that Jesus should be sent to Herod, the Jewish king.

We continue the meditation; in the morning, he was taken to Herod’s palace. Herod did not have the power to do anything to Jesus, so he was sent back to Pilot. Jesus returned to the Tower of Antonia to be sentenced by Pilot. There he was condemned to die. He was given a cross and taken outside the walls to a hill called Calvary.

This is where he died. But that is not the end of the story.

His friends buried him in a cave, a tomb never used before, and a big stone was placed at the entrance. It was in a garden. This was still not the end.

It was the Sabbath day so they would not prepare his body, they needed to wait until the next day to do that.

Always looking forward we recount the events leading up to that first Easter morning.

The next day some women came back to prepare Jesus body for burial, they planned to anoint it with special oils and perfumes. Then wrap it in a special way, as was their custom. They were worried about how they would be able to move the stone away.

When they got there the stone had already been rolled away. An angel was there, and he said, “Jesus is not here, he is risen!”

At this point we again light a candle and proclaim, Jesus is the light that is stronger than death, a light that can never go out. He is not here. He is risen. The women ran to tell the others.

We too can think about our response to Jesus resurrection. Will we also run to tell others the good news?

We may conclude our preparation for the great feast of Easter with a celebration of the Liturgy of Light. This is taken from the prayers of the Easter Vigil and once again we use light to represent the Risen Jesus. A light that continues to spread as we allow it to shine out from each one of us to the whole world.

As we draw near the Great Feast of Easter, may you also receive this light anew and may it shine forth to all you encounter and draw people to him who came to make us completely one with himself.

Characteristic #2

Characteristic #2

Since the child, particularly the religious life of the child, is central to the interest and commitment of the catechist of the Good Shepherd, the catechist embraces Maria Montessori’s vision of the human being and thus the attitude of the adult regarding the child; and prepares an environment called the atrium, which aids the development of the religious life.

What is Maria Montessori’s vision of the human person?

“Everyone accepts the fact that the adult is supposed to play a role in forming the child, but who knew that the child is supposed to be forming the adult, just as much.” Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori saw as one of her greatest discoveries was the planes of human development. This is when she recognized that the human person underwent a profound change as they entered different stages of their life. Though this understanding it is possible to see why some expectations of children are unreasonable at some ages but very necessary at others.

When you look at the planes, you can see the horizontal line of life, which indicates the age of the child. The lines that form the triangles show how the child moves towards a greater sensitivity to the needs of their age and then away from that intensity as they move toward the next plane. Montessori observed that development is intense at the beginning of a plane, peaks, and then tapers down to the next plane, in preparation for the beginning of a new stage of development.

For the first plane of development the goal is self-construction or to build a self.

The goal of the second plane of development is building the social self and how to be in society. No longer does the child need just the immediate family. Now the child is ready to explore the larger society and learn how to be with others and with other families.

The goal of the third plane of development is the birth of the adult self. It is another creative period, the creation of what is most valuable in their adult personality.

The goal of the fourth plane of development is the vocation, recognizing and giving back to society.

Within each plane there are specific sensitivities given that facilitate the achievement of the goal. The last characteristics of that each plane builds on the previous plane before it. So a plane that was not fully completed carries into the next plane. Life goes forward not backward. So as adults assisting children, we want to help children achieve the fullness of each plane of development.

The first plane of development is the most important phase in the life of the human person. Sofia Cavalletti called it the Golden Age of Relationship, the period of falling in love with God. 

Two Conditions for any Human Development

Montessori said that there were two conditions necessary for any human development to occur.

  • First, the child’s intimate, positive, loving relationship with the people and things in his/her environment. It’s so important for this first plane of development. The child being brought into this complete, unconditional, totally accepting and loving relationship.
  • The second element is freedom.  

All humans have certain tendencies or behavior patterns that drive the fulfillment of the fundamental needs. No matter the location, culture, or ethnicity, all humans throughout history have followed the same natural laws that lead to actions and interactions with the environment and each other.

All humans are driven:

  • To Explore- to know
  • To Orient – to find one’s place in the world where one feels loved and wanted
  • To Order – to put things in their place, physically and mentally
  • To Observe and to Abstract
  • To Work
  • To strive toward Self-Perfection
  • To Exactness
  • To Communicate – to express one’s self, to be understood, which leads to sharing, cooperation, and preservation of our knowledge, skills and achievements
  • To have Self-Control

What then should the attitude of the adult be regarding the child?

When it comes to the time for more formal learning the environment most children are placed in is a school of one sort or another. In a traditional school classroom the primary relationship is thought to be between the teacher and the child. In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we believe that God is the teacher, he works through the environment and the materials to help the child to form a personal relationship with him. The role of the adult is that of a guide or servant, waiting for the time to give a new presentation to allow the child to go deeper into their prayer with the Holy Spirit.

The Catechist is not the teacher. The Catechists role is to prepare the environment, to provide the child with materials that will help the child to draw near to God.

As adults, we seek to serve the child in this regard. To enable them to come into God’s presence and spend time with him by themselves.

It is not unusual that in this environment, the children can become so absorbed in their work that the adult can step aside and wait until they are needed. 

What is the prepared environment, the atrium, and how does it aid the child’s religious life?

Montessori noted that the environment itself is a teacher; the children learn much more from interaction with their environment than they do from the direct instruction of their teacher.

If our aim is to help children to enjoy their relationship with God, we must ask, “What kind of environment can we create that will respect and cultivate the child’s needs and capacities at this level of their development, especially in terms of their spiritual development?” 

We want to create a space where it is okay to be small. Where a child can function independently, enjoy freedom of movement, freedom to repeat works over and over on one’s own without interruption etc.

The Atrium environment is not a classroom.  Cavalletti says, “It is not a place of religious instruction, but of religious life.”

The Atrium does not replace the church. It is to initiate the child into the life of the church and needs to be the work of the whole church. Cavalletti says, “The initiation of a child into the Christian life is not a work that can be fulfilled by the catechist alone, nor by the parents alone. It is the whole Christian community that proclaims Christ, and the child must enter into contact with the whole Christian community. The catechist’s work must be sustained and confirmed by a community that lives what the catechist proclaims.”

Everything in the Atrium is either a passage to prayer or prayer itself

The Atrium is a place of Prayer and Worship, a place of quiet and peace, a place of retreat. A place where quite spontaneously, work and study become meditation, contemplation and prayer.

It is more like a church than a classroom. It is not so much a place of instruction, as Holy Ground, where Christ can be encountered in word or action at any moment.

Why Formation?

To be a Catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd requires a commitment to many hours of preparation, materials making and then working with children. May people ask why, when many “programs” for children in the church utilise volunteers and follow written and prepared programs with activities and worksheets prescribed for each week of the liturgical cycle, why do we ask for so much preparation?

There can be many ways to answer that question and I do not think this article will exhaust them all.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd uses an approach very different to that used in our schools at this time. It is not so much an opportunity to educate our children in the faith, but rather introduce them to the person of God in a unique relationship. To act as a matchmaker between God and the child and allow the children to fall in love with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Many people have grown up being filed with information and tested to check on their recall. All of that is useful and necessary. But consider when we have fallen in love, did it happen through knowledge or was it through relationship? Adults who become Catechists sometimes find they learn about their faith as if for the first time, seeing through the eyes of children the beauty of our traditions and the words of scripture in a new way  Through the formation experience we allow adults to discover for themselves the richest treasures God has to offer and we also help them to learn to step back and allow their children to make the same connections for themselves.

There is no lesson so well remembered or treasured than the one we discover for ourselves. Can you recall everything you have ever learned? What are the things you remember the best? Could it be those things where you made the connections, the discoveries for yourself? Like the person who discovered the treasure in the field and sold all they had to have it or the merchant who searched all his life for the most precious pearl, we want your relationship with Jesus to be a precious gift that you personally invested in.

During the formation, the participants will learn about an approach to learning discovered by Maria Montessori and also some Sacred History Theology. Interspersed with this some individual presentations will be given (the same as those given to the children) demonstrating the way we allow the children to continue to meditate on the small lessons of scripture, liturgy and practical life. There is time for prayer, sharing and also materials making. All of these will help to form the catechist, just as the time in the atrium for children helps to build the child in their personal relationship with God.

When we work with children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we do not follow a program. We do not have a curriculum that must be covered in a set amount of time. Some children will never work with or be given all of the presentations. We observe and follow the needs of each individual child, offering to them as gift various presentations as they grow in their understanding and relationship of God and as they grow as people in our community. As their abilities increase, they gain new skills which we provide opportunities for them to master, to help them do it by themselves. As one may imagine, it can be very difficult for some people to let go and let God be the teacher, with no measurable outcome. Sometimes we are blessed with glimpses of the work of the Holy Spirit in the response of the children, through their personal prayer and artwork. For the most part we are useless servants of God and the child and perhaps one day we may see the fruits of our labour.

About the Atrium

An Overview

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to the religious formation of children.

It is rooted in the Bible, the Liturgy of the Church and the educational principles of Maria Montessori.

Children gather in an atrium, a room prepared for them, which contains simple yet beautiful materials they can use to help answer interior questions like:

“God who are you? How do you love us?”

About the Environment

“Like the environment of the Church, it is a place where the child can listen to the proclamation of the Good News, meditate on it and begin to live it according to the child’s own rhythm.

Different from the environment of the Church, the atrium is not only a place for announcement and celebration: it is also a place for work.

It is a particular environment in which work easily becomes meditation and prayer.”


Gianna Gobbi, 2000. (Listening to God with Children)

How can the atrium nourish a child’s faith development?

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is not so much a curriculum as an environment. Through the use of the materials in the environment the children are introduced to God.

The purpose of the Catechesis isn’t to teach children about God through information about scripture or liturgy. Rather the focus is on introducing children to an experience of God through scripture and liturgy.

The atrium is a special place for children. It is a place of prayer and meditation, not a classroom for instruction. It is holy ground where Christ is encountered through word and action. It is a place of worship and community—religious life.

Every work in the atrium is either a passage to prayer or prayer itself.

The Materials

The materials used in the atrium have been designed to meet the vital needs of each age group of the children. This is based on their capabilities according to the research of Maria Montessori.

They are in a size that will comfortably fit the child and sensorially appealing; made of natural materials (such as wood, metal and clay) and as much as possible are hand made by the catechists themselves.

The room is set out in a way that conveys the centrality of the parable for each age group; the Good Shepherd for ages 3-6 and the True Vine for ages 6-12. Arranged around these are the Eucharist, the sacraments, scripture and geography works.

The 3-6 Child

The 3-6 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 they work with help make the mystery of God concrete. For example, a geography work of a 3D relief map of the land of Israel, establishes Jesus as a real person in time and space.

Their sense of wonder and delight are nurtured through selected parables on the mystery of God’s kingdom: they may wonder at how something as small as a mustard seed can grow into a large tree.

Their desire for knowing the names of things and ordering things in their environment is met in work such as the altar where they learn the names and lay out items as they are arranged at Mass.

The 6-12 Child

The parable of the True Vine is the central meditation for children in this age group.

The work here responds to the need of the older child to know their place in their relationship with God, family and the wider community.

A range of moral parables provides the opportunity for meditation on God’s love and enduring forgiveness.

Their love for detail is ministered to through breaking open different parts of the Mass and exploring it, deepening their knowledge and love of the Eucharist.

Timelines focusing on salvation history from Creation to Redemption to Parousia nurture their vivid imagination and their fascination with time; the past and the future. This leads to the wonder of all the many gifts we have received from God, culminating in God’s gift of his own life through Jesus.

There is an emphasis on our response to God’s amazing generosity and the responsibility that comes with receiving these gifts.

New Year, New Start

2019 has begun in the atrium here. We open our doors to some familiar faces and some new faces on Thursday. The Catechists have been preparing the space readying the materials, buying new supplies, remaking and repairing some of the works.

We look forward with anticipation to a year of sharing the love of the Good Shepherd with the children and learning from them some new insights into the secrets God has hidden for us to discover for ourselves.

The atrium is a sacred space made especially for children to discover and grow in their relationship with Jesus. Our role as Catechists is to guide them and prepare opportunities for them to find Jesus. We allow the Holy Spirit to work in the materials and environment to awaken their hearts to God. So, our role is not as a teacher but as a servant, a matchmaker between the child and God. Like a servant we look for openings to invite the children into a deeper relationship. We observe their interests and abilities and match the work to them.

Some children arrive with a plan of what they will do, others need some time to adjust to a quieter, slower environment and may need help to make initial choices. Some children need to move, we look for work that involves movement. Some like the challenge of a puzzle, we have works that meet that need. Still others are opening up to the joys of writing and reading. All of the materials in the atrium have been chosen by children to meet their deepest needs and to encourage them in their life of prayer.

In the first few weeks after a long break, the children often need some structure to reacquaint them to the sacred space. Older children decide on what they think will be appropriate rules for their community to work peacefully together. If the atrium has been changed, we give a short tour so they can easily find the materials they know. New children are welcomed, and more experienced children help them to find what they need.

The rhythm of the atrium generally begins with work time, during which they may receive a presentation and concludes with a prayer time where they can respond to what they have experienced that day. Presentations are dictated mainly by the interest of the children and by the liturgical cycle. Not every child will receive a presentation every week, or the same presentations as the other children. Whole group presentations are rare, with most given individually or to small groups.

Children keep a record of any art or prayer responses in a prayer journal or folder, which at some later time they take home. Some children create a lot, others none or hardly any. We are privileged to bear witness to their growth in prayer and relationship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Sensitive Periods and the Absorbent Mind

Have you ever heard the phrase, “this child is like a sponge” or something similar? If you have ever experienced close contact with a child from birth until the age of 6 you can see an amazing transformation. Babies born to human, unlike other animals, are quite helpless for the first few years of life. A newborn cannot control their movements, cannot crawl, sit, walk. They have no teeth and rely completely on the adult for nourishment. They cannot communicate except through making uncomfortable loud crying sounds to attract attention, then the adult must try to interpret their needs. They sleep a lot. They are totally dependent.

In the first about 1 year of life they undergo a transformation, they gain motor skills, even begin to move by crawling and walking. They can sit. They can begin to use their hands to feed themselves and explore their environment. They absorb information around them and begin to communicate though signs and words. By the time they reach the age of 3 they are quite proficient and many tasks such as feeding themselves, walking, talking. The are able to absorb culture and language from the world around them.

Maria Montessori calls the mind of the child from the time between birth and the age of six the Absorbent Mind. The child during this period absorbs much from the environment they live in. It is a period of the most intense growth of the human person. During this time Montessori observed particular areas that the child is drawn to focus their growth in, she calls these areas sensitive periods of growth. During this time period the child is more easily able to absorb knowledge and skills than at any later time in these particular areas. Later, when this time has passed, the knowledge can still be acquired but the effort and time is far greater than during the time when they are particularly sensitive.

The Sensitive Periods for a child from the age of 0-6

To identify a sensitive period, Montessori observed that the child showed intense concentration and interest in a particular activity. They tended to repeat the activity over and over again without tiring. They seemed to get great joy out of this activity. They seem driven to this task and want to continue at it as if seeking mastery or making some unseen link in their mind. They can focus on this for a long period of time. If you notice this in a child, it is recommended to just observe without intervening or interrupting. Allow them the time and space as they construct themselves and learn the skill. Don’t take over and “show” them how to do it properly, unless they ask.

Some particular areas that Montessori observed during this age range were:

ORDER

This is primarily a need to understand how things relate to other things. The child needs predictable places for items, steps for tasks, routines. You may notice a child reacting negatively when their routine is disrupted, or when an item is not where “it should be”. They need to know the same things are going to be there when they come back.

SENSORY PERCEPTION

Through the use of the senses, the child absorbs information about the environment around them. You will often observe a young child placing items in their mouth. Children are also often observed as touching everything. In this way they are making sense of each item. How does it feel, taste, what is it weight? This is a great opportunity for the adult to interact with the child, giving words to describe the sense. This is a ball, this is a cup, this is cold etc. Though the senses come language. Montessori says to never give more to the eye and the ear than we give to the hand.

LANGUAGE

Language does so much to develop the brain of the young child. In the first year a perceptual map of spoken sounds is established in the brain.  Montessori noted that the young child just by living absorbs the entirety of his mother tongue or as many languages as are put in the child’s environment. Not only is a child able to duplicate language but also, the language develops who the child is.

MOVEMENT

After about a year the child is able to be independent, they no longer need to be carried around. You will also notice they want to climb in or out of cots, strollers etc by themselves. Montessori recommends allowing them the space to gain skills in this area. Take them for walks where they can walk (you may need to slow your pace to theirs). Instead of removing or locking up items, show them how to interact safely within the environment. This may require some changes to the environment and to the adult’s expectations. Parents are stewards to the life of this person finding out who they are along with the child. Instead of finding the child difficult to inconvenient to our life, we need to embrace the gift they bring to change us.

TINY OBJECTS

Children during this period have an intese interest in minute objects, from crumbs on the floor, to tiny insects in the garden, beads on a necklace, small threads etc. Everything is wonderful and new for them. These tiny objects create an opportunity to develop fine motor skills and the pincer grasp. Allow the child to explore small things, ensuring that they are safe to handle. If they are still putting items in their mouth, close supervision may be required. They seem to be asking “what does this do and what can I do with it?”.

SOCIAL GRACES

In this period, the child is trying to understand the relationship between people and themselves. What behaviour is acceptable, what do I want. You may hear the child say “mine” or “me” a lot. This is a time when the development of manners and how behaviour affects others begins. Over time and with guidance, the child begins to see the needs of others and are more willing to share with and comfort others. They will look to adults as models for behaviours. Adults must admit when they are wrong and explain why so that children learn why they in turn are asked to acknowledge mistakes (for example). IN reading with your children, you will also have opportunities to discuss feelings and personal interactions of the characters to help children develop appropriate social skills. Remember that behaviour is not good or bad in essence but a way to communicate. Try to peacefully interact with the child and help them to communicate in ways that are easier on them and others socially.

You may find some more information about the absorbent mind and sensitive periods from

Maria Montessori’s book “The Absorbent Mind”

And from websites such as: