In the atrium we introduce
the children to the liturgical year firstly by looking at the colours of the
liturgical seasons. Children in level 1 are introduced to the colours for
Preparation (purple), getting ready for a feast. The feasts of Christmas and
Easter and their seasons are white. Ordinary time (green) is introduced as the
growing time, a time to allow the “food of the feast” to nurture our growing
relationship with God. The other colour (red) is for the Holy Spirit and the feast
As children progress
through the atrium we look at a circular liturgical calendar. This highlights
the cyclical nature of the liturgical year. The calendar has a small prism for
each Sunday of the year (ours also includes an extra prism to represent
Christmas Day as that does not always fall on a Sunday). Essentially this work
is a puzzle that the children pull apart and reconstruct. However, this
provides time for the children to reflect and notice different elements of our
liturgical cycle. Little facts such as Easter is longer than Lent. Ordinary Time
is very long, why would that be?
There are also things
to research further such as Easter is not always on the same date so how do we
know when it will happen? The numbers of the Sundays in Ordinary Time don’t
match the number of prisms, why would that be? When we attend daily Mass the
priest sometimes wears other colours, why?
The calendar is just a
starting point for discoveries about life in the church.
Many adults make
observations too such as the calendar does not progress in a clockwise
direction. Why would we have it going counter-clockwise? Could it be that God’s
time is different to our time?
As we approach the
three main feasts of our church year, Easter, Christmas and Pentecost, we celebrate
with the children. These celebrations are not just parties with gifts and food.
They are solemn celebrations looking at what the event is. With the children we
enter into the special time that we are celebrating. At Easter, this may take the
form of a re-enactment of the Last Supper and/or a Liturgy of Light
celebration. Prior to that, during Lent, we bury the “Alleluia” and save the
word for the special day when we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. During
Pentecost we meditate on the gift of the Holy Spirit and consider what those
gifts mean for us in our lives and how we can call on those gifts to help us
build God’s kingdom. During the Christmas Celebration we often have a lead up
during advent culminating in recalling Jesus being incarnate and also longing
for him to come again. Due to our long Summer break, this often happens a few
weeks prior to Christmas Day. Our CGS friends living in the Northern Hemisphere
will also celebrate the feast of Epiphany, recognising the gift given for all
Parents may be able to
foster a sense of the liturgical year in their homes by preparing for the
children a small table for prayer. Provide cloths in each of the 4 liturgical
colours that the children can place on the table according to the season. Add a
candle and perhaps a small statue of the Good Shepherd, the Holy Family etc.
Children enjoy spending time in quiet prayer or communal prayer, including
songs and hand made prayer cards. Ideas for short phrases can be taken from
words used in the Mass such as “Amen”, “Alleluia”, “Thanks be to God”, “Holy,
holy, holy”, “Thy kingdom come”. Other ideas can be found in the book “The Good
Shepherd and the Child a Joyful Journey”.
The season of
Christmas is a time to recollect, to look back and forward. For many people it
reaches it climax on the 25th of December where all the rushing and planning,
baking and celebrating happens with family and friends. In the shopping centres
the day following Christmas is a time to purge the shop of excess goods and
decorations that are no longer required. By the time we get to the 27th
or 28th of December it is as if Christmas is in the distant past and
we look forward to New Year’s Day Celebrations, Australia Day and then the planning
starts for Easter!
However, in the Liturgical cycle of the Church Christmas continues. We savour for a few more weeks what the meaning of this tiny child could mean. God, who humbled himself to be born as someone so helpless. A baby conceived in a country town to a young woman who was unmarried. Today, would the baby even make it to birth? A baby born not in the home town of the mother but a long distance away. A baby born not in a warm home but in a place where animals were kept safe. A baby welcomed first by shepherds. A baby announced by angels. A baby welcomed by wise men from foreign nations. We can ponder what this all could mean, even as Mary did.
We can be challenged
to be like Mary, like the shepherds, like the wise men and like the angels,
celebrating the wonder, the miracle of Jesus birth. Or, we can just let the
moment pass or become too busy in our own lives to find room for him, like the
Inn Keeper. Perhaps we will reject him altogether and plan to erase him from
our lives, like Herod.
Jesus, the one who
saves, Emmanual, God with us, born in Bethlehem, the house of bread. Why do we
celebrate him? Is it for that time so long ago that God walked into our
history? Is it for that time alone? God has a plan so much bigger than we can
imagine. A plan that encompasses all of time and space. A plan that reaches a
high point at the birth of Jesus but a plan that has yet to be completed. This
plan will come to completion when God will be all in all. We are called to work
together with God to bring all people to like in his kingdom. We can make that
day come quickly by how we interact with each person we encounter.
Our liturgical cycle refers to the readings and celebrations we have throughout the church year. The word Liturgy means the work of the people. This is the work we do as a community when we come together to celebrate the Mass.
Did you know that prior to the second Vatican Council the Church had only two readings for each Mass (these were a reading from the Epistles and the Gospel, readings from the Old Testament were rarely used), on a one year cycle? The same readings were used each year. Since Vatican II, each Sunday Mass has three readings have been used, one from the Old Testament (except after Easter where NT readings are used), the Second from the New Testament Epistles and the Gospel. These were used over a three year cycle. The intention was to expose the congregation to more of the Biblical texts. The weekday readings would also be expanded to a two year cycle with two readings at each Mass.
To figure out which year we are in, here’s a little trick; if the year is divisible by 3 then you are in year C. The years cycle alphabetically. In Year A the primary Gospel is that of Matthew, year B the Gospel is primarily Mark and year C it is Luke. The Gospel of John is proclaimed on particular Sundays in each of the three years. For the weekdays Year 1 are the odd years, Year 2 the even.
The Liturgical Year begins with the First Sunday of Advent and concludes with the Feast of Christ the King. Like any calendar it celebrates special occasions or feasts and has seasons. The six seasons emphasis different parts of the life of Jesus. They are: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter Triduum (three events – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday), Easter, Ordinary Time. Each season is highlighted by using particular colours.
In the atrium of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd we highlight for the children three major feasts: Easter, Christmas and Pentecost. We celebrate the way God interacts with people through these great events.
We mark the passing of seasons through the use of liturgical colours on our prayer table and in some of the atrium works. We talk about the seasons through the liturgical colours. Purple (used in lent and advent) is for preparing for the feast to come. White, the colour we use at Baptism, the colour of the light, is for the great feasts of celebration (Easter and Christmas). Green, the colour of new leaves of growing things, is for the Ordinary Time, that long time between feasts where thewoders of Jesus sit within us and grow and form us. And red the colour of fire, the flame of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. One of the songs the children love to sing to hep them remember the colours and what they mean has these words:
We meditate specifically on the church liturgical cycle using the Liturgical Calendar. The calendar is circular, as it represents that the years continue in a pattern that repeats. The calendar is read in an anticlockwise direction, to remind us that this is not the same time we live in, it is not like a clock, but it is different. It is God’s time.
The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season. What a wonderful way to finish off this season which we often connect with gift giving! The readings at Mass reflect on the story of wise men coming from the East to come and find the newborn king and do him homage.
Often, we reflect on these wise men, how did they know? Who were they? Why would they come? How did they feel when they found him in a manger? Did they still want to give their gifts?
Many reflect that the wise men coming from outside of Israel represent that the Messiah was for all people not just the “chosen people”.
In the atrium, we reflect with the youngest children about the wonderous events surrounding the birth of the child promised by the prophets. Isaiah tells us that he will have “the government on his shoulders and his name will be wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father and Prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and the book of Numbers says that a “star will come out of Jacob and a sceptre will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).
We ponder about who this child is born in a stable to a young mother? Who is he whose birth is announced even in the stars? Who is this child that visitors travel so far to greet?
The wise men or magi had been watching and waiting. They noticed the signs, perhaps before the people of Israel.
We ponder: How did they feel when they finally found him?
As the children get a little older we go deeper.
We often reflect on the plan of God;
“A plan has always existed in the mind of God, the aim of which is to bring humankind to the full enjoyment of God.” (Sofia Cavalletti, History of the Kingdom of God, Part 1, From Creation to Parousia, 1)
We may look at the gifts given to the baby. What kind of gifts do we normally give to newborn babies? Not the gifts given by the magi. What use were gold, frankincense and myrrh to a small child? Could they mean something more?
Did the magi know something more about this child? Did they know who he really was?
Consider gold, a gift fit for a king. What kind of king was this baby? King of what? King of who?
Frankincense, an offering to God. Did they know he was the Son of God?
Myrrh, used to anoint one who dies. A strange gift for someone beginning their life. Perhaps it may mean that this child would die, just like everyone else. He was human like us.