Characteristic #24 The tasks of the catechist include:
- to go deeper into the Christian message through the knowledge of the biblical and liturgical sources and of ongoing living tradition of the church, including the theological, social and ecumenical movements which enliven the church today;
- preparing an environment and maintaining order in that environment (the atrium) so that it fosters concentration, silence and contemplation in both the child and adult;
- preparing the materials oneself as much as possible while collaborating with others in areas that are beyond one’s abilities.
The second part of this characteristic focuses on the Catechist’s role in preparing the environment. This is the sacred space where will encounter God as they work with the materials. This requires a time commitment on the part of the catechist outside of the time you are working with the children. To help the children create order internally and externally it should start with an orderly environment in which they can work.
The atrium session is not the time to be sorting shelves, fixing materials or replacing missing or broken pieces. Of course, there will be times when things get missed and order may need to be restored on the spot. For the most part, however, the catechist should make themselves aware of what needs maintenance and plan to do this before or after the atrium time.
I have often heard catechists talking about modelling for the children cleaning or polishing so as to entice the children to join them. Each situation is unique and there may be merit in this approach, however this should not be the norm. During the atrium session our primary role is that of observer. Our second role is that of guide or presenter of materials for the child’s contemplation. The adult should become invisible to the child so that their focus is on Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit.
The atrium environment should be one that fosters silence, concentration and contemplation in both the child and the adult. How can that occur if we are chatting with another adult or child? If the adult is unable to keep their body still and meditative, how can we expect that from a child? It is a great challenge to remain quiet and just observe in the atrium. It is a challenge that I believe will be worth trying and noting what changes it may bring to the atrium.
In an article “The Religious Experience of the Child Three to Six” (Journals of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd 1995) Gianna Gobbi remarks
“…the attitude and posture needed by the adult in our work should rather be one of humble observer. In the child, there exists a hidden, but profoundly religious nature, which the child desires to live out. For a child to reveal this true nature the adult needs to be prepared for the task of helping this revelation to occur. We need to recognize that our primary call is to be a humble and attentive observer of life.”
Maria Montessori’s guide for the preparation of the teacher gives these points, worth contemplating:
- Learn SILENCE
- Rather than teach, OBSERVE
- Instead of assuming self-pride that makes oneself important, one must put on the mantle of HUMILITY.
- We might add to this list the need for STILLNESS and
- Openness to LISTENING.
In her article “Action and Contemplation” (Journals of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd 2001) Sofia Cavalletti speaks of the contemplative nature of our observations:
“When one speaks of contemplation, one means, instead, an attitude that leaves aside specific activity…Contemplation is an attitude in which the searching moment has been overcome, and within which prevails a tranquil look that rests upon the known object.”
My challenge to you as an observer is to sit quietly. Set aside a minimum of 20 minutes in your atrium session to observe. While you sit take notes. These notes will be invaluable to you as you grow and develop as a catechist and as your get to know each child and their needs.