Making Catechetical Sunday Last All Year Long
by Kate Ristow
Each year, on the third weekend of September, we celebrate Catechetical Sunday. We honor catechists and their service to the ministry of the Word.
For an idea on creating a visual aid for proclaiming Scripture and involving junior high students in a new ministry, see STORY TIME MINISTRY at the end of this article.
Each year, on the third weekend of September, we celebrate Catechetical Sunday. We honor catechists and their service to the ministry of the Word. In most parishes, catechists are commissioned at weekend Masses.
Hopefully, the observance of Catechetical Sunday helps all parishioners recognize that they, too, have a pivotal role to play in catechetical ministry. Through Baptism, we are all called to proclaim God’s Word through our daily words and actions and to keep God’s Word alive in our hearts and community.
This year’s theme for Catechetical Sunday is “Catechesis and the Proclamation of the Word.” Catechetical leaders, DREs, and coordinators can visit the Catechetical Sunday website provided by the USCCB (usccb.org/catecheticalsunday) to find a wealth of resources for celebrating this year’s theme. This new website takes the place of the printed booklet that has been available in the past from the USCCB.
Catechetical Sunday All Year
As important as Catechetical Sunday is, keep in mind that it is designed to be just the beginning of a year celebrating the prominent role of God’s Word in our Church and in our lives. Below you will find ideas and activities for nurturing the seeds sown on Catechetical Sunday.
* Present each catechist with a good study edition of the Bible for his or her own growth throughout the year. The Bible is an important symbol of their ministry. If funding for this purchase presents a difficulty, invite your parish women’s club, Knights of Columbus chapter, or another parish organization to donate the money to make the gift possible.
* Ask a Boy Scout troop leader to work with scouts interested in earning their woodworking merit badges to craft Bible stands for classroom prayer tables. Have a sample on hand to demonstrate what you are looking for. Offer to supply the wood and other materials. Once completed, ask a priest or deacon to preside over a blessing ritual attended by all grade level classes. As the new Bible stands are blessed, ask the presider to emphasize that they hold God’s precious Word and remind us that God continues to speak to us today.
* Ask catechists to enthrone the Bible in their classrooms to emphasize the importance of proclaiming and studying the Scriptures. Choose a student to carry the raised Bible and have the rest of the students process to the prayer table. After the Bible has been placed on its new stand, invite students to reverence the Scriptures by bowing before the Bible or tracing the sign of the cross on the open pages of the book. Then together proclaim, “We love your Word, O, God!”
* Gather catechists together early in the year for a workshop on better understanding the Bible or an evening of reflection on praying with the Scriptures. Use materials from the Catechetical Sunday website or invite a guest speaker to be your presenter. Explain to the speaker that you want this event to be an experience for the catechists, with time for shared reflection, rather than a lecture or class.
* Let parents know that you will be emphasizing Scripture in a special way throughout the year at every grade level. You might do this at a parent meeting or open house or via e-mail or a letter mailed to each household. Involve the parents in this effort by encouraging them to read and discuss the Scripture story in their children’s texts each week or to spend family time reading and “breaking open” the Sunday Gospel.
* Encourage catechists to create an atmosphere in which the Scripture stories they proclaim come to life by enlisting parents’ help in assembling a “Scripture Prop Box.” Include in the box robes, colorful pieces of fabric that can be used as head coverings when tied on with rope or yarn, a few wooden canes to serve as shepherds’ crooks, or even cardboard angel wings made by an enterprising parent. Invite catechists to look ahead to the Scripture stories presented in their text and to ask parents to make or donate specific items that are featured in the stories.
* At a catechist gathering, remind catechists that this year is dedicated to their ministry of proclaiming God’s Word. Explain that this meeting is devoted to introducing them to biblical tools available in your religious education resource center or parish library—Bible atlases, concordances, the lectionary, Bible dictionaries, and other reference materials that help us to grow in our understanding of God’s Word or enrich our classes.
This should be a very practical, “hands-on” session. Take a few moments to explain the purpose of every resource you display on a large table and allow time for the staff to page through those that most interest them. For example, some catechists may simply be unaware of how the lectionary differs from the Scriptures or what a concordance is and how it can be used. Invite catechists to suggest different ways they can utilize these various resources in their classrooms. Explain that concordances can be used to create simple, Scripture-based prayer services with older students. Use the ideas in “A Concordance-based Prayer Service” below for catechists to work together to create a concordance-based prayer service.
* Invite catechists to grow in their knowledge of Scripture by participating in a Bible study program that you have helped them organize. Plan monthly or weekly day and evening sessions so that staff members can choose the time slots that best meets their needs.
Consider using a program recommended by your diocesan office or one of these resources designed for Scripture study: Journey into the Bible (Ligouri); Sunday by Sunday (Good Ground Press); Echoes of Faith Plus “The Scriptures” (RCL Benziger); or Little Rock Scripture Study (Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas). Several of these programs need no formal facilitator; participants can take turns leading the group. If a facilitator is required, consider asking a parish deacon to take on this responsibility or to share it with you.
* Well in advance of your next catechist meeting, notify the staff members that you want them to think of favorite Scripture stories that have special significance for them. Ask them to come prepared to proclaim the Scriptures and to discuss them with their peers.
When the catechists gather, have them sit according to grade level and allow time for them to tell their chosen stories to their small group. This will give even the shyest catechist practice in proclaiming the Word. Afterwards, encourage everyone to share with the group why the stories they chose are meaningful for them.
A Concordance-based Prayer Service
Distribute a paperback concordance and a Bible to each table of catechists. Make sure the concordance “matches” the Bible; if you use the New American Bible in your program, use New American concordances. Explain that a concordance is like a dictionary without definitions. Each word in the Bible is listed in alphabetical order, but instead of a definition, the entry gives references where the word can be found, along with a pithy fragment of each specific passage.
Assign a different topic to each table. For example: faith, hope, and love (the three theological virtues) or the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Ask participants to look up the biblical passages listed for each word and choose two or three that “speak” to them.
Then call the group together and pray, “Loving God, your gifts of faith, hope, and love help us to grow closer to you and to one another. We praise and reflect on these precious and life-giving gifts.” Proclaim the name of the first virtue and invite the catechists to read aloud the Scriptures they chose that are related to this virtue. Allow a few moments of silence following each reading. Do the same with the other virtues. Then ask the catechists to share together at their tables how important these virtues are in their lives and in their ministry.
Conclude by praying together the Lord’s Prayer and blessing each catechist, inviting the Lord to increase their faith, hope, and love in all they do.
* Encourage catechists to take their students on a tour of the church sanctuary, pointing out the ambo, where the lector and the priest or deacon proclaim God’s Word at Mass. Take time to practice the assembly’s responses after the Word is proclaimed: “Thanks be to God” and “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”
* Encourage catechists to help their students recognize that we also proclaim and celebrate God’s Word in song. Have catechists who work with older students bring to class hymnals used in Sunday liturgy. Challenge students to look through the hymnals to find specific songs that cite Scripture references. Supply Bibles so that students can cross-reference the words in a song with the Scripture citations. Invite students to locate the words or themes from the songs in their Bibles.
* Provide opportunities throughout the year for catechists and students to proclaim the Word at prayer services, class Masses, grade level events, and catechist meetings. Notify parents when their child is chosen as a reader or lector, and supply the family with a copy of the reading so they can practice at home. Give catechists ample time to prepare to proclaim Scripture in front of a group. This will strengthen them in their ability and eagerness to share God’s Word publicly.
* Challenge intermediate and junior high students to work in small groups to create ten Bible-based questions. Set some ground rules: The questions must to be based on a story they studied during this year and the questions must be fact-based. (Where did Jesus first preach? When did Jesus give us the gift of the Eucharist? What prayer did Jesus teach the Apostles?) Have each group neatly print its questions on index cards. The questions will vary in difficulty depending on the age group.
Use the questions to conduct a Bible Bee at a family Bible Night or a year-end celebration. Encourage parents, as well as students, to be contestants.
* Work with the catechists at each grade level to choose a Bible-related activity they can plan for a year-end family Bible Fest. For example, fifth-graders might perform a choral reading of a psalm or the Prologue to John’s Gospel. Second-graders can act out the story of the Forgiving Father. Sixth-graders might introduce their families to key figures from the Old Testament. Another grade level can create and display dioramas of favorite Bible stories, while different grade levels can prepare simple opening and closing prayer services for the event. First-graders might sing a song based on one of the stories they’ve learned, and junior high students can decorate the space with a “Biblical Time” ambiance that reflects the stories they’ve studied during the year.
In short, ensure that every grade level has a meaningful activity to plan. Broach this idea to the staff early in the year to allow ample time for planning and preparation. Invite families to participate well in advance and advertise the event with personal invitations and bulletin announcements.
Kate Ristow, Contributing Editor to CATECHIST, is National Catechetical Consultant for RCL Benziger. She has been involved in children’s religious education for over 25 years as a Catholic-school teacher and parish catechist.
Story Time Ministry
Get junior high students involved in the proclamation of God’s Word by using the ideas below.
Invite junior high students or Confirmation candidates to make flannel boards for each primary classroom to assist catechists in proclaiming the Word to young children. You will need large foam core board pieces (available from art supply stores) and black felt. Have students lightly glue the fabric to the foam core boards to cover the entire front side.
Kits of flannel figures can be purchased from religious goods stores—individual packs for specific stories or large kits that can be used to illustrate almost every story in the Bible. The flannel figures in the individual kits are usually perforated and can be punched out easily; the figures in the large kits must be carefully cut out with scissors. Volunteers can take a sheet or two home to work on, or the group may enjoy coming together to cut the individual pieces. Have them place the completed figures in large envelopes labeled with a list of the pieces inside.
Help volunteers get even more involved in proclaiming God’s Word by encouraging them to work with a catechist who teaches preschool or primary-level students to select a Bible story they can tell to the children using the flannel board and figures. This activity may seem less threatening to your volunteers if you suggest they “pair up” with another student.
Well in advance of the time when volunteers actually working with the children, ask catechists to supply older students with a copy of the story they want them to share with the class. Emphasize the importance of practicing—knowing the story by heart and using the figures with ease. Plan a “dress rehearsal” so that the volunteers have the opportunity to perform their story for an audience before facing the classroom.
Afterwards, affirm your storytellers for their efforts and invite them to become part of a new ministry: Story Time. Ask them to commit to a specific number of story presentations in the coming year, perhaps two or three. Keep their involvement realistic so that they are not overwhelmed and will enjoy sharing God’s Word with your youngest students.
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