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Learning by Heart: The Two Great Commandments
by Judith Costello
This teaching tool uses visual clues to trigger memorization.

This teaching tool uses visual clues to trigger memorization. Presented as a puzzle, it is a unique way to remember key elements of our faith, including prayers, Scripture, facts on Catholic teachings and traditions.


Why should we, as catechists, include learning by heart—memorization—in our methodologies? Here’s what you need to know:


* “While the content of the faith cannot be reduced to formulas that are repeated without being properly understood, learning by heart has had a special place in catechesis and should continue to have that place in catechesis today” (National Directory for Catechesis, n. 29F).

 * Memorizing has been proven to strengthen the mind. Like pulling clay, memorizing makes the mind more flexible, capable of grasping and retaining more information. Memorization helps learners grasp information about the Church and our Catholic faith. 

* Memorizing helps key elements of our faith—including prayers, Scripture, Catholic teachings and traditions—take root in the mind. Learners can retrieve the information when it is most needed, often during times of crisis.

* Understanding and committing to memory key elements of Catholic teaching helps students learn by heart so that they can live by faith.


Here is a Learning by Heart exercise to use with your students.


The Two Great Commandments


Use this exercise to supplement a lesson about the Two Great Commandments. The exercise can help your students learn by heart Jesus’ response to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” He summarizes the entire Ten Commandments (from Exodus 20:1-17) into Two Great Commandments. He changes the language from “Thou shall not” to “You shall.”


This is an important change. The Ten Commandments are worded like a loving parent would guide a toddler: Do not…go into the street. Do not…leave the yard. Do not…talk to strangers. These words protect and set boundaries. But the words of the Two Great Commandments are the words of a loving parent to an older child who is ready for a deeper level of understanding. They are presented as positive actions to take.


The boundaries of the Ten Commandments are the framework around our lives. The guidance of the Two Great Commandments is like painting within that framework.


Jesus’ words were, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:25-28, Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2196).


Using the Puzzle Page

This puzzle [CLICK HERE FOR STUDENT PAGE] can help students learn this verse by heart. Here’s how to use it:

1. Before presenting this exercise, review the puzzle and become familiar with the images used in association with the words [CLICK HERE FOR CATECHIST PAGE]:

* Words referring to God in this puzzle (Lord, God) are represented by a decorative knot pattern for the first letter of that word. The ancient Book of Kells (a beautifully illustrated rendition of the Gospels created by Celtic monks around 800 a.d.) uses this kind of elegant imagery to indicate “sacredness.”

* The action word love is represented by a hand offering a heart (love).

* “Your heart” is represented by two hands holding a heart (all your heart).

* “Your soul,” immortal and created by God, is represented by a spirit body inside a human form.

* “Your mind” and “your strength” are represented by hands pointing to the head (mind) and muscles (strength).

* “Your neighbor” is represented by a ring of paper people in a circle of love.

* “Yourself” is represented by hands resting against a human form (self).

2. Review with students what Jesus taught about loving God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves. Jesus asks for our total commitment and dedication. We are to give God our entire being. (With younger students, repeat the exact words of Jesus at least twice.)

3. Have students work the puzzle by writing on the lines the words associated with the images to end up with the Two Great Commandments.

4. Students can color or decorate the page to create a poster.

5. Repeat the words of Jesus again as a group.

6. Ask students to memorize this verse.

7. Repeat the exercise as often as needed, discussing the meaning and saying the words of Jesus. Remind students that these commandments can be found in three of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.


Judith Costello, MA, writes for national and regional publications and is a Third Order Carmelite (OCSD). She is an artist, freelance writer, and catechist. Judith can be reached at



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