Any time we visit or relocate to a foreign country where another language is spoken, it behooves us to learn that language. Catechesis is nothing other than a process of inviting those we teach to enter into a “foreign land”, namely, the Kingdom of God, a place where people act differently and live differently.
Research shows that children around the age of six or seven are at their peak when it comes to second language acquisition skills. First Eucharist preparation is an ideal time to help children and their families “relocate”.
In order for us to help those we teach to become better acclimated to this new “place” called the Kingdom of God, we need to teach them the language that is spoken there—a language that relies less on an alphabet and more on expressions that ignite the imagination. What are the elements of this language of mystery that we can help children to acquire?
Sign and Symbol
In the Kingdom of God, “sign language” is spoken. Think about how Moses was drawn to encounter God: not through a wordy invitation, but through the sign of a burning bush. Signs and symbols speak directly to the heart through the imagination. Set up a prayer space with important symbols of our Catholic faith such as a crucifix and a rosary. Invite children to bring in their own symbols.
Rituals are common in the Kingdom of God. Rituals awaken a deeper level of consciousness within us—that place where the spirit dwells. Take advantage of the opportunities to engage children in rituals in your learning space: blessings, processions, ritual “greetings” such as “Taste and see how good the Lord is”. R: “Happy are those who take refuge in him”.
Movement and Gesture
One of the ways of speaking to the heart (and not just to the mind) is through prayerful movement and gesture. In the Kingdom of God, people are less on the move—not just mindlessly fidgeting, but moving prayerfully as though each action is saying something. Spirit and body are conjoined. Teach children reverent gestures like the Sign of the Cross, the threefold Sign of the Cross on our forehead, lips, and heart, bowing, and genuflecting.
The primary form of expression in the Kingdom of God is silence. Author Thomas Keating tells us that “Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God.” One of the gifts you can give children as they prepare for First Eucharist is the Gift of Silence. Don’t hesitate to take the children to Eucharistic Adoration and invite them to talk to Jesus in silence about their desire to receive him.
Few things can touch our hearts and transport us to another state of mind better than music and song. There are nearly 100 references in the Psalms that command the use of music to praise God and identify God as the audience for such songs of praise (i.e., “O sing to the Lord a new song,” Psalm 96:1). Lucky for us, God loves music. And of course, so do children. Music and singing are integral to your First Eucharist preparation.
Stories create worlds and new realities. In the Kingdom of God, it is always story time. Approximately one-third of the recorded sayings of Jesus are contained in parables. Jesus’ stories tap into our imaginations, compelling us to consider the possibility of an alternative reality. At the top of your storytelling list for First Eucharist should be the Exodus/Passover story, the Loaves and Fishes, and, of course, the Last Supper.
The language of mystery predisposes children to the possibility of an alternate reality called the Kingdom of God. If things were simply as they appeared, we would have no need for catechesis. However, life’s ultimate meaning is veiled and mysterious. As such, we catechize others to incorporate these various elements of the language of mystery into their souls’ daily diet that will soon be fed by the ultimate food served in the Kingdom of the Eucharist.
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is the national consultant for faith formation for Loyola Press. He is the author of numerous best-selling books including his most recent, 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness. Joe is a 6th-grade catechist and blogs about his experience at www.catechistsjourney.com.
This article was originally published in RTJ’s creative catechist January 2013.
Image: Avalon_Studio, istock