Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
“If we want to help the child draw nearer to god, we should with patience and courage… seek to go always closer to the vital nucleus of things. This requires study and prayer. The child himself will be our teacher if we know how to observe him.” -Sofia Cavalletti
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the curriculum we offer at Saint Vincent de Paul Church but has been used in parishes throughout the world for over 60 years. It is based on building a personal relationship with Jesus the Good Shepherd, through prayer, Scripture, and Liturgy. The Diocese of Orange has decided to join many of the other Diocese throughout the country who have already adopted this program into their faith formation curriculum. It involves a tremendous commitment for teacher formation (training), space and materials. We rejoice in the dedication, expertise, and ongoing training of our staff and volunteers, the support of our priests and parish community, and most importantly, the growth that we anticipate seeing in our children’s spiritual development.
Since 1954, in Rome, Italy, Sofia Cavalletti has pursued the revelation of the young child’s religious potential through sixty years of research and published material beginning with infants through elementary levels. With the “self-teaching” principles of Maria Montessori and the theological moorings of a Hebrew scholars, Scripture studies and Roman Catholic liturgy and doctrine, Cavalletti and her co-worker, Gianna Gobbi, developed an approach which not only appealed to the profound religious intuition of younger and older children, but which evolved from the children themselves. Today the work (still active in Rome) has emerging centers all over the world.
Philosophy - God and Child with the Adult
An interpersonal relationship is always a mystery, all the more so when that relationship is between God and the child. We believe that there is a deep bond between God and the child which produces in the child the desire to draw near to God. The catechists’ role is to prepare the environment and to make presentations that “call forth” the child’s response rather than “pour in” information. They listen with the child and together ask, “God, who are you? How do you love us?” The adult is a co-wonderer with the child as they together enjoy meditating on the questions generated by the Scriptures with the prepared environment as a developmental aid.
The Atrium - The Prepared Environment
The atrium is one of the elements that helps this relationship between God and the child to flourish. After a theme has been presented, the child is free to choose a work/an activity that will make possible the inner dialogue with the “Interior Teacher, the Holy Spirit.” The atrium helps to nourish this relationship in several ways: the atrium can be compared to a retreat house facilitating recollection and silence; the atrium is a place for religious life, for community and worship—not a classroom for instruction; the atrium is a place of work which becomes a conversation with God; the atrium was the place in the early church where the catechumens were prepared. For the child, too, the atrium is a place of preparation for involvement in the larger parish community.
Level 1 - For the Young Child (Ages 3-6)
The 3-6 year-old child is particularly capable of receiving and enjoying the most essential elements of our faith—the announcement of God’s love, in the person of the Good Shepherd, who died and is risen.Materials on the life of Christ and his teachings help make the mystery of God concrete for the child. The geography materials establish Jesus as a real person in the time and space and Israel as the land through which God realized salvation for all. Infancy narratives announce the Incarnation with the words of Scripture, moving from the Annunciation, to the Birth of Christ, to the Flight into Egypt. The model of Jerusalem and the empty tomb are the starting point for the Paschal narratives which the child lives in a special way in celebrating the Liturgy of Light.Selected parables serve as keys to unlock the mystery of the kingdom of God and to nurture the child’s natural sense of wonder. How beautiful and precious is the kingdom of God! How small it begins! How slowly it grows! How magnificent it becomes!Through the arranging of the chalice, paten, altar cloth, candles, and crucifix, the child becomes familiar with the articles of the Eucharist. The child lives his relationship with God in a particular way in the liturgy—the child enters the mystery of the Eucharist through the most important gestures including the preparation of the chalice, the epiclesis and offering, and the gesture of peace. From these gestures the Eucharist emerges as the Sacrament of the Gift. The child becomes acquainted with the historical character of the liturgy through the events of the Last Supper, Christ’s death, and His resurrection.The liturgical colors and calendar situate the child in the Church year, expressing the Paschal Mystery—Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Our prayer table reflects the liturgical cycle with appropriate colors, prayers, and songs.
Level 2 - For the Older Child (Ages 6-9)
While the heart of the catechesis for the child under six revolves around the parable of the Good Shepherd, the elementary age child is captured by the image of the True Vine. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.” The proclamation responds to the deep need of the older child to know better his relationships with God, family, friends, and the larger community.The child, at this age, seeks guidelines. The moral parables offer a model of comparing behavior with that of the Pharisee, the Tax Collector, the Good Samaritan, the Found Sheep, the Found Coin, and the Prodigal Son. The proclamation and meditation stress God’s love, which is constantly forgiving. The elementary children see the parts of the Eucharist—the Liturgy of the Word, the Preparation of the Gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Communion—as one unity.The imagination of the older child and his or her agility with the concept of time are powerful stimuli to explore the past and the future. The first time line, a ribbon fifty meters long, focuses on the high points in the history of salvation from the creation through the redemption to the parousia.Another presentation focuses on the many gifts received from God—rocks, minerals, flowers, fruit, friends, family—culminating in God’s gift of His own divine life in the person of Jesus, a gift which will pervade the whole universe at the completion of history. In Level 2 the children are also prepared at their own pace to receive the Sacraments of First Reconciliation and First Eucharist.
Level 3 - For the Oldest Child (Ages 9-12)
For the 9-12-year-olds, a third presentation of the history of salvation focuses on the plan of God in history as a plan of communion, a plan which links all people together. The emphasis is on our response to the unfolding generosity of God and the responsibilities that come with receiving God’s great gifts. “What is the kingdom of God and my place in it?” is a cosmic query which begins to lay the foundations for the life’s commitment.