Since 1997, I have belonged to five parishes, but no matter where I am during the Triduum, each year I have offered a series of three catechetical lessons, open to any children and their parents. In almost every case, these parishes have welcomed these presentations into the church proper (one year we had to retire to the church basement), and I have done them for the children at the foot of the altar. The first presentation is called "The Cenacle/Celebration of the Last Supper." To introduce this scripture, I begin by discussing the meaning of the Passover: an annual meal and great prayer that the Jews observe to celebrate that God sent Moses to free them from slavery. We dwell together on the amazing fact that the Passover Jesus celebrated at his Last Supper was the same one that had been celebrated for thousands of years, except that this time Jesus spoke some new words, great and loving and precious words that had never been said during a Passover before. Then I use the model, pictured above, and read from the Gospel (from the "real" Bible) account of the Last Supper. First the figures of St. Peter and St. John are sent to the city to prepare the room, then Jesus and the Twelve file into the model cenacle. The scripture ends with Jesus and the apostles singing a hymn and then going off to the Mount of Olives. The table, with its plate of bread and its cup and unlit candles are left alone in the room. We sing a hymn ourselves. Then I ask the children if they know what happened to Jesus as he was praying on the Mount of Olives that night. Once we establish that Jesus was arrested and died on the cross, I place a small standing crucifix on the little table. "But what happened on the third day?" All the children are bursting to share the news: "He rose from the dead!" So then I light the candles. The model cenacle now looks like this:
Then I ask the children, "What were those new, surprising, and loving words that Jesus said during the Last Supper that had never been said before at a Passover celebration?" The children, even the three year-olds, are so eager to tell me: "This is my body, take and eat...This is my blood...drink it in memory of me." We revel in the moment and then I ask them, "Where do we hear these same words today? Who says them?" Someone knows: it is the priest. I ask, "But whose words are they?" They all seem to understand that these words don't really belong to the priest, that he is repeating the words of Jesus. "He promised that he would always be with us, and he is! Jesus is with us still!" We sing some more, and then I invite the children to say something to Jesus for this amazing gift of himself that he gives to us. "Thank you;" "I love you;" "Thank you for feeding the sheep" (from a child who is familiar with St. John's parable of the good shepherd); "I want to be worthy of this;" "You're the greatest!"
When this presentation is over, we spread a large white sheet on the ground, I place a plate with a matzoh cracker on it and a chalice filled with grape juice on the sheet, and we each choose an apostle to be at the Last Supper. Each year I use a different method for deciding who will get to be Jesus (youngest child there, oldest child there, guessing numbers, etc.). After I begin reading the Gospel again, it is that child's job to repeat the words of Jesus after I read them and to break the matzoh into enough pieces that everyone can have one. We pass the plate and the cup (with a napkin to wipe the lip). We sing another hymn when it is time for Jesus and his followers to go to the Mount of Olives. Then we remember his death and Resurrection again (placing a large standing crucifix on our "table" and two full-sized candles and lighting them). We recall again the new, loving words Jesus spoke that night and try to imagine what it was like to be there, hearing them for the first time. We sing and pray some more, and then we all process to the church vestibule for more matzoh and grape juice until everyone's had their fill and is ready to go home.
From Catechesis of the Good Shepherd presentations developed by Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators in her catechetical center in Rome.
On Good Friday each year, the catechesis I offer to children (and their parents) of the parish concerns biblical geography. What does biblical geography have to do with Good Friday? I'm glad you asked...
We begin by looking at a small globe. First we locate where we are on the globe (in this case, Ohio), and then I turn the globe to show them a small red speck I have painted on the other side -- the land of Israel, that tiny country in which the greatest gift of God to us was first given. I ask them what that gift could be? "Jesus!" they all answer. Then I show them the relief map of Israel, giving as much or as little detail as the particular group seems able to absorb: the Mediterranean Sea on the left side of the map, how hilly this country is, the Jordan River that runs down the center and where Jesus was baptized, the Sea of Galilee at the upper end of the Jordan, the Dead Sea at the bottom...and then we discuss the three great cities: first Nazareth in the north, where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would have a most special and amazing child (there is a hole in which we place a marker with a dove of the Holy Spirit, to remind us of how Mary came to be pregnant there); then in the south, the town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born ("Today is born in this city a Savior, who is Christ the Lord"), and we place a marker with the star of Bethlehem to remind us of the sign in the sky that the Magi followed to find the new King; and finally, most precious of all the cities in the world, just a little to the north of Bethlehem...and I bring out the marker for Jerusalem, a golden cross, and hold it up for all the children to see before I ask, "What happened in Jerusalem that makes it the most holy, precious city of all?" The children see the cross and know, "Jesus died and rose from the dead there."
Then I show them this map, a model of the city of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. The base is made of wood, with a little bit of paper mache relief added to indicate the upper and lower cities, and the superior height of the Temple Mount. All the other parts of the city are made of wood and removable, and all are waiting on a cardboard mute map behind the model. Together, we slowly think about each element and then place it where it belongs on the city: first the walls (why would a city need walls? How precious this city is, how important to protect it!); the two pools (of Siloam, in the south, where Jesus sent the man born blind to wash the mud from his eyes, and of Bethsaida, near the temple, where the paralyzed man was waiting for an angel to disturb the surface of the water and Jesus healed him without even putting him in the water); the temple mount (so precious to Jesus, where his parents took him when he was a baby and Simeon held him and prayed to God, who keeps his promises...where he came as a boy to teach the elders...the place he called "My Father's house); and then the small cenacle, where we recall yesterday's lesson...
The cenacle is the small bi-level house in the center of this picture. We remember together those precious words of Jesus that he said at his Last Supper. Then I trace my finger through the city, and out through the gate, to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus walked to pray that night. We speak together about how Jesus was arrested there. Then I trace my finger back to the house of Caiphas (that fortress-like building to the northeast of the cenacle), and we speak together about how Jesus was questioned by the High Priest. Again I trace my finger through the city, where Jesus walked to be questioned by Pilate, in the Tower of Antonia, just north of the Temple. Next I place Herod's palace and show how Jesus walked from Pilate to Herod (where we dwell on the wickedness of Herod's desire to see Jesus work a magic trick) and back again to the Tower of Antonia, where Jesus received his death sentence. The material includes a small wooden cross, and now I use it to trace the route from the Tower of Antonia to Golgotha, outside the city in the far northwest corner of the model.There are two holes in the top of the model of the mount where Jesus was killed. The cross is erected in one, and we speak, with deep sadness, of Jesus' death there. Then I show them a small hole in the side of the mount, to indicate Jesus' tomb. We roll the huge stone over the opening. Then I ask, "But what happened on the third day?" The children are so happy and relieved to announce, "He rose from the dead!" I roll the stone away from the hole and tell of how the three women came with spices for Jesus' body, but when they arrived, they saw the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty, and young man, dressed all in white, was sitting on the stone. He asked them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is risen!" Then we sing, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." I place a candle in the second hole, and light it.
Then we recall those precious, new words that Jesus spoke in the cenacle, at the Last Supper and remember that those words are still repeated today, at Mass...Jesus is with us still. He promised never to leave us, and he has kept his promise! Finally, we sing many songs together, and then I invite the children to say something to Jesus about all we have thought about together today. "Sorry;" "Thank you;" "I wish I could love like you;" "You're better than the best!" Then we sing some more.
From Catechesis of the Good Shepherd presentations developed by Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators at her catechetical center in Rome.
The final Triduum presentation I do each year is a catechetical lesson on the Liturgy of Light, offered on Holy Saturday morning to all the children of the parish. First we read the greeting that the priest offers to all those assembled at the Easter Vigil:
Dear Friends in Christ, on this most holy night, when our Lord Jesus Christ passed from death to life, the Church invites her children throughout the world to come together in vigil and prayer.Then we read the prayer for blessing the Paschal candle, using our simple model of the candle to meditate more deeply on the words. I invite the children to come forward to trace their thumbs on the candle and repeat the words of the prayer:
This is the Passover of the Lord: if we honor the memory of his death and resurrection by hearing his word and celebrating his mysteries, then we may be confident that we shall share his victory over death and live with him for ever in God.
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