Simplicity and Essentiality. The Liturgy and the art of catechesis with Children.

Atrium 2014 017This blog continues our reflection on the methods and ideas of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The Eucharistic service in the Book of Common Prayer has a central and meaningful place in the Atrium.

The word “liturgy” has it’s roots in secular classical Greek. It meant a “public work” that was undertaken on behalf of the “people or community.”  When we look in the Bible in the Old Testament the word “liturgy” refers to the divine worship and ministry of the Levite priesthood. In the New Testament, in the Letter to the Hebrews, for example, it referred to the priestly work of Jesus Christ. St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans refers to his own priestly ministry among the Gentiles in this same way, as a priestly service.

For the early Christians they used the word “liturgy” to illustrate their belief that the worship of God in Christ was done for the benefit of all people and the world. Liturgy for them meant primarily the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  The Mass was the Lord’s way of bringing His passion and cross to bear upon every generation.  Jesus becomes our food and our life.  When the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist she fully becomes the body of Christ.

In his book, “For the Life of the World”, Fr. Alexander Schmemann explains the Eucharistic liturgy in this way.  He writes that by means of the Eucharistic “leitourgia” the baptized “become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals, [leitourgia makes] the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts.”  (p 25).

Liturgy allows us to become the Church in the world.  The Church gathered at Eucharist become the chosen instrument of God’s grace and purpose, acting after the fashion of Christ. This worship enables the Church to become God’s sacrament in the world.  The language of the liturgy helps to unfold the living reality of the new era of Christ’s victory into our day and time.  The Holy Eucharist, in its entirety, from beginning to end, is God’s “epiklesis,” that is, His “coming down” of the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify.

Children and the Liturgy

So, what is this blog addressing with regard to children?  First we are acknowledging that children truly experience God through the liturgy in beautiful ways. They experience the sacramental reality of Christ.  The second is that this capacity is due in part to children’s ability to make sense of the simplicity and essentiality of liturgy and faith. When children experience God in this way they are being catechizing at the deepest levels where the soul can connect to God.  Children discover that God builds a lifelong relationship with them through the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.

Our Anglican liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer provides this organic catechesis for our children.  This is one reason why the Eucharistic liturgy plays such an important role in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

When working with children it’s important for the catechist to stay focused on the simplicity and essentials of the liturgy.  This clarity of focus requires demanding preparation on the part of the catechist.  It’s so easy to “talk over the heads” of children (and adults) or to “dumb things down.”  To avoid this the catechist must maintain clarity.  Otherwise essentials can be lost in secondary actions and words.

Sofia Cavalletti writes, “I want to affirm the conviction that simplicity is found in the elementary and that the greatest of realities are simple and essential. Simplicity and essentiality are inseparable and are characteristic of what is most profound. Is there anything simpler, more essential, than a morsel of bread, a few drops of wine? And yet, it is by means of these that the Christian community lives its greatest realities. It is through simplicity that we attain profundity.

If we were to focus on the fundamental elements of the liturgy and to contemplate them in themselves without allowing ourselves to be distracted by peripheral matters, then they would disclose to us unfathomable depths capable of nourishing our Christian life with the most nutritious food.  These basic elements contain within themselves something like a highly concentrated light, capable of illuminating the Christian mystery in its depth and breadth. Sometimes, though, the genuine concern for knowledge can degenerate into intellectualism and obscure this light.”  —  Sofia Cavalletti, from her Introduction for “The History of the Kingdom of God, Part II: Liturgy and the Building of the Kingdom.”

Growing the “Anglican way.”

The people of St. John’s are dedicated to Jesus Christ and to His Church. Looking at Sunday morning alone and what is involved in orchestrating three services on Sunday morning, from altar guild, choirs, readers, coffee hour in-between, Sunday school, adult formation, and vestry coverage and so much more, we easily have over 65 people committed weekly to responsibilities and schedules that make everything come together and work so smoothly.

Looking beyond Sundays the list goes on. Hours of office work generate material and scheduling that supports our ministry. Leadership in ministry areas work through plans, clean and set up, they organize, rehearse and practice instruments, and assemble people. Those who teach our children and provide adult formation devote hours weekly to prayer, study, sometimes even building materials, and working through lessons. All of this is done so we may open our doors and greet the people God sends our way. This happens every week of the year.

The fruit of this weekly labor is producing at St. John’s the “Anglican way.” That is, God is worshiped and loved, and His people are fed with His Word and Sacraments. Space is made for anyone to find a quiet place for prayer and communion with God. The historic truths of the Christian faith are preached and celebrated. God’s love and assurance is made manifest in a community spirit.

The conduct of liturgy at St. John’s is based on a simplicity that is true historic Anglican catholic worship. Simplicity is not blandness, casualness, or negligence. Simplicity affords concentration that allows our worship to focus on the themes provided by scripture, music, prayer, and receiving Christ at the Altar. Our worship has two integrated components: Word and Sacrament. We proclaim the Word of God (the Bible) and receive in Holy Communion the Word of God (Jesus).

The bottom line is that God is everyday at work in what we do. In fact, He is always doing more in our midst then we can ask or imagine. The Holy Spirit has given us the gift of faith, and we count it a blessing at St. John’s to be Christ’s servants to make a broken world whole.