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.”

Christian Formation for Children

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the Christian formation program that is used at St. John’s for our children ages 3-12. It follows the educational principles of Maria Montessori. The children gather in an “atrium”, which is a special room prepared for them, which has beautiful handmade materials and items to teach our faith.IMG_1844

This is a true formation program for kids that focuses on growing a child’s relationship with God through a purposeful engagement with Holy Scripture and liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer.

The atrium environment is a prayerful “working space” that brings the Holy Spirit who is within the soul to direct children in growing a unique relationship with their heavenly Father.

The program brings together two great tools of Anglican Christian formation: the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer and our liturgical traditions.  Anglicans are “liturgical Christians.” Our Christian life is nourished and developed using these tools of our faith.

As adults we hear the scriptures on Sunday morning. We often take the scripture inserts in our Bulletin home so we can read them again and again, to more slowly hear and inwardly digest the Word of God. This method of learning allows adults time to meditate more deeply upon the life of Christ and perhaps speak to God in a thankful or hopeful prayer.

But young children need their own way into God’s Word. The atrium serves this purpose. It provides the child space and special materials to ponder a biblical passage or become familiar with prayers from the Prayer Book.

For example, children place wood figures of sheep in a sheepfold of the Good Shepherd and in doing this identify themselves as one of the sheep gathered with their Shepherd, or they set the apostles around a Last Supper table, or prepare a small altar with the furnishings used for the Holy Eucharist, or work with vestments and liturgical colors.

Older children who do read will copy parables from the Bible, or lay in order written prayers from the rite of Holy Baptism, or label a long time line showing the history of the growth of the kingdom of God.

Forming children and families in the historic faith is a principle goal of St. John’s Church, Fort Worth. Join us on Sunday morning and talk with one of our catechists about our program.

The Holy Eucharist – Part One

The principle means of Sunday morning worship worship at St. John’s is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. From the earliest days of Christianity “the chief act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day” (BCP, p. 13) has been eucharistic worship.

Gregory Dix (1901-1952), an English monk and priest of Nashdom Abbey which is an Anglican Benedictine community was a noted liturgical scholar. His book “The Shape of the Liturgy” remains a classic of research in the study of the apostolic church and the development of eucharistic liturgy.  He wrote that at the Mass enshrines “the eucharistic action, a thing of absolute simplicity— the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread and the taking, blessing, and giving of a cup of wine, as these were first done by a young Jew before and after supper with His friends on the night before He died. . . . He had told His friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning for the anamnesis of Him, and they have done it ever since. . . . week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.”  (Shape, pp 743)

When the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist she is most clearly being the Body of Christ, the people of God.  Like the sacrament of holy Baptism, the eucharistic mystery is rooted to the mystery of our Lord’s dying and rising. This is all by Jesus’ design that when the Holy Eucharist is celebrated the mystery of Calvary unfolds before us.  This is not some form of repetition as if their is a new sacrifice every Sunday, but rather through sacramental re-presentation to allow every baptized soul actual means to participate in the event that defeated Satan and all His spiritual forces of wickedness and that brought life and eternity to light!

The service of Holy Eucharist in the Book of Common Prayer follows the simple eucharistic actions of Jesus as He did them in the Upper Room on the night He instituted His passion.

Amen