Be an Amazing Catechist
Holy, Holy, Holy: Teaching Reverence to Children
When you step through the doorway of a church you are leaving the outer-world behind and entering an inner world. The outside world is a fair place abounding in life and activity, but also a place with a mingling of the base and ugly. It is a sort of market place, crossed and recrossed by all and sundry. Perhaps 'unholy' is not quite the word for it, yet there is something profane about the world. Behind the church doors is an inner place, separated from the market place, a silent, consecrated and holy spot. It is very certain that the whole world is the work of God and his gift to us, that we may meet Him anywhere, that everything we receive is from God's hand, and, when received religiously, is holy. Nevertheless men have always felt that certain precincts were in a special manner set apart and dedicated to God. ~ From Sacred Signs by Romano Guardini
Teaching reverence to children can at first seem an impossible task, but the catechist who personally embodies a tender reverence for the sacred easily communicates that sense of love, wonder, and awe to children. They are hungry for it, even if it is not evident at first.
With an unhealthy surplus of technology, entertainment, and information overloading their senses and fragmenting their ability to focus, children today struggle more than ever before to find the quiet within themselves, the place where God's voice can be heard. Yet it is true that all human persons long for communion with others, for love, and for experiences of awe and wonder.
Our visible churches, holy places, are images of the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, toward which we are making our way on pilgrimage. (CCC 1198)
And since it is also true that Christ is the One in whom all things find their fulfillment (Eph. 1:10), it is in Him and through Him that we will teach our students to gaze upon, contemplate, and appreciate what is holy. With His help we will train their minds and bodies to the gentle task of worship, and help them enter more fully into the life of the Church.
- Pray with them. A decade of the Rosary takes five minutes and is very powerful. Be reverent, ask the Holy Spirit to be with you, and entrust the souls of the children to His protective and healing love.
- Invite priests and religious to visit your classroom. Prepare a song or a verse from scripture that the children can perform all together for their special visitor. Teach the children to rise when the visitor enters and greet him/her in unison. Encourage the children to ask respectful questions. Teach them to express their gratitude when the visit comes to an end.
- Bring them to Church as much as possible. First drill them in reverent behavior in class, miming as necessary, and then make trips to your parish church. Have them practice blessing themselves with holy water as a reminder of their baptisms and their membership in the family of God. Teach them to enter and exit the pews reverently, genuflecting with their eyes on the tabernacle. Encourage them to greet Jesus in the silence of their hearts. Bring them to pray before the tabernacle on their knees or—better yet—take them to Adoration.
Teach them a short prayer to say ("Jesus, I adore you," is nice and simple) and remind them that they are entering into the presence of the Most High King, who longs to give them beautiful gifts of grace. Walk them through the Stations of the Cross and tell the story in your own words. Have half the class say, "We adore you oh Christ and we praise you . . ." and the other half say, "For by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world." Half way through, switch parts. Point out any adults praying in the pews. Seeing their reverence can be a wonderful example and remind the children they are on holy ground.
- Teach them about sacramentals. Rosary beads, blessed candles, holy water, and religious medals are all easily obtained and interesting to children. Have them line up and venerate a Crucifix or the relic of a saint by genuflecting one at a time, placing a kiss on their fingertips and touching them to the holy object. Teach them a simple grace to say at mealtimes, a morning prayer, and the guardian angel prayer. Prayers for blessings are also sacramental and efficacious in drawing our hearts to Christ. For some sample prayers, visit my website.
- Show them beautiful religious objects and artwork. Save your better Christmas and Easter cards to use as visual aids. Take them to see the statues, stained glass windows, and other works of art found in your parish church. Put religious art posters on the walls of your classroom. Invite them to create religious art of their own at home and display them around the classroom.
If you're worried you might have trouble inspiring children to this kind of reverence, join the club. I don't know an adult who has achieved perfect devotion. We're all just doing our best and relying on God to complete what we leave unfinished. But do ask for His help. Get down on your knees and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with awe at the greatness and beauty of our God. He won't fail you. And once it's real for you, it will be real for the children.
I welcome your tips, insights, questions, and comments. God bless you!
Lisa Mladinich is a Catholic wife and mother, catechist and workshop leader, and the author of the popular booklets, "Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children," and "Be an Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation" available from Our Sunday Visitor. She is the founder of www.AmazingCatechists.com.