Greetings, friends of Brigid.
At this half-way point in the semester, we are now plunging headlong into one of Teach Bhríde’s greatest ministries—the catechesis of young children in preparation for the sacraments. It is a beautifully sacred duty….that honestly kind of terrifies me. In fact, I have fluctuated between various degrees of nervousness about it ever since Joy and Mary assigned the main jobs to each of us over the summer and picked me for the First Communion coordinator.
In what limited experience I have in working with youth in the past, I have discovered that the older the teenagers, the better I am at communicating with and relating to them. I’m a wordy guy, and even my best attempts to distill and simplify seem to stop short of meeting the younger kids at their level. Now, this is an observation I’ve made based on my work with teenagers of different ages. Here in Ireland, children are not yet even teenagers when they get confirmed. Usually, they are confirmed at age 11 or 12. Mix in with that trying to prepare several classes of seven- and eight-year-olds to encounter the greatest mystery of the Church in the sacrament of first Holy Communion, and I knew I’d have my work cut out for me.
Fortunately, I’m not alone in this endeavor. It is going to be a matter of working closely with the teachers in the local primary schools, who give the kids much of their religious education in the classrooms leading up to these sacraments. So far they’ve been really helpful to me piecing together the manner in which the role of that Teach Bhríde has played in this preparation in the past. The main gist of that role has been to focus on helping the kids to better understand the structure of the Catholic mass, and so better participate in it. Though there are differences in teaching formats for each of the two local schools, the basic plan is to spread four ‘teaching masses’ throughout the year, all of which integrate mini-lessons on a different section of the liturgy—the gathering rites, the readings, Holy Communion itself, and the sending forth at the end. Our very first teaching mass will be held this coming Tuesday, and already, I got to welcome the kids from Kennedy Park School who’ll be in attendance for a visit to the Church just yesterday. We sang songs, and Fr. Denis talked a little bit about some of the artwork adorning the altar and ambo in the Church. I was glad to hang back and observe the way he addressed the children. I’ll be taking more of an active role in teaching when the mass itself comes, so I’ll pray that the Spirit helps me in finding the right words for the kids as I prepare for that day!
In addition to the teaching masses, we’ve also set in motion a Sunday School for a select few children in the parish who are preparing for sacraments, but who don’t attend a school where explicitly Catholic religious education is on offer. For these students, I feel a lot more the weight of responsibility, as their time spent with us and their parents on Sunday mornings before each mass throughout the year may be some of the only catechetical preparation they receive throughout the year. Fortunately, I am on a team with Mary for this ministry, and she has a lot more experience with religious education for young children than I do. We are one lesson in, and I must say, I am very happy with how well it went, though I certainly hope for kids and parents alike to get more involved in the discussion as the year progresses.
In all of this though, I can’t help but be amazed and humbled by how anxious I suddenly become when it comes to planning and giving these various lessons. Studying theology at Notre Dame, I became quite accustomed to talking freely and naturally on matters of the Faith in the classroom, and could do so confidently, whether it was in presenting an article to classmates or debating the teacher on a subtle distinction. Yet how drastically things change when I am put in the proper role of teacher! So much more seems at stake, and in the realm of Sacramental preparation, so much more truly is at stake. I find myself so often in doubt about the best way to present this or that concept, and just hoping that something gets through. The whole experience definitely gives me the opportunity to acknowledge my own inadequacies while relying on the help of God for growth and guidance.
Peace in Christ,