1 Philosophy and GoalsThrough forming a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, elementary school-age children build a strong foundation for lifelong discipleship.
It is essential that parish and school programs for elementary school-age children create a nurturing community for households to grow in faith, providing opportunities for conversion and formation not only for the child but also for the entire household.
As children mature, ongoing catechesis is needed to help them observe, explore, interpret, and judge their experiences; ascribe Christian meaning to their lives; and act according to the norms of faith and love. The truths of our faith should be presented at every age with age-appropriate methodology to allow for an ever deepening understanding and growth in lived faith.
Experiential learning in the Christian way of life includes participation in the life of the entire faith community as an important part of children's faith formation; households, parishes, schools, and the faith community all have essential roles in the catechesis of the young.
2 Preparing a Catechetical ProgramPreparation is a necessary part of any catechetical model, whether in the Catholic parish or school. Models for catechesis should flow directly from the specific catechetical needs of the community and aim to achieve the tasks of catechesis.
Catechetical preparation for elementary school age children should include:
Examining the social, cultural, ethnic, and religious situation of the parish, as these change over time
Building awareness that liturgy is the source and summit of parish life
"[Bringing] about a conversion to Christ that leads to a profession of faith in a Triune God and to a genuine personal surrender to him. It helps believers to become disciples and to discern the vocation in which God is calling them" (National Directory for Catechesis, 28.B)
Focusing on the formation of the entire household
In designing a program based on the catechetical needs of a parish or school for elementary school age children, some possibilities include:
Community service opportunities
Ritual celebrations of liturgical seasons
Special Mass celebrations
Vacation Bible school
Small Christian communities
3 Catechetical Materials and Resources for Elementary School-Age ChildrenCatechetical materials for elementary school-age children should be adapted to the stages of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical development of the students. Properly sequenced programs present the Christian message and the history of the Church's response to it in a manner appropriate to each age level. Using appropriate media and methodology, these programs should give satisfactory emphasis to:
Efforts to develop community and multicultural awareness
Service of the faith community and society at large
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approves textbooks for appropriate use of the catechism. Since the
Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in 1992, all publishers submit their materials for review by the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism within the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Materials published since 1995 will contain a statement such as the following:
"The Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, has found this catechetical text to be in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church."
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles Elementary Cataechesis Division reviews textbooks (as requested by publishers) based on six categories: content, age appropriateness, process/activities, catechist formation/resources, layout/look of the book and cultural diversity.
If you have questions regarding materials for elementary school-age children, contact the
Elementary Division of the Office of Religious Education and the
Department of Catholic Schools.4 Learning Environment for Elementary School-Age Children"Organization for catechesis is person centered" (National Directory for Catechesis, 58). Human beings continuously grow and develop. It is critical that learning environments are provided to help children think, question, and explore new ways of understanding and living their faith while building a relationship with God. This requires awareness of the many different ways in which elementary school children learn. Some of these ways include how we grow in faith, how we grow psychologically and in our ability to relate to others, and how we grow in our ability to think and act morally. When we understand the cognitive ability of our learners we can respond to their developmental needs in appropriate ways that can nourish their growth in faith and their discipleship journey.
A well-planned and well-executed catechetical session includes a clear objective, knowledge of the learners and their age-appropriate abilities, a variety of resources that meet the needs of different learning styles, well-timed activities, and new ways of approaching and relating faith concepts to the learners' lived realities. The use of spontaneous prayer, liturgy experiences, audio and visual aids such as art, music, movement, storytelling, etc., and learning oportunities using technology are encouraged.5 Sacramental Preparation for Reconciliation and the EucharistSacramental preparation for baptized children assumes that the children have begun a journey of discipleship in their family life: coming to know, believe, and become the person of Jesus in the world. This relationship is strengthened by celebrating God's mercy and forgiveness and the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist with their faith community.
With a strong belief in lifelong faith formation, a minimum of two consecutive years of catechetical formation is required for the reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Although the reception of both sacraments usually occurs during elementary school-age faith formation in the parish of school, readiness, not chronological age or school grade, will determine a child's preparedness to encounter Christ in a sacramental celebration. This decision of readiness rests with the parents/guardians and the child in dialogue with the catechist, the pastor/administrator or his delegate, and the catechetical leadership of the parish. This process affirms the fact that the child celebrating the sacraments is involved communally as well as individually in their encounter with Christ.
Parents/guardians have a right and duty to be intimately involved in the preparation of their children for the sacraments. It is the role of the parish and the school to help parents/guardians grow in their understanding and appreciation of the sacraments in order to be able to participate readily in catechizing their children by their witness at home.The Church must affirm the role of parents/guardians as primary religious educators (the domestic church) and include the whole parish and school community in the initiation of members into the fullness of the Catholic tradition. The Church must meet people where they are and provide opportunities for conversation and conversion and thus make connections between life and faith. All sacraments are parish-centered celebrations.5.1 Preparation Specific to the Sacrament of ReconciliationChrist's healing and reconciling ministry is carried on in the Church. God's unconditional love and mercy is offered though the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this Sacrament, the faithful express the desire to be at peace with God and with their brothers and sisters. "Catechesis for the Sacrament of Reconciliation is to precede First Communion and must be kept distinct by a clear and unhurried separation" (National Directory for Catechesis, 36.B.2).
Catechesis for the first reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation should help children to:
Acknowledge God's unconditional love and mercy
Turn to Christ and the Church for sacramental forgiveness and reconciliation at any time on their faith journey
Recognize the presence of good and evil in the world, recognize their personal capacity for both, and develop skill for the discernment of good moral choices
Recognize their need for forgiveness, not only from parents/guardians and others close to them, but from God
Explore the meaning of the symbols, gestures, prayers, and scriptures of the sacrament of reconciliation
Understand how to celebrate the Sacrament
"[P]arents and the parish catechetical leader, together with the pastor, are responsible for determining when children are ready to receive First Penance and Reconciliation. Readiness for reception of this sacrament includes knowledge of the person of Jesus and the Gospel message of forgiveness, knowledge of sin and its effect, and understanding and experience of sorrow, forgiveness and conversion….[P]arents should be involved in the preparation of their children for this sacrament so that they can affirm and reinforce frequent participation in the sacraments. They orient the child toward God and encourage continual growth in the understanding of God's mercy and love….Since conversion is a lifelong process, catechesis for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is ongoing. Children have a right to a fuller catechesis each year" (National Directory for Catechesis, 36.B.2).5.2 Preparation Specific to the Sacrament of Eucharist"Since the Eucharist is the 'source and summit of Christian life,' catechesis for the Eucharist recognizes it as the heart of Christian life for the whole Church, for the dioceses and parishes, and for each individual Christian." (National Directory for Catechesis, 36). Preparation for children to receive the Sacrament begins at home, because the family communicates the basic Christian and human values that help children understand the meaning of the Eucharist for themselves.
Catechesis in preparation for the first reception of the Eucharist should:
Teach that the Eucharist is the living memorial of Christ's sacrifice for the salvation of all -- the commemoration of his last meal with his disciples and his living presence in the world
Teach not only the truths of faith regarding the Eucharist but also how from First Communion on, they as full members of Christ's body can take part actively with the people of God in the Eucharist, sharing in the Lord's table and the community of their brothers and sisters
Ensure that the baptized have been prepared, according to their capacity for the Sacrament of Penance prior to their first Communion
Develop in children an understanding of the Father's love, their participation in the sacrifice of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit for their missionary activity
Teach that essential signs of the eucharistic sacrament are bread and wine, on which the power of the Holy Spirit is invoked and over which the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken first by Jesus during the Last Supper
Teach that the Holy Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ and that what appear to be bread and wine are actually his living body
Teach the difference between the Eucharist and ordinary bread
Teach the meaning of reception of the Holy Eucharist under both species of bread and wine
Help children to participate actively and consciously in the Mass to become witnesses of Christ
Help children to receive Christ's body and blood in an informed and reverent manner
As with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, "Parents/guardians and the parish catechetical leader, together with the pastor/administrator, are responsible for determining when children have attained the age of reason and are ready to receive First Communion. . . . Parents have the right and duty to be involved in preparing their children for first Communion. The catechesis offered should help parents grow in their own understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist and enable them to catechize their children more effectively" (National Directory for Catechesis, 36.A.3.3a).