Door of faith opened as teachers ready young for Mass
Q. Some months ago you wrote about how the assembly’s worship expresses and strengthens faith. For many years I taught 6th grade in my parish religious education program, and I have thought that such classes help prepare children to do what you wrote about. Am I correct?
A. Yes! You get an A+ for your observation! The theme of this year’s Catechetical Sunday (Sept. 15) is: “Open the Door of Faith,” the faith that is expressed and deepened as we worship together.
This is what religious education teachers do, week after week.
They have made faith in Jesus Christ and living his Gospel part of their lives, the heart of their lives. Faith — not hope of some reward — leads them to care about each of their students.
Thus they try to open the door of faith in each of their students as they give their time, attention, and reflection, and, I hope, prayer as well, to their classes with young parishioners, who are the future of every parish.
Thus religious education teachers show their care for the present and future faith of their fellow parishioners.
Flannery O’Connor, the great Catholic writer, wrote to a first-year college student who was having doubts about his Catholic faith: “You must expect to spend as much effort to satisfy the needs of your soul as you do to satisfy the needs of the body.”
Reflected at Mass
As we observe Catechetical Sunday, I am grateful that in every parish, dedicated women and men have made a commitment to teach the Christian faith to young parishioners and to help prepare them to celebrate the liturgy.
Perhaps their hours of class preparation and teaching are hidden to many of us, but their efforts — often with words, but also with their example — keep the light of faith burning in every parish, the light that shines so brightly in our liturgical celebrations.
Today, when so many aspects of our culture would shut the door to faith, the week-by-week service of those who teach and assist with religious education classes is opening the door to faith in their students.
Liturgical celebration must be part of this because, as the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry’s statement “From Age to Age: The Challenge of Worship with Adolescents” (1997) explains: “Prayer and worship are central to the life of the Catholic Church. Who we are as Christians and how we pray are intimately bound together. Therefore, worship is foundational to a comprehensive youth ministry. The experience of the community’s worship is often the doorway by which youth enter the other dimensions of parish life” (no. 2).
Teachers do the work we see and the work we don’t see for one reason: love, a selfless giving of love to their students after the pattern of Christ’s own.
I am grateful that their love for Jesus Christ helps his young “faithful” to know, love, and serve God through their teaching and preparation for liturgical celebration and ministerial roles (music-making, proclaiming the Scriptures, and assisting at the altar.)
The “Directory for Masses with Children” (1973) reminds us that “the final purpose of all liturgical and eucharistic formation must be a greater and greater conformity to the Gospel in the daily life of the children” (no. 15) — and I would say,
of adults, too.
Programs are ‘married’
All of this is why I like to say that there is a very close link between what happens in parish religious education programs and what happens
in our liturgies.
Religious education and liturgy are like husband and wife: together they are God’s way of bringing the faith of God’s people to birth and nurturing it for a lifetime.
The faith that children and adults learn about in religious education classes needs to be seen, heard, and felt in worship; and the faith that we celebrate in word and song and symbol and gesture leads us to seek greater understanding through classes, books and articles, lectures,
workshops, and various media.
We need to know our faith and celebrate our faith; religious education and liturgy help us to do both. Religious education and liturgy help us to welcome the Lord Jesus whom we meet when we open the door of faith.
For as the “Directory for Masses with Children” states, if children “are formed by conscious and active participation in the eucharistic sacrifice and meal, they should learn day by day, at home and away from home, to proclaim Christ to others among their family and among their peers, by living the ‘faith that works through love’ [Gal. 5:6]” (no. 55).
These words are one with the conclusion of the statement “From Age to Age”: “There is, therefore, really only one challenge from age to age: to be faithful witnesses of God’s power and presence in the world and in our lives.” (no. 98).
All of the liturgy is meant to help us do as two of the dismissals at the Eucharist bid us do: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” and “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
This is our sacred task at whatever age, in every age.
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015. Father Michael enjoys giving workshops and presentations on liturgical topics to parish groups. Reach him at the email or postal addresses listed here.