CATECHESIS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Children ages 3 - 12
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) is a method of religious formation designed specially according to the nature of the child, just as the Montessori method contours education to the nature of the child. The Catechesis takes place in a specially prepared environment called the Atrium, using the early Church’s term for the entrance space preceding the main body of a church building.
The Catechesis was developed by Italian theologian Sophia Cavalleti, who spent her lifetime “following the child” and discovering how he innately approaches God. Gianna Gobbi, who studied under Maria Montessori herself, worked with Sophia in the development of this catechetical method that is essentially the Montessori method applied to the sphere of the child’s relationship with God.
Are you an auditory learner? Listen to one of St. Francis’ catechists provide details about the Catechesis method in a radio interview on KATH 910 AM.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Sophia Cavalleti and Gianna Gobbi observed that the young child relates to the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd more than any other image that Jesus gave us for Himself. Hence meditation on Jesus as a shepherd who is deeply “good” and who gives His life for His sheep is at the center (physically and spiritually) of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Scripture and Liturgy, Covenant and Christology
The pillars of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd are Scripture and Liturgy, and the areas of focus are the child’s relationship with God (covenant), through encounter with the person of Jesus (Christology), expressed in the child’s life of faith in the Church (liturgy).
In the course of a 3 year cycle, the catechist listens with the children to Scripture about the person of Jesus including the infancy narratives and the narratives of the Last Supper, Easter and Pentecost. They also listen to the parables of the kingdom of God. The children are given materials that allow them to meditate, through the ever important work of their hands, on each Scripture that they have heard.
There are also materials to lead to deeper understanding of and then participation in the Mass and sacraments, such as a model altar and sacristy cabinet, vestments and liturgical colors, gestures of epiclesis and offering, and baptism.
Joy and Contemplation
The young child is characterized by the virtues of joy and contemplation. The youngest child can pray in an interior way that is not often noticed by the adult, but this prayer occurs quietly as he works with his hands on a material that allows him to meditate. This prayer is accompanied by great joy and peace, as any visitor to an Atrium will quickly observe.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd cherishes and fosters the child’s unique way of prayer, so different from that of adults, and provides an environment to foster an encounter with God. The catechist, like John the Baptist, “must decrease”, and allow God and the child to enjoy each other during the Atrium time.
The Level 1 Atrium is for 3 through 6 year olds. It is characterized by the child’s virtues of joy and contemplation. They receive presentations about the person of Jesus, His Kingdom, and their life with Him through liturgy with joy and then most often work alone and contemplate what they have heard, working with the various materials in the Atrium.
The Level 2 Atrium is for 6 through 9 year olds and includes preparation for the sacraments of 1st Communion and 1st Reconciliation, usually in the child’s second year. The children at this stage are ready to respond to the relationship with God that they have received in the Level 1 Atrium in a more active way through living a moral life. The Level 2 Atrium thus adds the element of morality to its considerations and materials. These older children are also developing the powers of imagination and abstraction, and are able to ponder cosmic and salvation history, and to especially enjoy thinking about their role in building the Kingdom of God.
The Level 3 Atrium, for 9 to 12 year olds, provides the child with the means to apply the spiritual and moral formation from the prior levels to his or her own life in a personal way. This older child begins to think about how God is asking him personally to build the kingdom of God. There is time for journaling, Scripture study, and work with a large variety of materials to consider the liturgy, sacraments, Scripture, and the history of the kingdom of God.