Celebrating and Proclaiming the Word of God
One of our joys as catechists is to open the Scriptures to our students and help them to appreciate what a wonderful treasure the Bible is. Here are some ideas for helping students develop a life-long love for God’s Word.
Enthrone the Bible
Highlight the centrality of the Scripture in our lives by giving the Bible a special place on your classroom prayer table. Drape a seasonally-colored cloth over the table and place a Bible stand in the center. If you do not have a Bible stand, place a book underneath the cloth to elevate the Word. Set a candle next to the Bible and complete the display by using a wide ribbon in a seasonal color as a bookmark.
Enthrone the Bible by having students process in line from outside the classroom to the prayer table, with one student carrying the Scriptures on high. Have the children sing together an Alleluia verse or some other appropriate song. After the Bible has been placed on the table, encourage the students to show reverence for God’s Word by tracing the Sign of the Cross on the open Bible, bowing before it, or touching it reverently with their hand. Each week, as you prepare to read from the Scriptures, begin with an invocation of praise and thanksgiving, such as, “We thank you, Lord, for the gift of your Word!”
Teaching Students to Use the Bible
Even students as young as third grade can learn to navigate their way through the Scriptures.
- Pair the students up and give each pair a Bible.
- Turn to the contents page and point out the two main parts: the Old and New Testaments. Have them count the number of books in each section.
- Ask them to locate the first page in Genesis and read the first passage aloud. Do the same with the first passage in Matthew.
- Point out and explain the significance of the chapter and verse numbers. Then have the partners work together to find specific Scriptural passages you list on the board.
It will be slow going at first, but once the students “get it” they will feel a real sense of accomplishment. During subsequent classes, have students locate the Scripture you are studying each week in their classroom Bibles.
Acting Out the Scriptures
Dramatizing a Scripture story often helps students to better understand its meaning. This is most effective when the story involves multiple characters: the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37); the Coming of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-13); or the Calming of the Storm at Sea (Mark 4:35-41). After sharing and discussing the story, work with the class to prepare a play. Older students can do this on their own, working in groups. Have props on hand to bring the story to life: a few old robes; costume beards; and objects mentioned in the passage. The students will enjoy performing their plays for one another, but for very special occasions, arrange for them to share their dramatizations with another class or during a prayer service with parents in attendance.
Praying with the Scriptures
Choose a relevant verse from your weekly Scripture story to proclaim in prayer with the class. Have the students repeat the passage as a refrain during a Prayer of the Faithful. Invite students to work in groups to study the Psalms and find an appropriate passage that mirrors your lesson theme (God’s love, faithfulness, presence, forgiveness, greatness, and so forth). Praying with the Scriptures helps students to recognize that God continues to speak to us today.
Getting to Know You: Building Community in the Classroom
As Jesus began his public ministry, he gathered together a diverse group of disciples. He spent time with the disciples, traveling with them and sharing meals together, teaching them to pray, and more fully explaining his teachings so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they could continue his work in the world after he returned to the Father. In short, he formed the disciples into a community of believers, ready to share with others the Good News he shared with them.
You, too, have a diverse group of “disciples” who have been entrusted to you for this catechetical year. Your goal goes well beyond merely finishing your textbook. In addition to sharing the truths of the Catholic faith with the children and helping them to apply what they learn to their daily lives, you are called to create a classroom community that in a sense is a microcosm of the Church—the Body of Christ and the new People of God called together in Jesus’ name.
Building community begins with helping the children get to know one another and, hopefully, eventually leading them to respect one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. This doesn’t happen overnight. Try a few of the ideas below to begin forming your class into a community of disciples.
• Prepare an information sheet for each child to complete during the first few weeks of class. If you work with primary-aged children, create a form that can be taken home and completed with a parent’s help. Older children can fill in the information on their own. In addition to biographical data, provide space for the children to indicate their interests and opinions, such as what they like to do on a day off from school; something they are proud of; two things they want their classmates to know about them, what they want to be when they grow up, and a lists of favorites—foods, movies, TV shows, and so forth. Over the next several weeks, take time to discuss different items on the questionnaire. It will help the children begin to recognize all they have in common and to learn a bit about one another.
• Have the children work in small groups frequently throughout the year. Working with three to five peers on a common goal helps the learners to recognize the many gifts and talents they each have to offer to the community.
• Begin class with ice-breakers for the first several sessions. A perennial favorite is “Ball of Yarn.” Before class, roll a long skein of yarn into a ball and also prepare a list of “quick response” questions (places I have visited, favorite holiday, most cherished possession, family pet and name, favorite hobby, etc.). Gather the class into a large circle and, holding the end of the yarn string, call out one of the questions, toss the yarn ball to one of the children. The child should catch the ball, respond, and toss it to another classmate, while still holding on to the string. Repeat this procedure several times until the yarn ball has been tossed around the group, several times.
At this point, the children will be holding several different parts of the string ball. Have the group look at the design they’ve created with the string and identify what it says about your class. The ideal answer would be “We’re all connected!” However, accept any answer that helps the children recognize they are a group with a common purpose. This game often gets a bit rowdy, so make sure you play it in a large, uncluttered area.
• Honor a different “child of the week” throughout the year. Create a poster displaying the child’s name and picture and invite the learners to affirm their classmate by naming qualities that make the person special. Have one of the children write the qualities the group suggests on the poster. Conclude this activity working with the group to use the qualities they named to write a petition about the child. For example: “Lord, we thank you for Makenna, who tries to be a friend to everyone.” After each child has been honored, assemble the petitions into a class litany. Have the children respond, “We are the Body of Christ, Lord, called to love and serve one another” to each petition.” Pray your class litany aloud together often.
Keep in mind that building community is an ongoing endeavor. Continue to find creative ways to help the children interact with one another throughout the entire year and to provide them with opportunities to live their faith by demonstrating caring and respect for one another.
Scripture proclaims: “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:10). This passage has special meaning for Catholics because we prepare, remember, celebrate, and live “time” each year through the lens of the liturgical year, the annual cycle that celebrates the Paschal Mystery and God’s loving plan for the salvation of all people through Jesus Christ.
Teaching students about the seasons and celebrations of the liturgical year is an important responsibility for all catechists. We can do this in a variety of ways.
• Set aside one lesson each year to overview the liturgical year. With older students, display a poster that illustrates the Church year. With younger students, draw a circle on the chalkboard or a poster as you explain the major seasons and mark them on the circle. Point out that the major seasons of the year are Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, the Easter Triduum, and the Easter Season. Explain to older students that we celebrate two periods of Ordinary Time; the first after the Christmas Season, and the second after the Easter Season. Point out that the liturgical year begins on the First Sunday of Advent. Work with the class to clarify what and how the Church celebrates during the different seasons.
• Visit the parish church with your class to point out signs and symbols of the Church year. For example, note the presence of the paschal candle and explain that a new paschal candle is lighted each year at the Easter Vigil. Take the children into the sacristy and show them the vestments worn by the priest. Work with them to match the colors of the vestments to the different Church seasons. As the year unfolds, remind the students of the signs and symbols you explored during your church visit.
• Throughout the liturgical year, decorate your classroom prayer space with colors and symbols that represent each season. During Advent, center your prayer around the Advent wreath; during Lent, make the crucifix the focus of prayer; during the Easter Season, pray with signs of new life—blessed water, eggs, flowers, and so forth.
• Incorporate the lectionary into your lessons throughout the Church year. Set aside time to read the Sunday Gospel and to discuss it with the class. Help the students make the connection between the Word of God, the Church season, and their lives.
Preparing for and celebrating the liturgical year is a joyful way of helping students experience God’s love and Christ’s presence throughout the year. As a catechist, capitalize on these opportunities to walk with the Lord!