I was first introduced to theCatechesis of the Good Shepherd at a recent workshop visit to Regina Coeli and Regina Angelorum Academies in Philadelphia. The room set aside for K-3 religion class was filled with small, beautifully made models of liturgical items, vessels, and vestments, arranged so that they could be used to carefully explain and model the liturgical actions. Each item was labeled, some with names that I learned for the first time. I thought, “What a beautiful way to educate children into the liturgical life, the center of our life with God! These children will never just consider Mass a meaningless obligation; they will know what the Mass really is!”
The approach of the Catechesis integrates understanding with prayer. Understanding the sacred Liturgy deepens our prayerful participation in it; conversely, the liturgy should not just be an object of academic study, but always an object of prayer and love.
Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi, developers of the Catechesis, set forth the ideas behind it in two books: The Religious Potential of the Child, Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy with Young Children and Religious Potential of the Child, 6 to 12 years old. Google Books allows extended previews, which have made me even more excited about the project. As the title suggests, Cavalletti believes that children have a natural religious dimension, a natural sense of the presence of God. Catechesis needs to feed this by offering the child a knowledge of Jesus. This is done through the stories of Scripture, which introduce children to Christ as the Good Shepherd rather than simply as an object of doctrine. Cavaletti begins by reading Christ’s parables to the children. Her approach accustoms them to reading the Scriptures on many levels, as was the common practice in the early ages of the Church.
Cavaletti teaches that the catechists must always realize that they are not putting information into the child so much as helping what is already latent to grow and develop. Consequently, her approach to teaching is something from which all teachers can benefit. Her chapter devoted to describing the child’s natural sense of wonder is profound. I will close with an excerpt from that chapter (Education to Wonder and the Kingdom of God), and by noting that I am diving into my recently purchased copies of the Religious Potential of the Child!
It is been observed that "early childhood develops under the sign of wonder"; for the child everything is a source of wonder because everything is new.
Wonder is a very serious thing that, rather than leading us away from reality, can arise only from an attentive observation of reality. Education to wonder is correlative with an education that helps us to go always more deeply into reality. If we skim over things, we will never be surprised by them. Wonder is not an emotion of superficial people; it strikes root only when the person's mind is able to settle and rest on things, in the person who is capable of stopping and looking. It is only through continued and profound observation of reality that we become conscious of its many aspects, the secrets and mysteries it contains. Openness to reality and openness to wonder proceed at the same pace: as we gradually enter into what is real, our eyes will come to see it as more and more charged with marvels, and wonder will become a habit of our spirit.
All this is extremely important for education in a general sense, but it is perhaps especially so for religious education. When wonder becomes a fundamental attitude of our spirit, it gives a religious character to our whole life, because it makes us live with the consciousness of being plunged into an unfathomable, incommensurable reality….The religious person will break out in a hymn of praise and admiration