Living the Paschal Mystery in the Atrium: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

On Easter morning, the women approach the tomb. They come bearing spices that they have prepared to anoint Jesus’ body. Though he has died, though he has turned out to be human, as vulnerable to death as any other, they wish to be near him. When they arrive at the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus is nowhere to be seen. Two men in “dazzling clothes” stand before them and ask a question, Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. (Luke 24:5).

And everything changed.

Sofia Cavalletti, a Hebrew scripture scholar who developed the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd with her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi, tells us, “The Resurrection is the bedrock of our Christian faith.”

As we journey through the Lenten season, leading up to Holy Week, where as a people we once again live the Paschal Mystery; Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, a question emerges, how do we present this most important, but at times troubling and dark, events to our youngest parishioners? Are children really able to penetrate the depth of the Paschal Mystery?

The answer is yes. The children’s entry into this mystery and their presence at the Triduum celebrations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil require us to know how to invite them into this mystery in a way that will offer children the fullness of Easter joy. Cavalletti instructs,“the proclamation of the death of Christ should never be disjoined from the announcement of His resurrection.” Simply put, we never say, “Christ has died,” without saying, “Christ is risen,” in the same breath. She continues, “Second, we must live the passion of Good Friday, within the context of Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday. In the events of the Last Supper, the Passion, Death and Resurrection, we are actually living one moment, and only when we recognize this unity, we begin to interpret the Paschal Mystery.”

In the Last Supper, Jesus anticipates the events of the coming day for his disciples. He tells them, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me… This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20) In these words Jesus explains that “what will happen on Good Friday will be the gift of his whole self; Jesus will give himself completely as an offering to the Father and to us and in this way, Calvary is transformed. Cavalletti call this the scandal of the Crucifixion; “not a brutal, violent act; above all else, it is a tremendous act of love. A tremendous act of violence becomes a tremendous act of love.”

A colleague shared this story about a boy who has been in the atrium since he was three years old. He had been struggling with the brutality of the crucifixion. An over-zealous adult in his life had shared graphic details of Jesus’ passion. The catechists witnessed first hand, Cavalletti’s caution about sharing the detailed accounts of the passion with very young children: “At times these passages go into details that arouse horror, such as we could not bear in relation to anyone dear to us; why then should we dwell on them with respect to Jesus? We risk inciting sentiments that should not be aroused.”

The catechists accompanied this child as he wrestled with the darkness of the Passion, continuing to remind him of the light of the Resurrection. Eventually, one day, working with the city of Jerusalem, this boy told his catechist, “Do you know why the stone was rolled away? It’s because Jesus’ love was so great, it blew the stone off.” The child took hold of the stone and carefully held it over the city, “it covered everything, even Herod’s house” at this point the child stood up and approached the globe sitting on a nearby shelf. Tracing the stone in an arc over it he announced, “it was so great, it covered the whole world!”

Each time we participate in the Eucharist, our proclamation of “the Mystery of Faith” is a powerful reminder of the Christian vision of reality. As a parish, our greatest gift to our children can be to initiate them into this mystery, the mystery of life stronger than death, of light stronger than darkness. We, along with the child. affirm that the love evidenced in Christ’s passion and death, is the love that brought about the resurrection—the love that continues to cover the whole world.

Anna Hurdle, Director of Children’s Formation