Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Catechesis: What do eighth graders know?

I've been volunteering as a catechist for a month now. When I'm teaching, I use a somewhat Socratic method, asking a lot of questions to try and draw the answers from the students. Sometimes it works... sometimes it doesn't.

This evening, they had a large session (all the classes together) on social justice and "Operational Rice Bowl". Before and after, when they were split up into their individual classes, I was going over a few things about Lent with my students. Topics covered:
  • What does Kyrie eleison mean? ("Lord, have mercy" in Greek)
  • Why do we say/sing this in Greek? (Greek was one of the original languages of the Church; we use the Greek words during Lent in our parish to draw attention to this particularly penitential season)
  • What word don't we say during Lent? (Alleluia)
  • What does Alleluia mean? (It is the Latinization of Hallelu-yah which means "Praise Yah[weh]" or "Praise the LORD")
  • Why don't we say Alleluia during Lent? (As a sign of the reserved and penitential character of Lent)
  • What color vestments does the priest wear? (Purple/violet)
  • Why does he wear purple? (As a sign of royalty, but primarily as a sign of the penitential character of Lent)
I'm very concerned with making sure these kids know what they're saying at Mass. There's no reason for them to be ignorant of their faith, and if they're ignorant of the great liturgy of the Mass, that's something that can easily be fixed! Thus my questions about what Kyrie eleison and Alleluia mean. (They got the answers when I wrote Christe eleison beneath Kyrie eleison, and when I wrote Hallelu-yah under Alleluia.)

So then I moved into more general liturgical questions.
  • What does Amen mean? ("So be it", "I believe", "Yes", etc.)
  • When do we say Amen? (After prayers, especially the Eucharistic Prayer, and when we are receiving Holy Communion)
  • Why do we say Amen? (To signal our assent with the prayer, to "make the prayer our own"; when we are receiving Holy Communion, it is our confession that we are truly receiving the Body of Christ)
  • What does Hosanna mean? ("Save [us], we beg [you]!")
  • When do we say Hosanna? (In the Sanctus)
  • Where does Hosanna come from? (Two places: Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 21:9) and a Psalm of thanksgiving for the Lord's enduring mercy and love (cf. Psalm 118:25))
  • Why is Palm Sunday so named? (From the greeting with palm branches of the people of Jerusalem when Jesus entered)
  • What is the symbolism of the palms? (A sign of victory and triumph and royalty; the people were greeting Jesus as their "king", although his kingship was not what they were hoping for)
  • Who was not greeting Jesus as he entered Jerusalem? (The Pharisees and scribes and their associates)
  • Why didn't the Pharisees like the greeting that Jesus received? (Partly because they did not like Jesus or his teaching; partly because there was political strife in the people treating Jesus as their king, which would culminate in their rejection of him during his presentation before Pilate)
All in all, it went pretty well. I ended by letting them ask questions. One girl (who is eager to ask and ready to answer) asked about the fasting rules for Lent. In the course of my answer, I brought up the issue of fish. I turned the tables and asked about the use of the fish as an early Christian symbol, primarily for identification of a fellow Christian.

The fish was adopted as a symbol of Christ because the Greek word for "fish", ichthys, is an acronym for the title "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior": ΙΧΘΥΣ stands for "Iesous Christos, Theou Huios, Soter". It is also believed that the symbol of the fish was used to identify whether another person was a Christian: one man would draw in the dirt the top curve of the fish, and if the other man was a Christian, he would know how to draw the bottom curve of the fish (see the image [H/T Wikipedia] to the right).


Gretchen said...

Hi Jeff. Thanks for this post. We were chanting alleluia at mass this morning. Not sure if our priest knew (he's from Africa) that it isn't done during Lent. Also, one of our other priests handed out stickers instead of ashes to the kids younger than 2nd grade. His reasoning was that the young children don't understand ashes and that they get it smeared all over their faces. I don't agree with this, of course, but I'm not sure how to reason it out in a way that would make sense. Thank goodness I can bounce these things off you. God bless.

Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

"His reasoning was that the young children don't understand ashes and that they get it smeared all over their faces."

When someone doesn't understand something, that means you have a TEACHING MOMENT. Heaven forbid we teach our children (or our adults!) something that they don't understand.

Use the homily to explain the rite of imposition of ashes, and then maybe the people (young and old) will understand what they're doing.

Or, take the other extreme: ask how many adults understand the ashes, and give stickers to those who don't.

Gretchen said...

Oh I love that! Ask how many adult understand the ashes and give stickers to those don't! My husband said we should send our priest some more stickers in honor of his expanded role during the liturgy and let him know that he'll have a great job at Walmart when he retires. We are repenting that thought.

By the way, I am doing the fast you mentioned in another post. It is a wonderful discipline.

Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

And a follow-up: "stickers instead of ashes"

What would he say as he is doing so? "Remember, child, you are paper and glue, and to paper and glue you shall return." Or, "Turn away from sin, and scratch-and-sniff."

(Not too witty, sorry... it's 7:30 AM!)

And I'll pray for you as you fast, and ask you do the same for me. I'm going through "food withdrawal" (which is a sign that I needed this fasting more than I thought), so it's hard not to snack, especially at work where there are so many snacks available!

Gretchen said...

Praying here. Same problem here at work for me, too. I had a particularly hard time today. Praying now.