By: Dominique Johnson
Every spring during the Easter season, students in religious education programs prepare for and take part in the sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time.
For those parishes that participate in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, preparation for the sacraments starts in the level one atrium, for ages 3-6. “That’s where they develop that good shepherd relationship with God” where they see that God cares for and loves the sheep, said Bridget Goertzen, Coordinator of Children’s Ministry at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Juneau.
Once students move on to level two of the CGS program (ages 6-9), they start learning about the parables to help them find a more global relationship with their faith, as the child’s own community begins to grow. It is at this level where Jesus is presented to the students as the body and blood of Christ. The students, in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation, learn about forgiveness.
By learning about God’s mercy and his presence in the Eucharist, students in their second year of level two begin to ask about receiving the sacraments. “We try to wait for them to come to us,” Goertzen said, making the sacrament something the student chooses. The catechist also observes how the students take to works in the atrium that are oriented towards the Mass, and she said, “The students really get into that work because when they go to Mass, they see what is happening.”
Once the child decides they are ready for the sacrament, the student along with their family go through a series of six meditations over six weeks to help them better understand the sacraments of reconciliation and communion.
Goertzen shared that students meditate on the parables of the found sheep and the found coin to help show the children that God is actively searching for those who are lost. The final meditation for reconciliation is on the prodigal son, which shows the father waiting for the son to return. Goertzen added, “It brings that sense to the children that even if I was lost, I could be found, but if I chose to be lost, I can always come back.”
To prepare for the sacrament of communion, one of the meditations is on the story of the Centurion servant where the words, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” that we say at every Mass are found. Making that connection to scripture and the Mass is essential to help the children know, “That they are not perfect, but Jesus is going to heal them anyway,” Goertzen said.
The week leading up to the students receiving the two sacraments for the first time is a week of retreat in the afternoon. One of the projects during the week is for the students to make their white garment, which is worn following first reconciliation to connect the sacrament to the sacrament of baptism. The students also visit the confessional and practice the prayers that will be said and walk through receiving communion.
On the final day of their retreat when asked why the sacrament of communion was important to them, Eliza Albrecht answered, “Because I want to receive God.” Juan-David Reynoso said once he receives communion, “God will be forever with me.”
Eliza also shared that during preparation classes that she learned, “That the sacraments help bring us closer to Christ.” Juan-David shared that like the true vine the sacraments, “help us remain in Him.”
Two days later, both students received the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time. To show community with the children receiving the sacrament, their parents and family members are invited to go to confession as well, “It supports the idea that we don’t necessarily do it (the sacraments) as individuals, we support each other,” Goertzen said. She added that one year after the reconciliation service, a grandmother was moved to tears by the beauty of the service.
The next day the children receive their first communion. CGS celebrates the two sacraments during the same weekend to make the connection between reconciliation and receiving communion. “It really makes an impact on the children to know that they have gone to confession. They feel worthy of receiving the body of Christ,” Goertzen said.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd sacrament preparation program helps the children and their parents understand the gift of the sacraments and learn about their faith together. For Goertzen who facilitates the program says, “CGS has brought me a lot closer to my faith” and “the students help me grow, they teach me something new every single day.”