In the atrium we mark the beginning of Lent with a celebration of burying our Alleluias. Alleluia means praise the Lord. We set aside this beautiful praise word in preparation for the Great Celebration of Easter. The children decorate an Alleluia prayer card and we “bury” them in sand. They are tucked away in a container hidden under our prayer table. We will uncover them after Easter when we celebrate the Liturgy of the Light. During Lent there is more quiet prayer time and special presentations such as Jesus’ parables and the City of Jerusalem, culminating with the Cenacle (The Lords Supper) for Level 1 and The Origin of Eucharist for Level 2.
A favorite parable is of course is the Parable of the Good Shepherd. In the picture shown, a child is bringing out the sheep called by name by the Good Shepherd. The catechist will read parts of John 10 and meditate with the child how much the Good Shepherd loves his sheep. Usually by First Grade children realize they are the sheep Jesus loves.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32) and the Precious Pearl (Matthew 13: 45 – 46) will also be shown to all children. Jesus taught using parables – stories that can have more than one meaning. In the Atrium we announce the parable, meditate with the children and wonder with them about the words of Jesus. We allow the child to work with the materials as part of their own meditation, as well as time for silence, prayer or song. The most difficult thing for us to do as adults is to simply stop and be still. We do not tell the children how to interpret parables, offer definitions of the parable, as no one formula or definition speaks to everyone at the same time. Their responses are beautiful. One child after seeing the Mustard Seed Parable and discussing how is this tiny seed like the Kingdom of God, said, “The tiny seed grows big like our heart can, with love.”
If you have any questions or would like to observe the Atrium, please contact Mary Minor, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) is an approach to religious formation of children, rooted in the Bible and the liturgy using the educational principles of Maria Montessori. Children gather in an “atrium,” a room prepared for them containing simple yet beautiful materials for their use. We follow the Liturgical Year and celebrate the change of church seasons and special Feast Days.
If you have any questions, please contact Mary Minor at email@example.com
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to the religious formation of children. It is rooted in the
Bible, the liturgy of the church, and the educational principles of Maria Montessori. Children gather in an
“atrium,” a room prepared for them, which contains simple yet beautiful materials that they use.
Work with Materials: If an adult hears a beautiful passage from the Bible, the adult might take a Bible,
find the passage, and read it slowly again and again. He or she may think deeply about the words and perhaps
speak to God in a thankful or hopeful prayer. But a little child, too young to read, needs another way. In an
atrium the child can ponder a biblical passage or a prayer from the liturgy by taking the material for that text
and working with it – placing wood figures of sheep in a sheepfold of the Good Shepherd, setting sculpted
apostles around a Last Supper table, or preparing a small altar with the furnishings used for the Eucharist.
Catechists: The role of the catechist is to prepare the environment, the atrium, and present passages of
Scripture which call forth the child’s innate desire to draw near to God. Rather than pour in information, the
adult serves as a guide and co-worker with the child. Together they ask questions and wonder: “God who are
you? How do you love us? What is the kingdom of God like? What is our place in it?” Adults who train as
catechists often consider the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to be the most exciting form of spiritual
growth they’ve encountered!
What Do They Learn?
Children in the Level I (ages 3-6) program spend time enjoying and nurturing a
relationship with the Good Shepherd. The children are deeply affected by the boundless love of the shepherd for
His sheep as described in the Scriptures. They learn that He knows His sheep, calls them by name, searches for
a lost sheep, and celebrates the found sheep. Materials and presentations on the life of Christ and His teachings
help to make the great mystery of who God is more understandable for the child. Through geography, the words
of the prophets, and infancy narratives, Jesus is established as a real person. The Paschal narratives are treated
similarly, using model cities of Jerusalem, empty tombs, and cenacles for the Last Supper. Selected parables
further the child’s wonder and curiosity about the great mystery of the Kingdom of God. Children become
familiar with the articles of the Eucharist and Baptism by arranging them in their own atrium on miniature altars
and fonts. The children also become acquainted with the gestures of our liturgy and their meaning of the
Paschal Mystery: Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. A prayer corner located in each
atrium reflects the liturgical time of year by means of appropriate colors, prayer, songs, artwork, and readings.
Children in the Level II (ages 6-9) atrium come to know that God is working from Creation, through
redemption, toward Parousia when God’s love will be all in all. God calls us to participate in this plan. Jesus
shows us the way to live together in peace and joy as we abide in him through the Eucharist and Baptism.
The Level III (ages 9-12) atrium gives children the opportunity to explore more deeply the covenants with God
revealed in Hebrew Scripture. Looking at more detailed history of humankind, they discover how God draws all
of creation toward the Parousia. They see in a more challenging way how God calls us to use our gifts to write
the blank page toward the Parousia, and to be held in covenant with God and each other through the Eucharist
A young child enters the atrium and, after looking around for a few moments, unrolls a mat on the floor. He
goes to a shelf and picks up a large wooden circle covered in green fabric and supporting a small wooden
fence. He carries this circle to his mat. Next, he returns to the shelf and retrieves a box that contains sheep
and a shepherd. Kneeling at his mat, the child arranges the sheep and shepherd within the sheepfold. After
pausing for a moment to appreciate the scene, the child begins to move one sheep, and then another, from
within the safety of the fence. Next, he moves the shepherd to recover the sheep. Sitting back to contemplate
these actions, the boy pauses once again. After a moment, satisfied, the child returns the sheep and shepherd
to the shelf. This young boy will repeat this “work” many times over the next few years, constantly growing in
his understanding of, and relationship with, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.
A few minutes later an older child chooses this same work and diligently lays out her materials on a mat. She
also brings a small table, several wooden people, and a tiny chalice, paten, and host. After the sheep and
shepherd have been arranged within the sheepfold, the young girl brings a second green wooden circle to her
mat. On this second platform she centers the small table and gradually moves the sheep to stand around it.
The shepherd stands on the table watching over his sheep. One by one the sheep are replaced with wooden
people and where the shepherd had stood there remains the chalice, paten, and host. This child sits back in a
manner very similar to her younger companion, pausing to contemplate the exchange that has just occurred
before her. Each use of the Good Shepherd materials over the past few years has prepared her to better
understand the relationship between the Good Shepherd’s care for His sheep and Jesus’ care for His people at
Mass, in the celebration of the Eucharist. This child knows Christ the Good Shepherd intimately, having met
Him through her Baptism, through her family, and here in the atrium. This relationship has crossed the bridge
between His presence in Scripture and His presence at the Eucharistic table.
The motto of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is: “Help me fall in love with God by myself.” In this
program the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep and gives everything He is for them
forms the center of the young child’s relationship with God. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and calls
them by their name. The child comes to discover who the Shepherd is and who the they are – His children. In
the midst of this blossoming relationship these same children are exposed to small, isolated items and
“moments” of the Mass. They hold a small chalice, learn to name each of the vestments that the priest wears,
and wonder at what occurs at specific moments of the liturgy. Their relationship with the Good Shepherd is
nurtured in such a way that they are preparing to live the fullness of the life of the Catholic Church through the
liturgy and the sacraments. They begin to realize the depth of Christ’s love for us, as it is revealed to us
through these sacraments, particularly the Eucharist.
The Good Shepherd program has borne much fruit in the past few years in this Archdiocese. It is exciting to be
able watch this method of catechesis continue to grow. We have great trust in the grace that our children have
received at their Baptism and are excited to show them that this Catholic faith we share is truly one not just for
adults but for all. As our Lord Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”
Montessori and the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
You may have read that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is based on Montessori teaching methods. What does that mean?? Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and innovator, acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children naturally learn.
She opened the first Montessori school—the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House—in Rome on January 6, 1907. Subsequently, she traveled the world and wrote extensively about her approach to education, attracting many devotees.
The Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. Dr. Montessori’s Method has been time tested, with over 100 years of success in diverse cultures throughout the world. It is a view of the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.
Maria Montessori believed that “it is necessary for the teacher to guide the child without letting him feel her presence too much, so that she may be always ready to supply the desired help, but may never be the obstacle between the child and his experience” (Montessori, 1967)
For more information on Maria Montessori or the Montessori Method please see Association Montessori Internationale
The History of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the result of a long period of careful observation of children by Sofia Cavalletti and her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi, in Rome. It began quite by accident, without warning or planning, the way God so often comes into our lives. In 1954 Sofia was a Hebrew and Scripture scholar, comfortable in her role in the academic world, when a mother asked her to give some religious instruction to her son. At first Sofia refused, saying she knew nothing about children. The mother persisted and eventually, Sofia consented. That experience with a 7 year-old changed her whole life. She saw in that child and in numerous other children since, a way of being in the presence of God that is both unique to the child and a gift to the adult who stops long enough to notice. Perhaps it is because Sofia went before the child with no preconceived ideas of what should happen that the child responded with such joy. Certainly her background in Scripture made it possible for her to talk about God in a way that opened and enthused the child. From that day to the present time Sofia and Gianna remind us constantly to look to the child for that sign of a deeply religious life – joy – and to always ask the question: “What face of God is the child telling us he or she needs to see?” For more information on CGS please see www.cgsusa.org.
The first United States training for CGS was in St. Paul in 1975. We have seen a surge in interest since the mid 90’s and currently there are over 40 different churches or schools using CGS in our Archdiocese. We started CGS at Epiphany in 2016.
Becoming a Catechist
Are you interested in learning more about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? Have you thought about what it might be like to work with the children in the Atrium? We are in need of more Assistants, an adult who helps the Catechist. This volunteer position requires a commitment of 2 hours week and a love of children and the Lord. Please contact Mary Minor, firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
Another way to learn about CGS is to attend catechist training. Many people find this training, whether they actually ever work in an Atrium or not, a beautiful step on their spiritual journey. Is the Good Shepherd calling you? Please click on the link to learn more about local training being offered. Everyone starts with Level 1 and there are 2 parts A and B. Level 1 Part A is being offered starting in September in Stillwater. Level 2 will be offered here at Epiphany, one Saturday a month starting in September. In order for this amazing method to expand we need more trained Catechists.