What is THE one, best thing any one of us can do for our children? It’s a gift that will never wear out or depreciate in value, never be donated to Goodwill, eaten by moths, or stolen from a vault.
THE ONE BEST THING.
It is the passing on of the faith. And the source and summit of our faith is the Eucharist.
Since Holy Mass is life-saving, let’s get kids to fall in love with it early! Children typically receive instruction on the Eucharist in second grade if they are at Catholic school or in Catholic faith formation. So naturally, The Body Matters program for second-graders provides a look at the wonders of Jesus’ gift of Himself in the Mass. It’s really the perfect time, as children have a natural affection for Jesus at that age.
How does the Eucharist relate to the theology of the body? It’s an answer with many levels and shades of meaning.
In the most obvious sense, our bodies perform the “ups and downs” of standing, sitting, kneeling at the Mass, so much so that others tease us about “Catholic aerobics” during worship. Protestant services mostly involve singing and listening to a preacher; the emphasis is on hearing the message and privately responding. There’s little of the sit/stand/kneel/repeat exercise. There’s no making the sign of the cross or sprinkling of water to renew baptismal vows, striking your breast in contrition, or bowing in reverence to the Incarnation.
Worship includes things that are sense-perceptible; that is why our physical bodies must be active at Mass. Indeed, St. John Paul says we are body-persons; as such, our whole being is meant to participate to worship in spirit and in truth. Our second-grade book, The Body and Holy Mass shows children what each bodily action of the Mass signifies.
As usual, when we follow God’s plan, there is an inherent wisdom in Catholic worship. Scientists have studied something they call “embodied cognition.” Come to find out, students double their learning comprehension when they act out their lessons. Scientific American concludes: “All of the work suggests that classrooms should include more physical activity designed to map abstract information onto bodily experiences.”
That’s exactly what Catholic worship does! It maps the knowledge of Christ and His love for us into our bodies.
We are also saved as members of a larger Body, the Body of Christ, the Church. You can see this in the Old Testament, when all of Israel went before the Lord in the sanctuary, all confessed their sins and were pardoned, all ate the Passover feast together. We are saved in communion with each other, all over the world, and through the ages. For children, as well as adults, this is a comforting and edifying truth. We are never alone.
One truth that changed forever my perception of the Mass is presented in this book: the reality that all of Heaven is present at every Mass. My guardian angel and the angels of everyone I love, my patron saints, my spiritual father John Paul II, the archangels, choirs and dominions, Adam and Eve, Francis and Clare, Joseph and Mary, the twelve apostles, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Edith Stein.
Who are your favorite saints? Whom do you most admire and want to emulate in the Christian life? They are present at Mass. No matter how funereal the music, how tediously the homily is delivered, how much chitchat goes on around you…. Heaven is present.
That is enough to lift the experience of even the most painfully banal presentation of the Mass. It always goes beyond the perception of our senses and judgments. It is always a participation in the most glorious worship of Heaven.
In response to the emptying of the sacred in many liturgies, a lay group in Iowa produced a video, “The Veil Removed,” dramatizing what actually happens at each Mass, beyond our sight and hearing and perception. They’ve given form to the invisible reality of all Heaven present at the Mass, with Jesus’s sacrifice at the center.
In our children’s book, we have attempted to portray that reality, too.
“When Mass is being celebrated, the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar,” proclaimed Saint John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church.
By presenting the Mass in its full natural and supernatural dimensions, this book struck and enchanted me as an adult. Perhaps it is a healthy thing to take a fresh look at the Mass through a child’s eyes, and be re-awakened to the wonder of it all.
The Holy Mass is heaven on earth. There is no greater gift to give to our children.
Sheryl Collmer, MTS writes for TOBET from Plano, Texas.