In a past article, we introduced readers to a process called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), which is a form of religious education for children that is founded in liturgical catechesis. Last week this article provided an explanation of how liturgical catechesis begins with the experience of God, rather than information about God. To further that understanding, here are some of the points that explain the approach of CGS. These are edited from the “32 Points of Reflection” offered on the CGS website at cgsusa.org.
“The CGS catechist shares with the child a religious experience drawn from the teaching of the Gospel. The catechist attends to the conditions necessary for this life to flourish by preparing an environment called the atrium, and maintains order in that environment so that it fosters concentration, silence and contemplation in both the child and adult. The atrium is a place of prayer where work and study spontaneously become meditation, contemplation and prayer. The atrium is a place in which the only teacher is Christ. Both children and adults place themselves before the mystery of God in a listening stance, allowing God’s Word and the nature of ritual prayer to shape their response and development.
“The themes presented in the atrium are taken from the Bible and the liturgy (prayers and sacraments), the fundamental sources for creating and sustaining Christian life. The Word is proclaimed in the most objective manner possible, so that the words of the adult do not impede the communication between God who speaks and God’s creatures who listens. The only aim of the words of the adult is to discreetly serve the listening to God’s Word. The CGS catechist does not incorporate into the catechesis themes other than those which emerge from Word and Sacrament. The weekly atrium gatherings last about two hours, of which a small part is dedicated to the catechist’s presentation. A majority of the atrium time is reserved for the personal work of the child. In harmony with the universal church, the life in the atrium follows the liturgical year.
“The attitude of the CGS catechist is marked by a gentle humility. CGS honors and respects the spiritual values of childhood and wishes to nurture the formation of the child’s consciousness oriented towards the coming of the Kingdom of God, salvation through God’s justice and oneness in Christ. The personal tasks of the catechist include continual study and reflection on the biblical and liturgical sources and the ongoing living tradition of the church, including the theological, social and ecumenical movements which enliven the church today. CGS is also concerned with helping adults open their eyes to the hidden riches of the child, especially to the child’s spiritual wealth, so that adults will be drawn to learn from the children, and to serve their needs. CGS works in communion with the local bishop, and always avails itself of the help of a priest who is attentive to the children.”
CGS does not require the cognitive transference of information about God, but rather the spending of time with God. The atrium is a room built to house the experience of God, which in turn leads the child to gradually and intuitively form a forever-room in their own heart for God. It forms the child in silent prayer, as well as ritual prayer. It also allows the child to experience the symbolic actions and objects of the church’s sacramental life, in and through a sharing and participating in the Gospel stories.
The atrium is filled with objects that the child can use and enjoy. The atrium experience enables the child to grow in love for God, in understanding of the Gospel of Christ, in awareness of Holy Spirit, and in commitment to the Church’s mission, all of which lead to full, conscious and active participation in the church’s liturgy. This process of spiritual, sacramental and religious formation grows life-long Catholics. The wisdom gleaned from CGS about the spiritual life of children can benefit any parish religious education program.
CGS is an international program, and training courses are available in various parts of the country. It was first formulated by a woman named Sofia Cavaletti, who was a Hebrew and Scripture scholar working with children in 1954, along with her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi. Many of the principles of Montesorri education can be seen within the approach. For more information, visit the CGS website (www.cgsusa.org) or contact the Office for Worship of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at OFWmailbox@la-archdiocese.org.