Catechesis Within the Family
While the catechesis offered within the family is ordinarily informal, unstructured, and spontaneous, it is no less crucial for the development of the child's faith. In a certain sense nothing replaces family catechesis, especially for its positive and receptive environment, for the example of adults, and for its first explicit experience and practice of the faith. The catechesis of infants and young children nourishes the beginnings of the life of faith.
Parents have shared the gift of human life with their children and, through Baptism, have enriched them with a share in God's own life. They have the duty to nourish it. Their faith, their attitude toward other human beings, and their trust in a loving God strongly influence the development of the child's faith. Parents are catechists precisely because they are parents. Their role in the formation of Christian values in their children is irreplaceable. They should speak naturally and simply about God and their faith, as they do about other matters they want their children to understand and appreciate.
Parents are also the most effective catechists of prayer for their young children. They know what their children are capable of understanding and can easily teach their children basic prayers and the fundamental attitude of prayer. By praying frequently with their children at special moments during the day and especially by praying with them at the Sunday Eucharist, parents introduce children into the prayer life of the Church. By incorporating prayer into everyday family experiences, parents teach their children by example. Their witness encourages their children to call upon God as their Father who loves and protects them; to look to Jesus, their Savior and brother, who leads them to the Father; and to acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within their hearts.
Children ordinarily enjoy listening to their parents read to them and tell them stories. Reading stories from Sacred Scripture combines both these simple activities. Just as children learn their family histories through stories told by their parents, they learn about the Catholic faith as their parents introduce them to the person of Jesus and the beauty of the word of God and tell them the story of Mary, the Mother of God, as well as of the lives of the saints.
Catechetical programs for children in daycare and preschool seek to foster their growth in a wider faith community. They should always be suited to the age, circumstances, and learning capacity of young children and be designed to reinforce the primary human and Christian values present in the family. They should provide opportunities to participate in simple celebrations that deepen the child's sense of wonder. These opportunities provide a natural human foundation for the supernatural life of faith where children can develop a sense of trust, freedom, selflessness, and joyful participation. Catechetical programs can be employed to predispose young children to experiences of spontaneous and formal prayer, prayerful silence, and simple acts of worship. Children can learn to pray with and for fellow Christians and their churches. Ordinarily, parents and other adults who have received appropriate training in Sacred Scripture, theology, early childhood development, and catechetical methodology should, under the direction of the pastor, organize and present catechetical programs for young children. Catechesis that involves the whole family is a particularly effective method of catechesis for young children because it helps parents to become more confident in sharing their faith with their children and encouraging their children's emerging faith.
When children begin school, they enter a world wider than the family. The school environment provides greater opportunities for children's intellectual, affective, and behavioral development. This means that parents, pastors, catechists, and teachers need to cooperate closely to ensure that the catechesis offered children is truly an ecclesial catechesis that is consistent with Christian values lived in the family. Pastors have a serious obligation to assist parents and educators in their mission to hand on the faith to future generations.
School-age children should receive formal and systematic catechesis in a parish-based catechetical program, a Catholic school, or a program of home-based catechesis in which the content of the faith and the experience of Christian life is presented authentically and completely.
Having introduced them to the person of Jesus Christ within the family, catechesis for school-age children presents his teachings, his ministry, and the major events of his life. Children can begin to appreciate the parables of Jesus and capture glimpses of the Kingdom of God; they can learn more formal prayers; and they can commit brief passages of Sacred Scripture to memory.Catechesis for the Sacraments of Penance and Reconciliation and of the Eucharist is ordinarily provided in these early years of schooling.
The most important task of the catechesis of children is to provide, through the witness of adults, an environment in which young people can grow in faith. Several pastoral directives should guide the catechists of children:
- Be able to understand children, communicate with them, listen to them with respect, be sensitive to their circumstances, and be aware of their current values.
- Recognize that children have a dignity of their own and that they are important not only for what they will do in the future, but for who they are now.
- Encourage them to know and respect other cultural, religious, racial, and ethnic groups, and use catechetical materials that are adapted to accommodate cultural, racial, and ethnic pluralism; the concerns of particular groups; and persons with special needs.
- Understand that the child's comprehension and other powers develop gradually, and present religious truths in greater depth and propose more mature challenges as the capacity for understanding and growth in faith increases.
- Provide experiences in which they can live faith and apply the message of salvation to real-life situations; encourage the use of imagination, as well as intelligence and memory.
- Provide experiences that link Liturgy and catechesis and promote appreciation for the community celebration of the Eucharist.
- Stimulate not only exterior but interior activity—a prayerful response from the heart.″Foster a sense of community that is an important part of education for social life.
---from the National Directory for Catechesis