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Level I Presentation Descriptions: Eucharist

In introducing the Level I child to the essential gestures, signs, and symbols of the Eucharist, the catechist focuses on the idea of the Mass as the "sacrament of the gift:"

That is, the Mass is presented as the most particular concretization of that continuous gift the Father sends us in the person of His Son, incarnate, dead and risen, and of the gift with which man endeavors to respond to the Father. The Mass is that wonderful exchange of gifts between heaven and earth; or, better, it is the culmination of the many gifts the Father gives to mankind and the culmination of the many ways in which man tries to respond as fully as possible to the gift received. (Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child, 83)

There are six presentations under the subject of Eucharist:

  1. Gesture of Epiclesis
  2. Gesture of Offering
  3. Sign of Peace
  4. Lavabo (Gesture of Washing of the Hands)
  5. Preparation of the Cruets
  6. Preparation of the Chalice

The first two presentations epitomize the understanding of the Eucharist as the sacrament of the gift. In the Gesture of Epiclesis, the catechist shows the child how to set up a chalice and a paten on top of a special white cloth. She discusses the timing of when the gesture is made during the Mass (just before the Consecration) and what happens during the gesture (the priest asks God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to change the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus). She then demonstrates the gesture—extending her arms, palms facing down, and bringing them down over the paten and chalice—and invites the child to do the same. (At a later time, the catechist presents the prayer that accompanies the gesture. Finally, the two are combined.) This is not "playing Mass;" rather, this is isolating the gesture that the priest makes in the Mass so that the child can contemplate it in the atrium. The priest's downturned hands embody the "hands" of our Heavenly Father who continually showers us with gifts.

The Gesture of Offering completes the cycle of the gift. The catechist again sets up the chalice and paten and discusses when this gesture occurs (after the Consecration). Together they remember and practice the Gesture of Epiclesis and marvel at the amazing gift given in the Eucharist. Then the catechist asks, "What do we say when we receive a gift?" The child will most likely answer, "We say 'thank you.'" The catechist then explains that, in the Gesture of Offering, the priest says thank you to God on our behalf. She then demonstrates the gesture—holding the chalice in one hand and the paten in the other and raising them up for several moments—and invites the child to do the same. (At a later time, the catechist presents the prayer that accompanies the gesture. Finally, the two are combined.) Then the catechist and children discuss what the priest is offering to God: the bread and wine that have become Jesus. The gift that came down (downturned hands) is now offered back up (upturned hands). Further meditations involve pondering what else is present in the offering, such as the precious metals, given to us by God, that human hands have shaped into the paten and the chalice, and where the bread and the wine came from in the first place (again, gifts of God that human hands have transformed).

In the Sign of Peace, the gift from God that has come down and been offered back up is now extended horizontally as we grasp hands with those around us and say, "The Peace of Christ be with you." Again, the catechist demonstrates the gesture (shaking hands with the child) in isolation, then presents the words, and finally combines the two.

Another gesture from the Mass that is introduced at Level I is the Lavabo, or the Gesture of Washing of the Hands. The timing of the gesture is discussed (at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, before the Gesture of Epiclesis) and then it is demonstrated using a pitcher of water, a bowl, and a white cloth. The child is invited to practice it. (At a later time, the catechist presents the prayer that accompanies the gesture. Finally, the two are combined.) At Level I, the emphasis is not on the washing away of sin, but rather on the preparation of the priest for the incredibly special time of the Eucharist.

The remaining Eucharist presentations involve working with water and wine. In the Preparation of the Cruets, the children are shown how to fill two glass cruets, one with water and the other with wine, just as the real cruets are prepared before the Mass. In the Preparation of the Chalice, the children are shown how to prepare the chalice with the cruets they themselves have prepared. The catechist explains that the wine represents Jesus and the water represents us. In preparing the chalice, the priest pours all of the wine but just a little bit of the water. The catechist demonstrates this gesture and invites the children to practice it. (At a later time, the catechist presents the prayer that accompanies the gesture. Finally, the two are combined.) Together, the catechist and children ponder this mystery of the mingling of humankind with Christ: "Can the water be seen anymore? Can it ever be taken out again?" When combined with meditation on the Consecration and Offering, we see even more clearly how closely we are bound with Christ as, thanks to God, we are transformed with Him and offered up to God the Father.

For further reading about how the Eucharist is presented to the Level I child, see The Religious Potential of the Child, chapter 4 and chapter 10, and The Good Shepherd and the Child, pages 68-69.

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