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Level I Presentation Descriptions: The Paschal Mystery

The Paschal Mystery is proclaimed to the children from their first days in the atrium: “Jesus died, and Jesus rose.” The death and the resurrection of the Lord are never mentioned alone; they are always proclaimed together.

There are four presentations particularly focused on the Paschal Mystery that we concentrate on near the end of Lent to prepare the children for Holy Week and early in the Easter season:

  1. Cenacle (The Last Supper)
  2. The Mystery of Life and Death
  3. The City of Jerusalem
  4. The Empty Tomb

For the presentation on the Cenacle, or the Last Supper, the children gather around a wooden model of the upper room (“cenacle”) where Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on Holy Thursday. The catechist begins by telling the children about the Jewish celebration of Passover, how it was a special meal that the Jewish people had every year with the same words repeated every year. Just before Jesus died and rose, He celebrated this meal, but He spoke new words that no one had ever heard before, new words of love. He showed His disciples the way that He would always be with them.

Then the catechist brings out 3-dimensional figures of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles and moves them as she reads an account of the Last Supper from Scripture. Jesus and the disciples gather around a table covered with a white cloth and set with bread and wine. Then we hear Jesus’ new words of love: “Take and eat. This is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood.” The catechist asks the children, “Have you ever heard these words of Jesus somewhere?” It is beautiful to see their faces light up when they realize where: “At Mass!” The catechist says, “With these words, Jesus gives Himself to us—all of His time, all of His care, all of His love.” Once Jesus and the disciples have left, the catechist continues the narration in paraphrase. When she tells them that Jesus was arrested and put on the cross to die, she places a tiny crucifix on the table in the upper room. When she proclaims His resurrection on the third day, she places two small candles on the table and lights them. The connection is thus made for the children between the Last Supper and the Mass. We conclude with prayer and song around the tiny model altar.

The presentation of the City of Jerusalem involves a model of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ Passion with moveable buildings and walls. The catechist narrates the events of Jesus’ Passion and moves the indicated building (such as the cenacle, the praetorium, the Temple, etc.) to a control map. At the end, she moves a model of Calvary with a cross, a tomb, and a candle. Again, we proclaim Jesus’ death and resurrection, lighting a candle when the resurrection is proclaimed. The catechist then moves everything back and invites the children to use the material on their own. The events of the Passion, death, and resurrection of Our Lord are thus grounded in their geographical reality.

The presentation known as the Mystery of Life and Death offers a vivid meditation on Jesus’ words in John 12:24: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’” For several weeks before presenting this verse, the catechist plants wheat seeds at staggered intervals. Then, during the presentation, the new wheat plants are dug up and laid out side by side so that the children can see the seed’s progression: first unplanted seeds, then germinated seeds, then small green wheat plants with a shriveled seed case, and finally an even taller plant where the seed is no longer visible at all. The catechist tells the children that Jesus told this parable just before He died and rose again. He used a surprising word to talk about the seed: He said that it “dies” instead of it “is planted.” The catechist and children reflect on what Jesus is trying to tell us in the parable by asking, “Which seed looks the most alive?” It is, of course, the one that is the most “dead”—the one that has become the vibrant, very much alive plant. With this parable and its startling contrasts, we begin to penetrate the great mystery of “the fundamental law of life, as incredible as it may seem: Life develops through a series of successive ‘deaths,’ which lead us to live always more fully, because in each death there is the seed of the resurrection” (Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child, 176). The wheat plants are only there for the session when the presentation is given, but a scripture card with the verse and pictures of a growing/“dying” wheat seed remains in the atrium all year.

In the Empty Tomb, the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection are presented along with a model of the tomb where Jesus was buried. Different atria choose different Gospels to present at Level I; we have chosen Mark 16:1-7. (In the atrium for older children, all four accounts of the resurrection are presented.) As the Gospel text is read, three-dimensional figures of the three women are brought to a model of the tomb where Jesus was buried. A young man in white greets them and proclaims that Jesus is not there but has been raised. The material is then available for the children’s work.

For further reading about the Paschal Mystery presentations, see The Religious Potential of the Child, chapter 6 and The Good Shepherd and the Child, pages 58-59, 74-75.

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