My two oldest children (along with Angela's oldest) will be receiving their First Holy Communion this coming Sunday (Mother's Day!), and it has been a very special time preparing with them for this occasion. We're in a small traditional parish with about a dozen children receiving FHC this year; Father has met with the children once a month for the past few months, but the rest of the preparation has been done by the parents at home. In so doing, I have tried to keep in mind Miss Mason's thoughts in mind:
"We are probably quite incapable of measuring the religious receptivity of children. Nevertheless, their fitness to apprehend the deep things of God is a fact with which we are called to 'deal prudently,' and to deal reverently." (Volume 1, page 248)
I have much more I would like to say about this--it's such an inspiring concept, and it means so much in practice. It, along with Charlotte Mason's other principles, has shaped the way I approach our religious education. But for now, I just want to share what we have been using for our sacramental preparation this year:
Catechism. For the first two terms of the school year, we worked through the 12 lessons in St. Joseph's First Communion Catechism, spending two weeks on each. During the first week, we would read the whole text of the chapter through and discuss. During the second week, we worked on memorizing the questions and answers. I am very much in favor of memorization when it comes to religious instruction--as an adult convert to Catholicism, I see the great gift the Church has given us in these simple but beautiful catechism answers and her rich stock of prayers! So memorize we do. The children listen and repeat until they know them by heart, just as we do with our poetry and songs. We review these once every couple weeks to make sure they're retained.
Great Books. We were able to cover several wonderful books over this past year:
:: Alongside the catechism, we read one accompanying chapter per week from the Angel Food series by Fr. Brennan. I then put the volumes on the children's free reading shelf and they devoured the rest of the stories in short order. I had some misgivings about the stories at first--they seemed a bit heavy-handed with their moral instruction, and I have to admit that I don't consider them completely CM-friendly. But I wouldn't consider them twaddle either--the stories are sweet and clever, the examples useful, and the voice engaging. These were written as "talks" by a priest to children, and I think taken as little sermons, they're much more palatable. And goodness, my children do love them.
:: For our third term of the school year, I used the first two sections from Children's Retreats by Fr. Halpin, which includes seven lessons on First Confession and seven on First Communion. These are also written as talks by a priest to children preparing for these sacraments, but they have a more mature tone, use more difficult language, and tackle more complicated topics than do the Angel Food books. What is the difference between attrition and contrition? How do you avoid making a bad Communion? What role did Judas play in salvation history? How can I receive God Himself in Communion when I am so unworthy of it? All the theological topics you ever wanted to cover with your child before he receives these sacraments are in this book. And at the end, there are short stories on these topics as well. A wonderful resource all around.
:: I completely forgot about Mother Mary Loyola's The King of the Golden City until a friend of mine mentioned it a couple weeks ago and asked if I wanted to borrow her copy. This is such a lovely, lovely book. The children read it over the last week on their own because I really wanted to give them a chance to finish it before their big day, and I knew we wouldn't have time if I were to do it as a read-aloud. I wish we had been able to go through it more slowly together. But it made a strong impression on them nonetheless--they have chatted about it to me and to each other quite a lot. My daughter was particularly taken with the pictures in the version we read as well.
:: Mother Loyola's First Communion. This is one of those fantastic resources that I had bookmarked ages ago and hidden away in a folder on my computer from long ago...and completely forgot about until yesterday evening! (You can get it for free here.) Such a shame, because I would love to have worked it into our first grade religion readings. If I had our sacramental prep to do over again (and I will, at least four more times! ;)), I will definitely be adding this book to our reading list. It is thorough and the tone is just right--it opens with a letter to the child:
"This, dear children, is a book put into your hands in the hope that it may help you to prepare yourselves for First Communion. Yes, prepare yourselves; for this great work, the greatest of your lives, must be done by yourselves. No one can do it for you. Others may help you, but the real work of preparing your hearts for Jesus must be your own doing."
Isn't that just wonderful? I haven't yet read the whole thing, but so far, I adore this book, so much so that we'll be using it as a follow-up to their FHC--I think it will make wonderful Year 2 reading for us! In fact, the last section, titled "Thanks Be To God For His Unspeakable Gift," is meant to be used with children who have already received.
An Overview of the Bible. We went through the New Testament last year and the Old Testament this year, in addition to the Gospel readings each week. This will be an ongoing part of the children's education, obviously, but I wanted to be sure we had hit the main stories of the whole Bible in these early years before First Communion. Last year we used A Child's Life of Christ, and this year we used Knecht's Child's Bible History.
Study of the Mass. My goal is to do some learning about the Mass each year. This year, we read through Maria Montessori's The Mass Explained to Children, and I think it was a great way to prepare for First Communion, particularly for those that attend the Traditional Mass like we do. Her style is thorough and reverent, and she deals with the order of the Mass in a methodical yet engaging way. And despite going to the TLM exclusively for the past five years, I learned a lot in this book "for children" as well!
Prayer. In a variety of ways:
:: The children and I have been praying a novena for all the those in their First Communion class. (There are two sweet novena options here and here. Both are a bit too simple for what I was looking for, but they're working well combined and with my own adjustments.)
:: The memory work we have chosen for this past year has included prayers and hymns with an emphasis on these first sacraments: the Act of Contrition, Tantum Ergo, O Salutaris Hostia, the Anima Christi, and more.
:: And throughout this time, I have been saying some prayers of my own from a wonderful book, The Christian Mother: the Education of Her Children and Her Prayer by Fr. Cramer (which you can read for free here!):
Prayer to be said for a Child when preparing for its First Confession
Most holy and merciful God! I recommend to Thee my child, which is now preparing for its first confession. It is from Thee that true sorrow cometh; without Thy grace no one can be truly sorry for his sins or obtain Thy pardon. Send an abundance of Thy grace into the heart of my child, in order that it may overcome the levity of youth and prepare with earnestness, be truly sorry for its sins, confess them sincerely, and obtain pardon in the holy sacrament of penance. Grant that my child may, with the assistance of the father practice of a truly Christian life. Amen.
O holy angels, accompany my child and help him to make a good confession. Amen.
Prayer to be said for the Child when preparing for First Communion
Divine Saviour, the time is drawing near when my child will enjoy for the first time the incomparable grace of receiving Thee in holy communion. Immeasurable is Thy fruit of the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The Christian mother should, therefore, assist at holy Mass with the intention of obtaining for her children the grace to make a good confession. She should especially ask for them the grace of true contrition. love for my child; therefore Thou wilt come to take up Thy abode in its soul, to unite it intimately and wholly to Thee, to enrich it with Thy most precious graces and lead it to the enjoyment of the greatest happiness. O Jesus, who can measure Thy goodness and condescension! Be Thou praised for all eternity! Oh, that my child may understand the greatness of the favor and the happiness Thou art preparing for it! Enlighten it and lead it to a knowledge of Thee; assist it to prepare well and receive worthily this great sacrament. Visit Thy servant who is preparing my child, that through Thy grace his instructions may have the salutary effect of making my child understand the Christian truths, and his words and direction lead it to the practice of a truly Christian life. O Jesus, grant that my child may use this time of preparation in such a profitable manner that it may approach the holy table with the proper dispositions, and receive Thee, my divine Lord, worthily into its soul. Amen.
Aren't those lovely? And now my daughter is praying to her dear St. Therese that we will all get over the cold we have before Sunday rolls around!
God willing, we'll all be healthy and there on Sunday morning to rejoice together over these new communicants--please keep them in your prayers as well!