In the early Christian Churches, the Atrium was the space in the Basilica or Cathedral where the catechumenates (those preparing to enter into full Church membership) gathered for study and worship. Only when they had completed their education were the catechumenates able to fully participate in the Mass. As in the early Church, we use the term Atrium, a prepared space with materials children work with as a way of meditation upon the essentials of our faith found in Scripture and in liturgy as they learn and grow in their love for Jesus and the Holy Mass.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
The children at St. John the Baptist Catholic Montessori school participate in The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd faith formation program where children can grow in their relationships with God. Designed by Maria Montessori, and further developed in the 1950′s by Sophia Cavaletti and Gianna Gobi, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a unique program founded in both Sacred Scripture and Liturgy and rich with the spiritual teachings and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Level I is designed for children ages 3-6, and Level II and III, also referred to as The True Vine, are for elementary children ages 6-9 and 9-12.
The Catechesis proclaims the message of Jesus to children by presenting His parables in a Montessori learning environment.
Level I (3-6 year olds): Preschool children are attracted to the Good Shepherd’s abiding love for His sheep. They develop a special love for Jesus, the Good Shepherd, even before they realize that they are the sheep. The children hear the Bible story in the words of the catechist, using Scripture verses, and discuss and reflect on what they heard. Materials that accompany all lessons are available for the children.
Level II (1st-3rd grade) builds on the covenantal love between God and His children, but adds the element of the merciful, forgiving love of Jesus and calls for a response from the children. Older children receive meditations to enhance their preparation for the sacraments of Reconciliation, Holy Eucharist, and Confirmation.
Level III (4th grade and older) focuses on the plan of God to join all people together. The child focuses on God’s generosity and the responsibilities that accompany His gifts. They are posed the question,”What is my place in the Kingdom of God?”
Two of the guiding principles of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd are:
- The transmission of the Christian message in the atrium has a celebrative character.
- In harmony with the universal church, the life of the atrium follows the liturgical year; therefore, moments which are particularly powerful are those of Christmas/Epiphany and Easter/Pentecost.
In keeping with these principles, seasonal celebrations are integral to the children’s atrium experience in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. These atrium celebrations include:
- Christmas/Epiphany celebration
- Celebration of the Last Supper
- “Liturgy of Light” Easter celebration
These celebrations are very joyful and prayerful, and must be lived with the children to be appreciated.
“The atrium is an environment which is carefully prepared to foster the religious life of the child. The materials and images placed there help the child to concentrate and reflect; thus, they nurture the child’s natural capacity for contemplation.”