Faith Formation with Fr Martin Delaney
There are two distinct elements to this Sunday’s celebration of the feast of Christ the King: There is the feast itself and what we understand about it and then there is the November theme of death and dying. Explaining these things to children may present quite a challenge for parents, teachers and indeed presiders at Mass!
Irish Catholics have a somewhat uneasy relationship with a feast which celebrates Christ as a king. That uneasiness may come from our experience of kings who ruled us in the past. Perhaps it would be good to be conscious of this when talking to young children about the feast so as not to pass on any latent prejudice that might be lurking about.
The Do This in Memory programme itself tries to get across the idea that we give the title king to people who are the best at what they do. When I lived in Kilkenny the only king that meant anything was Henry Shefflin, perhaps the most talented hurler of his generation. Michael Jackson was seen by many as the King of Pop. Music fans of an older vintage would have known Elvis as simply The King. The much loved musical The Lion King which many Irish children and adults may have seen in the last year, will have reinforced the image of king being the strongest and the wisest. To quote directly from the homily notes given for this Sunday’s Mass; “when we know someone is the best at what they do we tend to want to follow them, to learn more about them, to be like them. We become their fans and their followers”. This then is the framework within which the Do this in Memory programme presents to the children the idea of Jesus as a king. He is a king because he is the best at loving people, at having time for people, forgiving people, making them happy. He was also the best at praying and he showed us how to pray. The children are encouraged to see that they can become Jesus’ fans and followers and they can become like him. They can get to know him especially this year as they spend time with him preparing for their first Eucharist. Unlike the typical celebrity type king we can also become the friend of Jesus. The more we live like Jesus the better friend we will be.
Do this in Memory also touches on the theme of endings and new beginnings this month. The children are asked to bring fallen leaves with them to Mass and these leaves will be placed in the KidZone in the church. Some years ago it was not encouraged to speak to young children about death but that attitude has changed considerably. From the earliest stages of the Alive O religious programme which the children use in school, they are gently introduced to the concept of loss and death. This is often done through the death and dying which occurs in nature and the animal world. At this autumn and early winter time the children are aware of the death that is happening in nature.
They are encouraged too to think of those people in their lives who have died and the fallen leaves come to represent them. In their own homes too, the children are encouraged to reflect the death of loved ones in the sacred space or family prayer space they have created. Again leaves could be used in the prayer space at home but also the memory card of a loved one could be placed in the space.
Over the years we have heard many lovely stories of people’s experience with the Do this in Memory programme but one of my favourites comes from this time of year. A mother related how as she was passing the family prayer space in the hallway of their home she noticed a box of paper tissues had suddenly appeared. She casually questioned her little daughter who was preparing for First Eucharist and who very carefully looked after her prayer space. The daughter offered the following touching explanation for the tissues: “Mam, I thought you might be sad whenever you passed the prayer space or stopped to remember Nana and Grandad, whose pictures are there for November, and so I put the tissues on the table if you needed them!”
Another aspect of the ending theme touched on in Do this in Memory at this time of year is that the Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the Church year. The children may wonder why the Church year is different from the calendar year but we try to explain this by referring to the school year having a beginning and ending which is also different from the calendar year.