An Object Lesson for Teaching Sacraments


Last night, I introduced a lesson on the sacraments to my class of rowdy 5th graders using an object lesson, and I thought I’d share it here

Credit and thanks for this idea goes to Rick Paolini from the Divine Mercy Podcast (found on iTunes). I heard him talk about this in episode 18 and will be using this with the Confirmation Boot Camp group this summer as well. In fact, I will pretty much be using it whenever I can.

You’ll need:

  • 2 strong magnets (or even a bunch of smaller ones, which I sort of used in one presentation)
  • A pencil
  • A long nail (preferably as long as the pencil)
  • A bowl of small metal items that will be attracted to the magnets (i.e., brads or small nails) —  These need to be much smaller than the large nail
  • If you can swing it (I didn’t think of it until too late this time around), a dirt-covered nail the same size as the large nail

Hold two strong (large-ish is preferable) magnets close to each other.

Note how they attract and repel each other.

We can see both magnets. We can prove they’re there.

But what about that force? Is it still there? We can’t see it: are we SURE it’s there?

The magnets and the force between them represent the Trinity. The magnets are the Father and the Son, and the invisible force they make together is the Holy Spirit.

–> Just because you can’t see the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean he’s not there. He is, and he makes a big impact.

Hold a pencil by the magnets.

What happens? How do the magnets affect the pencil?

What if we dipped the pencil in metal? Hold up a long nail.

How does this change things?

–> This is what happens to us in baptism. The waters of baptism make us attracted to God just as the metal of the nail is attracted to the magnets. The field between the magnets is the grace that is all around us, that we are able to tap into, thanks to the sacrament of baptism.

Pretend we were to chip pieces off the magnet, but as we did it, it was able to replace the lost pieces so that it never gets any larger or smaller. The chipped pieces, though, are attracted to the nail. (I had some small, round magnets in a large clump and I used some of those to make this even more visual.)

What would happen to the nail? How would it change?

–> Just as the nail gets magnetized by the small chips off the magnet, so we are magnetized and pulled closer to the Trinity when we receive the Eucharist.

Put the two magnets in a bowl of small brads or nails and pull them out.

What happens?

The brads are hanging down in a long string, holding on to each other.

–> That’s what happens at Confirmation. In our role within the Body of Christ, we become part of the work of evangelization. We hold onto God and stretch down to someone else.

Imagine that the nail was covered in dirt. 

Would it be attracted to the magnets in the same way? What would happen?

When we sin–especially mortal sin–we become less magnetized, less attracted to God. The sin comes between us and God.

–> Reconciliation recharges us, cleans us off so that we are attracted to the magnet again.

The sacraments strengthen us, and we must never forget how essential they are to our faith life. It’s all too easy to blow off the importance of them, to make excuses for letting ourselves turn into the equivalent of a dirty nail.

Have ideas for adding to this lesson? I’d love to hear your input in the comments!

image source

  • Christian LeBlanc

    I think I can use aspects of the magnet idea in class. The magnet itself is physical, but what makes it important is its invisible effect. Sacraments are the same. We see the baptismal water flow over someone’s head, but the actual washing away of sin is invisible.

    I’m thinking it’d be good to have an old magnet that looks just like the working one. Then a distinction could be made between a real magnet (or sacrament), and a piece of metal that simply resembles a magnet: it looks the same, but without the invisible function, it’s just a symbol.

    I used to teach this sort of thing using a balloon: the balloon isn’t very balloon-y without being filled with invisible air. That is, a balloon lacking invisible air is useless as a balloon.

  • ClaudiaSue

    Wow! I love this and will be using it Wednesday. Great illustration. Thank you so much