A Template for a Worshipful Catechetical Session – by Joe Paprocki, DMin
The General Directory for Catechesis (#85) tells us that the most effective catechesis takes place within a climate of prayer. With that in mind, I constantly urge catechists to do all they can to make their sessions resemble going to church more than going to school. We do this by incorporating the language of liturgy – a language of mystery that includes sign, symbol, and ritual – into our catechetical sessions. Following is a template that I offer to catechists as a way of structuring a typical 75-minute catechetical session in such a way as to make it more worshipful.
- Preliminaries (15 mins)
- Greet students at the door with bowl of holy water (held by yourself, your aide, or one of the students) and invite them to bless themselves.
- Liturgical music playing in the background as students enter.
- Students write on a slip of paper their prayer intention for the week, fold it, and place it in a basket.
- Introductions, attendance, and business.
- Setting of prayer table – each child retrieves from a table one object that will be placed on the prayer table (cloth with color of the liturgical season, bible stand, bible, battery operated pillar candle, basket of prayer intentions, crucifix, bowl of holy water, icon, etc) and line up for procession. Child with the cross leads as they slowly process around the room as an appropriate song is played on CD or a song is sung. Students place their objects on the prayer table one at a time and return to their seats.
- Opening Prayer:
i. All Stand and pray the Sign of the Cross
ii. Ritual greeting: (e.g.) “This is the day the Lord has made!” “Let us rejoice and be glad!”
iii. Threefold sign of the cross on forehead, lips, and heart: “And let us pray tonight that God’s Word will be…(perform gesture)
iv. Pass battery operated candle around and invite each child to pray in thanksgiving for something or to pray for someone in need.
v. End with a traditional prayer (alternate prayer each month)
- Engage (15 mins)
- Introduce (announce clearly) the theme/topic/big idea of the lesson
- do an engaging activity that enables you to “enter through their door” (i.e. draw from their lived experience, current events, popular culture, etc. to grab their attention in a way that connects with the direction you intend to take with your lesson)
- Your catechist manual often has ideas and suggestions for ways to introduce the theme of your lesson
- Explore (25 mins)
- Invite a minute of silence to prepare to hear God speak to them in the lesson
- Invite a child to come forward, bow before the Bible, and read a passage that pertains to the lesson (Scripture is usually referenced in the textbook). End with “The Word of the Lord/Thanks be to God” or “The Gospel of the Lord/Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”
- Read from the textbook (or deliver content in some other appropriate manner) and relate to the big idea of the lesson
- discuss/do activities that further clarify, flesh out, reinforce the content and big idea
- Play a CD or sing a song/hymn that flows from the theme
- Reflect (10 mins)
- Invite students to come forward one at a time to take a battery operated tea light candle from the table and proceed to their “sacred space” (the place they will remain during the guided reflection)
- Lead a guided reflection that flows from/connects with the theme/big idea of the lesson.
- Allow at least a minute of silence at the end of the guided reflection
- Respond (10 mins)
- Read/do activities in textbook that invite the students to apply the lesson to life
- Give an assignment that invites/challenges the young people to put into practice what has been learned (invite sharing the following week about experiences)
- Closing prayer – either a traditional prayer, a decade of the Rosary, a Mass part (Confiteor, Gloria, Creed, Holy, Holy, Lamb of God, etc.)
- Exchange a Sign of Peace
- Bless selves with Holy Water as leaving
Joe Paprocki, DMin
First and foremost, I am a catechist! I am presently serving at a parish in Evergreen Park, just outside of Chicago. I have been involved in the catechetical ministry for over 30 years.
When I was in high school, I wanted to become a teacher, and I really felt called to teach religion. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I served as catechists at our parish, and I enjoyed helping others learn about their Catholic faith in a way that was engaging and imaginative.
I went to Loyola University Chicago, where I studied theology and history and entered the secondary education program. I became (and continue to be) certified to teach social studies in grades 6 through 12. However, since day one, I have used my teaching skills to teach religion.
I began my professional teaching career as a religion teacher at a high school seminary in Chicago, where I taught for nine years while pursuing my master’s degree in pastoral studies at the Institute of Pastoral Studies (Loyola University Chicago).
When the school I was teaching at closed, I became a director of religious education and a pastoral associate at a parish on the southeast side of Chicago, where I served for seven years. I loved working with the catechists there and learned so much from them.
When a new pastor came along and decided he didn’t need a DRE, I moved on to the Office for Catechesis of the Archdiocese of Chicago. There I served as the consultant for catechist formation, working with my favorite people in the whole world: catechists! I had the opportunity of directing the faith-formation program for catechists, leading to their certification.
After five years at the Office for Catechesis, I had the opportunity to join up with Loyola Press to work on creative and cutting-edge catechetical resources. I have been here since 2002 and now serve as the National Consultant for Faith Formation.
Along the way, I have had the privilege of authoring a number of books, most notably The Bible Blueprint: A Catholic’s Guide to Understanding and Embracing God’s Word; Living the Mass: How One Hour a Week Can Change Your Life; The Catechist’s Toolbox: How to Thrive as a Religious Education Teacher; A Well-Built Faith: A Catholic’s Guide to Knowing and Sharing What We Believe; Practice Makes Catholic: Moving from a Learned Faith to a Lived Faith (all from Loyola Press).
Oh, by the way, I recently completed my Doctor of Ministry degree at St. Mary of the Lake University in Mundelein, Illinois. My wife and I have been married for 29 years and we have two grown children.
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Lisa Mladinich says
Welcome, Joe! We’re so happy to have you stop by and share some of your wonderful techniques for inspiring reverence in young people and teaching the Faith so powerfully. Congratulations on the Fifth Anniversary celebration at your blog! And thanks for having me guest-post at: https://catechistsjourney.loyolapress.com/2011/12/15/5th-anniversary-celebration-guest-blogger-3-lisa-mladinich/
Joe Paprocki says
Thanks so much Lisa…I appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me to “stop by!”
William O'Leary says
Joe, this is a great way to do things! We always want our time in our religious education programs to feel more like church than school – well said. The challenge is to equip catechists to do that. Thanks for sharing this!
Joe Paprocki says
William, I agree, that is always the challenge – to equip catechists – and a worthy challenge it is!
Cay Gibson says
Joe, welcome! I love what you have here. It goes hand-in-hand with the way I think we should focus on the liturgical season in teaching the faith. I am forwarding this write-up to all my catechists. God’s Peace!
Joe Paprocki says
Thanks Cay…I hope your catechists find it to be of assistance to them in making their sessions more engaging and effective!
Marc Cardaronella says
Great post Joe! I love the idea of making catechesis sessions look more like going to church than going to school. I always say that sessions should be enclosed in a liturgical “envelope.” Using this structure and the “language of the liturgy” is a great way to do that.
Congratulations on five great years of blogging!
Joe Paprocki says
Thanks, Marc…that’s a great line: “sessions enclosed in liturgical envelope.” I’ll be “appropriating” that one! 🙂
Wylene Lim says
Thanks for sharing this Joe! I’m looking into a prayer service in one of our catechism class and you’ve contributed this. This is really timely as to point out the importance as well of liturgical rituals in relation to sacraments lessons we are having this year. I’ve already been checking your book- The Catechist’s Toolbox and borrowed over Christmas season from our local library. Congratulations for letting your talent be used in God’s work!
Joe Paprocki says
Thanks Wylene…good point about relating our sessions to the sacraments.