Father, My son is three years old. I’m looking for a very simple way to explain the Eucharist to him. I have been pointing out the host to him and saying, “See that’s Jesus that Father is holding.”, but this doesn’t seem to be making much of an impression. Would it be correct to say that Jesus is hiding in the host? I think this would make sense to him but I want to make sure whatever I tell him, even if simple, is true.
To explain the deep mystery of the Eucharist to anyone, regardless of age, is difficult. This mystery requires a lifetime of grappling with even to come to some minimal understanding of its profundity. One runs the risk of lapsing into heresy.
Perhaps the best way to expose children to the mystery of the Eucharist has a twofold approach.
Firstly, allow them to observe the reverence and awe that we adults show to the Blessed Sacrament. Let them see our deep and genuine genuflections toward the tabernacle, our silence in church, our heads bowed in prayer, our regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance, our reverent reception of Holy Communion (not, by the way, in the hand).
Secondly, state matters as directly as possible. “Yes, dear Athanasius, that is Jesus whom mommy and daddy receive in Holy Communion. … Yes, little Etheldreda, we genuflect because Jesus is in the tabernacle. … No, Philomena, Jesus isn’t hurt when we consume the Host.”
A correct answer to some of their questions might be a simple, “It’s a mystery, which is why mommy and daddy spend as much time as we do praying at church, meditating on it, asking God to deepen our understanding of it.”
Many efforts to explain deep theological mysteries in terms that children understand fall into a sort of simplification that can, in fact, be heresy. It’s okay that little Paphnutius doesn’t understand the Eucharist in all of its profundity. Who does?
One of the beauties of mysteries are that they allow a growth in understanding over time. As we grow and mature in faith and in grace, our understanding can grow proportionally. Consider the wisdom of the Church’s sacred liturgical year. Each year, year in and year out, we are presented with the mysteries of the life of Christ and of the whole history of salvation from Creation to the End. Each year we are a little different. We, who receive the presentation of these mysteries, each year can glean from them something new for our identity and love of God, helpful for our salvation, helpful for our zeal to help others to salvation.
Of course much of your task and process of helping young children to grow in the Faith will be influenced – and heavily so – by the sacred liturgical worship at your church, on Sundays and other moments. Is this worship mainly man-centered, and horizontal? Raucous and constantly noisy? Is this worship mainly God-oriented, and vertical? Including silence?
Is it beautiful?
Children get these things pretty quickly, I’ll wager, and I bet parents will back me up. If adults and older children around them behave a certain way towards … anything… they’ll pick that up.
I am sure that parents and grandparents out there have some practical wisdom to share in this regard.
Amy Welborn dropped me a note (give her page a visit!):
This is pitched at First Communion age, but Pope Benedict is *so* clear about things that it might even help a 3-year old!
God bless, and thanks for all you do in these..interesting times.