Under the pressure of secularization and the influence of consumerism, the
Catholic Church today cannot assume that the faith will be automatically
transmitted to the next generation. The
process of secularization is further advanced in parts of Europe than in the US,
and it is in Europe that Catholic educators are coming up with the most creative
responses to this challenge. “Second
Spring Catechesis,” partly inspired by the groundbreaking work of Sophia
Cavaletti, is an application of the fundamental principle of the new
evangelization: the intimate association of truth and goodness with beauty.
This implies a vital role not only for intelligence and will but for imagination
in religious formation. The Vatican
has called for an “evangelization through beauty”, since this – especially
the beauty of holiness in the lives of the saints – is the main way in which
modern people can still relate to the Christian tradition and begin to grasp its
meaning for them.
The first challenge was getting children to relate to the central act of
worship, the Mass. There are
numerous resources for first communion preparation, but there is still a
pressing need for something which unpacks the symbolic and supernatural meaning
of the Mass itself in a form that is visually accessible to younger children.
This perceived need has led to the creation of an illustrated guide to the Mass
for children aged 5 to 9, published by Second Spring (originally ResSource Ltd.)
in Oxford and distributed by Thomas More College in North America, which has
been eagerly and warmly received by parishes and parents throughout the
English-speaking world. A Spanish
edition is now in preparation.
The problem with catechising in the modern world is that you are competing for
children’s attention with a host of visual stimuli that surround them.
Television and film, as well as fantasy literature, abounds in images
that feed - and form - the youthful imagination.
As we monitored the response to our book on the Mass, we began to realise
that personal involvement in the type of imagery we are presenting has a
powerful subliminal value, on two counts. First
there is the obvious benefit of internalising symbolic and historical meaning at
an early age, so that for instance, you can "imagine" the creed as you
say it. But secondly, the nature of
the art used, the style of the drawing, also has a value in itself.
Reverence, contemplation, all these things can be fostered through an
artistic style, as they have been for centuries in the great art of the
Second Spring Catechesis looks simple, since it takes the form of a series of
coloring books, not normally regarded as artistically significant.
But it involves taking the child, and the child’s sensibility
much more seriously than most other forms of catechesis have done.
This seems to be part of the reason for its effectiveness: it opens
windows in the child’s imagination through which the vision of the faith can
be transmitted, or (to vary the metaphor) it prepares the ground and plants the
seeds for a later, more intellectual appreciation of the faith in the child’s
mind. The challenging activity of
coloring delicate pictures serves to engage the child in a more personal way
with the symbolism and beauty of the images.
The images themselves subliminally suggest levels of meaning, and
connections between Bible and Liturgy, in a way that nourishes the child’s
sense of mystery and of the sacred – essential for the healthy development of
the life of faith and prayer through the difficult years of adolescence that lie
The further benefit of exposing children at an early age to a wide range of rich
and beautiful imagery lies in helping to perpetuate the best artistic traditions
of Christianity. By fostering an
appreciation of how icons function to express religious truths and support the
interior life, Second Spring Catechesis thus complements and extends the work
being done for an older age group by David Clayton in Thomas More College’s
“Education in Beauty” program. Indeed
David himself is illustrating a number of our books for children, adapting his
knowledge of traditional styles and techniques for the purpose.
Catechesis often neglects the cultural dimension of the Faith, but as John Paul
II never tired of saying, “The synthesis between culture and faith is not just
a demand of culture, but also of faith.... A faith which does not become culture
is a faith which has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through,
not faithfully lived out.”