Ordinary images help explain Mass to children
“Daddy, why is the priest dressed like Jesus?” Do you remember that question? I used it in the very first article introducing this column, as an example of a teaching moment we could seize.
It dawned on me recently that we could challenge ourselves and ask an even deeper question: “What is really going on at Mass?”
The adult answer is this: At Mass, Jesus re-presents His one, eternal sacrifice on the cross to the Father, and we receive the grace that flows from this gift. That is all very well and good. In fact, it’s about as well and good as it gets. But, how do we explain the Mass to children?
It was a homeschool mom, Christine, who solved this problem for me. I think her answer is brilliant.
First, we have to explain how God is outside of time. After all, the Crucifixion was a long time ago. How can it still be present today? Imagine that time is like a movie reel rolled out on a table. The characters in each frame of the reel can only see what’s in that frame. But, we can see all the frames of the movie at once. That’s sort of like how time appears to God. All of time is eternally present to Him. He sees all the frames at once.
Next, we have to explain how Jesus can offer the same sacrifice every day. Imagine a drawing that a boy has created for his father. Better yet, if you have a son, think of a piece of artwork that he has created for you. It’s an example of his love for you. Prominently displayed on your refrigerator, it reminds you of his love for you every time you see it. And you are, in turn, compelled to love him and everyone else in your life. After all, love always begets love.
That’s how this “re-presentation of the one, eternal sacrifice” works. It’s as if Jesus is in heaven, pointing to His sacrifice on the cross and saying, “Look, Daddy! Look at how much I love you!”
Note also that Jesus isn’t being sacrificed again and again, every day. The son isn’t drawing a new picture for his father every day. Instead, the son has created one drawing, and this is displayed every day. And the grace that we receive is the Father’s response of love, as His heart is filled to overflowing at the sight of what His Son has done for Him.
A movie reel. A child’s loving piece of art for his father. These are two ordinary items from everyday life that we can use to seize the moment and give the children in our lives a sense of what the Mass is like.
Oh, and why is the priest dressed like Jesus? Because he represents Jesus. The priest is doing what Jesus does. As Jesus presents His gift of love to the Father in heaven, the priest is presenting that same gift of love to us on earth. Thanks be to God.
Nicholas Hardesty develops new digital courses for Vocare, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s online catechist certification process. Contact him with new course ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org