One of the first presentations for the new three year old in the Atrium is the Model Altar. This small material gives the child access to small representations of the articles that they see being used during Mass and in the church. This is a work that grows with the children. They begin by learning the names and placement of the most essential items used during Mass: altar, altar cloth, paten, chalice, candles, crucifix. When they have worked with this material for a time and can recall the names of these items, more can be added: Lectionary, ambo, Roman Missal, book stand, tabernacle, ciborium, sanctuary lamp. This material continues to grow with the children and once their memory for these gifts has solidified, they are also introduced to: credence table, cruets, lavabo basin and handtowel, corporal, burse, purificator, and pall. Once the child is beginning to read they are invited to label all of the items they have set out when working with the Model Altar.
As the children move into elementary, they are invited to recall the names and placement of these items and are encouraged to continue their pondering of these materials through some additional extensions: the large altar collage and the altar nomenclature cards. With the collage the names are again emphasized and the child may even decide to write labels for each item. The nomenclature cards also allow practice with early reading and writing as the children match the label with the picture of the item and then compose a definition for it or attempt to match a pre-written definition to each picture. Often, the next step is for the children to make their own booklets as they “collect” and record the articles of the Mass that they know. Learning the names and uses of the items used at Mass comes with such a variety of activities that the children are sure to find one that is of interest and engages them in their learning!
As wonderful as it is to see the children gaining access to a more full and active participation in the liturgy through their growth in knowledge, the first aim of any presentation in the Atrium is to lead them to prayer. This prayer comes first as silence or song or words of thanks to God who gives us such good gifts…and it grows, we hope, into awe and wonder at His presence in both our daily life and during our most sacred moments of celebration at liturgy.