This past Sunday was, of course, Catechetical Sunday, and as always in our parish, the first day of class for our K-8 Religious Education students. Our first day of the year format allows only about 20 minutes of classroom time, so I prefer to forgo the traditional icebreakers (ours is a fairly stable community and most of the kids already know each other by the time they reach grade four) and instead use the time to introduce the group to the class altar.
It may sound pretentious to refer to what I’m about to describe as an “altar”, but I use the term quite deliberately. What may be an ordinary student’s desk has been dedicated to a sacramental purpose for the next 60 minutes or so, and for that time ceases to be just a desk. If you’ve ever heard the story of Dorothy Day and the coffee cup, you know what I mean by this.
Our class altar is made from any available table in the room, or a student’s desk in a pinch. It contains, at a minimum, the following:
- A covering in the liturgical color of the day. (The plastic table covers sold at “dollar” stores work well enough.)
- A crucifix.
- A vial of holy water and a small stoup.
- A candle.
On the first day I also added:
- A bible.
- A sacramentary. We have an old one that was donated to us after the release of the 2011 Missal. Although no longer suitable for liturgical use, it’s nice to have around because the students are often curious about the “Big Red Book” that the priest uses.
- A Rosary.
- A can of beans, recalling the Corporal Works of Mercy.
- A copy of the Apostles’ Creed.
- An icon of Saint Luke.
The students were asked to name each of these items. As they did, I had the opportunity to tell them what we would be studying this year.
Next week, I’ll describe how we use the class altar for opening prayer.