As parish catechetical leader at Immaculate Conception Church in St. Albans, Pamela King’s role is to support the catechist preparing children to receive Jesus in the Eucharist “in the most pious and loving way possible.”

The religious education program uses Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in which the children are prepared to receive Jesus the Good Shepherd in the Eucharist from the time they enter the program between the ages of 3 and 6 years.

“At the very young age of 3 years old the children listen [to] … the parable of the Good Shepherd, and they fall in love with the one who have loved them first,” she said. “It is such a blessing to hear their responses while meditating together. Almost immediately they make the connection, and when asked, ‘Who is the Good Shepherd?’ they excitedly respond, ‘Jesus.’”

When asked “who are the sheep?” they almost always respond with names and pointing to themselves and friends. “Once this happens, the first step is taken to know and to love the one who loves us first,” Jesus, King explained.

According to the Code of Canon Law, children must have “sufficient knowledge” and have received “careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.”

Children’s catechesis helps them understand profound mysteries. “One of the favorite presentations for the Level 1 child is ‘pouring.’ They practice first pouring grains, then water.  Once they demonstrate that they can pour water, they hear ‘preparation of the chalice,’ and they learn to prepare the chalices for Mass,” King explained. “Later on, in Level 2 (ages 6 to 9) they learn the gesture of ‘Epiclesis,’ when Father calls down the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus (transubstantiation). At a young age they learn that some things we must ‘wonder,’ and this is one of those things. Because, although the bread and wine have not changed in physical appearance, by faith we know it is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.”

Children in the program participate in meditations and a retreat in preparation for First Communion. The retreat helps the children “to hear answers to any questions they might have, but also it helps them to be in disposition to receive the Good Shepherd in the most intimate way, the holy Eucharist,” she said.

King includes parents in the preparations for their children’s First Communion, and their role is important to support and encourage their children in their sacramental preparations.

“It is primarily the duty of parents and those who take the place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible,” the Code of Canon Law explains.

Because parents are usually the most influential persons in their child’s life, the reverence they model for the Eucharist is the reverence their children will imitate. Among the ways to teach reverence for the Eucharist are attending Mass and talking about the Eucharist, going to Eucharistic Adoration “to spend time with Jesus” and reading children’s books about the Eucharist to children.

—Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.