Teaching the truths of our Catholic Faith to our children is an essential part of every Catholic parent’s God-given mission. When our children were baptized, the following words were prayed as a blessing over the fathers:
“God is the giver of all life, human and divine. May he bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
While instructing our children in “the ways of faith” is our right and our duty, the logistics of how it should be done is not always something that comes naturally or easily to us as parents.
Memorization of the key doctrines of the Faith is a foundational way for our children to learn their Faith. However, connecting those doctrines to their “real-life” applications can be a daunting task indeed.
Parish Bulletin 101
One unique tool which can aid in illustrating how the teachings of the Church are lived out in a practical, local way is the parish bulletin. Inexpensive, readily available, and easy to use, the average parish bulletin provides a wealth of examples which can assist young students in recognizing how the Church’s teachings “work” in the parish community they call home.
Here are a few tenets of the Faith that can be illustrated using the parish bulletin:
Dates, times and locations for the celebration of the sacraments can be found in nearly every parish bulletin. After completing a lesson on the seven sacraments, have your children scour the bulletin to find information for each of the sacraments.
Ask them to try and identify which sacraments are celebrated most frequently—this can lead to a fruitful discussion about how some sacraments can be received only once, some more than once but also infrequently, and some on a regular, even daily basis.
St. Jerome’s famous axiom “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” can be the basis of your using the local bulletin to underscore the importance of Scripture in the life of every Catholic. Most bulletins list the citations for the daily Mass readings. Some bulletins even contain reflections on the Sunday readings.
Have your children search for all references to the Scriptures in their local bulletin—if your children are old enough, ask them to look up several of the citations in their Bibles and use those readings during prayer time.
The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy
Perhaps no teaching of the Church is more easily illustrated in a parish bulletin than the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.
Activities such as faith formation (instruct the ignorant), pastoral counseling (counsel the doubtful) and the bereavement ministry (comfort the sorrowful) provide vivid examples of a few of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
The parish food pantry (feed the hungry) and even the advertisement for the local funeral home (bury the dead) can illustrate some of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Encourage your children to find examples of all the Works of Mercy and challenge them to see how your family might participate in one of these ministries of the parish.
Praying for others is a holy act of charity that even the youngest child can readily understand. Your parish bulletin can highlight the fact that as a parish community we are all called to pray for each other. Many parishes list the members of the community who are sick.
Often, parishes will list the Mass intentions, which are most frequently offered for deceased members of the community. This provides a great opportunity to discuss the doctrine of Purgatory and the merit of praying for our loved ones who have died. Invite your children to find these names in the bulletin and then incorporate these intercessions into your family prayer time.
The Communion of Saints
Devotion to the saints and reliance on their prayers is an integral part of Catholic life. The bulletin is replete with opportunities to discuss the saints. If you are a member of a parish that is named after a saint, make learning about the life of that saint part of your religious studies.
Have your children search the bulletin for groups named after a particular saint, or devotions being offered to a saint. These too can be used as springboards for the study of the virtues and the unique contribution each saint made to the treasury of the Church.
The Church’s Hierarchy
Most parish bulletins have a listing on their covers of the Pastor’s name, as well as any other priests and deacons assigned to the parish. The bulletin may also list the name of the Bishop of the Diocese and even the name of the Holy Father.
Having your children look through the bulletin of their own parish as well as other local parishes for the names of these members of the Church’s hierarchy is a great way to personalize the titles of “Bishop,” “Pastor” and “Deacon.”
The activity can be extended by looking at the Diocesan or parish website to place a picture with the names.
The Four Marks of the Church
The four marks of the Church (one, holy, Catholic, Apostolic) can appear very esoteric, especially to younger children. After explaining the characteristics of the four marks, ask your children to find evidence for the four marks of the Church in the bulletin.
Examples include: the sacraments for “one”; prayers and devotions for “holy”; references to the Bishop or Pope for “Apostolic”; and missionary activity or RCIA for “Catholic.”
Using your parish bulletin as a teaching resource has benefits beyond a mere pedagogical tool.
By exposing your children to the bulletin, you can help them to begin to understand the breadth and the depth of the life of the Church and see how their participation in the activities of the local parish is an integral part of their lives as Catholics.