Pilgrimages have long been part of our Catholic tradition.
The faithful travel to holy places—great cathedrals,
sites of Marian apparitions, and the land where
our Lord walked. In our day, World Youth Day pilgrims converge
on a designated city seeking community, prayer, and Mass
with the Holy Father; and that city becomes a holy place.
The beginning of the catechetical year is a good time to
introduce the experience of pilgrimage by taking the children to
the holy place where we gather in community for Mass—our
parish church building.
Explain that a pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place,
and that we pray both while we travel and when we arrive.
Depending on the route you will take, you may ask the children
to sing, recite prayers, or walk in silence.
As you enter the church, stop at the holy water font. What
should we do here? Why would we do this? Tell the children that
this is a reminder of our Baptism with water “in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All can take a
turn dipping two fingers of the right hand into the holy water
and making the Sign of the Cross.
Stop for a visit at the baptismal font and let any children
who have witnessed a Baptism recall what they have seen.
Emphasize the many gifts this sacrament offers to the newly
baptized—the light of Christ, symbolized by a small candle lit
from the Paschal Candle; the white garment, an external sign of
the light that fills the baptized person; water, a visible sign of the
passage through death to new life in Christ; the Word of God,
always proclaimed as part of the rite; the oils, used to strengthen
the person to turn from sin, and to anoint the baptized as priest,
prophet, and king; and the Sign of the Cross that claims the baptized
person for Christ and blesses the gathered assembly.
If the sacristy is accessible, show the children the vestments
worn by the priest. Talk about the reason for the different
colors and the liturgical seasons when Father wears each one.
Why would white be used for our most sacred feasts? Why does
red symbolize the Holy Spirit? How can the green of Ordinary
Time signal a time of growth in our faith and our commitment
to follow Jesus? Can the Gospel accounts of Ordinary Time—recounting the public life of Jesus, his preaching, teaching, and
miracles—help us to grow in faith?
Visit the place in your church where the Blessed Sacrament
is reserved. Show the children the tabernacle, and explain that
its contents are kept under lock and key. What kinds of things
do we keep under lock and key? What could be so valuable that
it is kept in this special place? Explain that consecrated hosts are
kept in the tabernacle in case
a sick person who cannot
come to Mass requests that
someone bring Holy Communion.
There is always a
light burning to indicate
that Christ, the Light of the
World, is truly present in the
consecrated hosts. This light—usually colored red—is called
the sanctuary lamp. In any
Catholic Church, even a
cathedral with many altars,
it is possible to find the sanctuary
lamp and to know that
this is the location of the
Blessed Sacrament. Many
people like to pray in this
Teach the children that at the tabernacle, where the Lord is
present, we make a prayer gesture. Slowly and reverently, demonstrate
how to genuflect. Ask the children to describe the
motion. What did it look like I was doing? Why would I make
myself little? In what situation might we make such a gesture?
Before a King? Why did I make that gesture here? Invite each
child to genuflect before the tabernacle.
Show the children the lectern, from which the Word of
God is proclaimed. Remind them that Jesus is also present to us
in the Word, and that this presence is often symbolized by a lit
candle near the lectern during the part of the Mass when we listen
to the Word.
Finally, lead the children to the church's main altar. Ask
the children to watch you as you bow deeply at the waist. When
would we normally bow? Why do you think we bow here?
Explain that, out of reverence for the sacrifice of the Mass that is
offered here, we bow before the altar where Jesus becomes food
and drink for us. Have each child bow before the altar before
Our goal for the children, as for all pilgrims, is that they
have a personal encounter not just with the space, but with the
Lord, whose presence permeates the space.
is the coordinator of the Catechesis of the Good
Shepherd at St. John Neumann parish in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
and teaches training courses for new catechists.