Monday, March 28, 2016

Recommendations for Faith Formation

For far too long, I've let "perfection be the enemy of the good" in preventing me from publishing this post because it wasn't perfect yet. Now I offer it to you as-is.

This blog post is in response to an email I received a couple of months ago from a homeschooling mother:

"Dear Katherine, 
What do you use for catechism and faith formation?"

I answer the question from the perspective of an adult convert with a preference toward the traditional Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form) who has been a parent for only nine years.

While "faith formation" seems to me a rather modern term used in parishes to describe their children's catechism classes on Sundays, it is an excellent description for forming the faith of our children, as opposed to the intellectual learning of catechesis. These are two practices which are each needed, a hand and glove together.

Faith Formation

I think that faith formation deserves its own blog post and one which I'm even less qualified to write. In short, the longer I parent, the more I think that forming the faith requires leadership of the father, modeling of both parents, and living the faith day in and day out. I don't recommend any particular device to memorize prayers; instead, I recommend praying as a family in a routine way throughout every day, morning, mid-day, and evening, if possible. I think the best way to learn about the Mass is to attend Mass frequently. I can't emphasize enough the importance of the father's own religious practices: his attendance at Mass, not just Sundays but holy days of obligation and mid-week Masses when possible; his leading of prayers (morning offerings, holy rosary, act of contrition); his frequenting of Confession; his reading of spiritual reading for his own growth. On one hand, a mother's hand is the hand that rocks the cradle and rules the world, but on the other hand, societal studies and my personal experience show that a father's religious practices have the more profound impact on children (who grow into adults).


I prefer catechisms that require voice-to-ear teaching, leading to meaningful conversations, not books of busywork that include drawing pictures, word searches, and dot-to-dots. 

I cobble together my children's catechism program and can only speak so far to what I've done through grade 3.

Each year, my catechetical formula has been to have the children read through:
  • Scripture daily,
  • one formal catechism book, 
  • one book teaching the (old) Mass, 
  • and various saint books. 


In preschool (ages 3-4), I like to go through the "Catholic Children's Treasure Box" series of books (TAN Publishers, originally published 1958) as a catechism.

I also like to go through "Leading the Little Ones to Mary" (originally published 1959), which is a de Montfort consecration to the Blessed Mother written for the littlest ones. It was originally intended for somewhat older children, but the language is so babyish to our adulterated modern children that I think kids older than preschool or Kindergarten would eschew it.

For Scripture, I have the children flip through little Bibles, a favorite being the "Lift-the-Flap Bible" (by Sally Lloyd Jones, Fun Studio Books, originally published 2000).


In Kindergarten, I go through "Chats with God's Little Ones" (Our Lady of Victory School), which is actually a First Holy Communion catechism and I find so excellent for little ones and which uses the Socratic method.

Another one I used in past Kindergartens was "Illustrated Catechism for Little Children" (Angelus Press, originally published 1943), and, while I may not use it in its entirety again, it is worth having for the gorgeous illustration explaining grace.

Starting in Kindergarten, I want the children hearing or reading a Bible story, daily if possible, from "The Golden Children's Bible" (originally published 1965).

First Holy Communion Year (First Grade)

A book for parents that is useful, slim, and worth reading anew each year one has a child preparing for First Holy Communion is "The Children's Charter: Talks with Parents and Teachers on the Preparation of the Young for Holy Communion" by Mother Mary Loyola (St. Augustine Press, originally published 1911)

During the First Holy Communion year (which, for our first two children, has been first grade), I've read through with them "The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism" (Catholic Book Publishing Co., originally published 1963) and "Guidebook for Confession for Children" (by Beatriz B. Brillantes, Sinag-Tala Publishers, Inc., originally published 1987). Both are slim books, more properly booklets, which take maybe half the year to go through if one is going at a slow pace. So, after I finish those basics, I just keep on keepin' on with other catechisms to fill the year.

"Know Your Mass" (Angelus Press, originally published 1954) is the first book on the Mass I have the child read. While written in comic book, it is worthy of an adult reading, and it was, in fact, the first book I was given to read by a traditionalist priest so I could understand the Mass.

I want the children to finish "The Golden Children's Bible" in first grade. My first grader already finished it, so she is now reading daily "Jesus of Nazareth: The Story of His Life Written for Children" by Mother Mary Loyola (St. Augustine Press, originally published 1907).

Second grade

"Learning to Follow the Mass: An Extraordinary Missal for the Extraordinary Form" (St. Augustine Academy Press) is the book I have assigned to my (only) second grader so far.

For John's second grade year, I had him read the "Catechism for Children" (Angelus Press), which is a very fat catechism book which can cover second through fifth grade. The questions in each lesson are marked with little icons to indicate which grade should be working on which questions. It contains excellent information, but is certainly dry, with no illustrations. I probably won't use this again, instead switching to the simplicity of The Baltimore Catechism.

In second grade, John was done reading the Golden Children's Bible, so for his daily Scripture reading he read "The Holy Gospels of St. Luke and St. John" (Sacred Art series, originally published 2014).

Third grade

"The Mass for Boys and Girls" (Angelus Press, originally published 1948) is the book on the Mass I assigned for third grade.

For daily Scripture reading, my particular third grader requested to start reading the daily Mass readings (commons and propers), so I figured that was a fine practice I would let him pursue. He uses any one of our old Mass missals, such as the 1962 missal from Angelus press.

Other catechisms I own, love, and plan to employ for future grades are:

"My Catholic Faith" (Sarto House, originally published 1954)

"First Confession" by Mother Mary Loyola (St. Augustine Academy Press, originally published 1902)--this was written when children receiving First Confession were older than 8, so I hope to assign this in third or fourth grade.

Books on the Mass I intend to assign, but haven't yet reached those grades:

"The Mass Explained to Children" by Maria Montessori (Roman Catholic Books, originally published 1932)

"Treasure and Tradition: The Ultimate Guide to the Latin Mass" (St. Augustine Academy Press)

Books on Saints

Meanwhile, through all the years, we are reading many books on saints. Frankly, from my perspective, I think we could learn how to be excellent Christians and get ourselves to heaven if we lived on a steady literary diet of hagiographies, even if we didn't have formal catechesis. I don't use a formal program for reading lives of the saints and long ago gave up trying to coordinate reading the book right around the saint's feast day.

For our history program (Connecting with History), we are assigned to read nearly daily saint stories from the "Once Upon a Time Saints" (originally published 1996) series of books.

I have very much enjoyed the "Encounter the Saints" series by Pauline Press, which I can hand off to my first and third graders and which they read within the week.

I have enjoyed as read-alouds (because they are longer) the Mary Fabyan Windeatt books by TAN Publishers and the Vision Book series published by Ignatius Press (various authors).

Collections of Holy Catholic Stories

I find it so useful to have collections of lovely Catholic stories which teach catechism through modeling. I have these scattered around the house in our favorite sit-down-and-read spots, and I read them at random times, not on a schedule.

"Angel Food for Boys and Girls" (Neumann Press, originally published 1950)
"Catholic Stories for Boys and Girls" (Sophia Institute Press, originally published 1957)
"Their Hearts Are His Garden" (Neumann Press, originally published 1940)

***Special note regarding the Baltimore Catechism (No. 2, TAN Publishers). My friend J------- told me a few months ago about her very easy catechism system, and I have begun using it. She has her children who can read independently read one lesson from the Baltimore No. 2 daily, reading it over and over until the child believes it is memorized. Then the child comes to her when he feels ready to be tested. She does not require every Q-and-A memorized or memorized verbatim, but she does a spot check and looks for important phrasing memorized. Also, on Sundays, as the family drives the 45 minutes to church, they play the Baltimore Catechism on CD (not even coordinated to whatever the kids are reading that week, all of which might be different), and they pause the CD to talk about how each Q-and-A might apply to our lives in real ways. They have a meaningful conversation.

I had been applying this for about half a year. I found that my first grader was too often skipping reading her Baltimore Catechism during holy reading in the morning, while the third grader was doing well. And way too often during our drive to Mass, we were not discussing the Catechism. So, I switched recently to reviewing our Baltimore Catechism as a family during our Morning Basket Time That said, I still LOVE certain catechisms below and don't necessarily want to abandon all of them for the Baltimore memorization. ***

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