THE ATRIUM COMMUNITY
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” Mt. 18, 20.
As we prepare to gather with children once again in our atriums, we may recall the caution of Sofia Cavalletti that the atrium is not the church; we are preparing children for life in the church. Many of our album pages include the indirect aim of "Greater Participation in the Liturgy".
But Sofia also said that each session in the atrium is a liturgy of the Word. We gather to listen together to the Gospel, and Jesus is among us. Slowly our communion deepens, our love for one another grows, as does our respect for the ability of each child, no matter how old, to be a light-bearer.
At Christian Family Montessori School, where I have worked in the atrium for the last 35 years, we have had many occasions to ask parents, "What is it you value most about CFMS?" Their answer almost always begins with the word "Community." This community has grown right out of the atrium, the heart of our school, to embrace the teachers, the parents, grandparents, and siblings of the children.
Could we say that our atriums not only prepare children for life in the church but is the church in its gathering for the Liturgy of the Word and the ministry and love that flow from these small communities? I have seen a group of children attend a Holy Day Mass and spread out among the aging congregation to offer a very solemn gesture of peace. I have seen classes finish prayer shawls that many had helped to knit, pray over them as they were passed from child to child during a prayer service, and then delivered to an infant sibling of a classmate, a catechist facing surgery, a departing staff member, a friend battling cancer, a classmate struggling with autism, and more. I've seen our upper elementary classes prepare and lead the school liturgies at Thanksgiving, Epiphany, Easter, and graduation, and prepare a prayer service for a colleague grieving for the loss of a husband. Younger children have made hundreds of prayer cards to be offered to the sick or others in need or transition in our school.
From these gifts of the children, the adults of the school are drawn into community and learn to extend the same gracious support and love to one another. The children's competence and grace as they lead us in prayer empowers us to do likewise. The priests and ministers who join us are also humbled by the confidence of the children's life in Christ.
Our churches and denominations are in a time of transition. One model of church - the gas station where we go to fill up for life in the real world - is losing its place to a model where we live in constant communion with God, with others, and with creation, and liturgy is one of many expressions of this communion. Children in our atriums can lead us on this path, preparing the church for life "to the full".
Catherine Maresca is the director of CCTheo, and a catechist at Christian Family Montessori School.