Monday, January 31, 2011

Feast of the Presentation in the Temple

In the United States, February 2 is known as "Groundhog's Dog." According to Wikipedia, this tradition began in the 18th and 19th centuries in southwestern and central Pennsylvania. Germans living in the area borrowed the European custom of predicting the weather by using an animal like a badger or a bear. The Pennsylvanian town of Punxsutawney is especially famous on this day, thanks to its famous groundhog Phil, who predicts the remaining length of winter in the United States. If he sees his shadow on that morning, tradition says that we will have six more weeks of winter.

This whimsical holiday falls on the same day as a much older holiday in the Christian church -- the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple. We remember the day that the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, who were following Mosaic law, took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem and dedicated him to the Lord. 

In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, we give a special presentation to the children about this feast.  We read Luke 2:22-39, which describes this event, then meditate on how Mary and Joseph might have felt when they heard the prophecies and words of Simeon and Anna.  After a candle-lit meditation, we use a diorama and figures to make the scene come alive to the children.

Here is the very simple diorama and figures I made for my children's at-home use:

 The temple diorama itself is very simple to make.  I used two wooden plaques, one slightly smaller than the other.  I stacked the smaller one on top of the larger one then used wood glue to hold them together, creating a "step" effect.  The top of the  temple is another wooden plaque.  I spray painted the pieces with "stone effect" spray paint to create the textured look. The pillars are plastic cake pillars usually used for wedding cakes.  I found mine at a garage sale for pennies, but they are also available in many hobby and craft stores that sell cake decorating supplies.
My figures are simple wooden dowels with a round wooden ball glue to the top of them.  I used an air-dry clay to create the arms on the figures, in addition to Baby Jesus (in Mary's arms) and the basket of doves (in Joseph's arms).  The Baby Jesus is a separate piece because Simeon holds Baby Jesus during part of the presentation. Oh, the women's veils are sculpted with a plastic type clay.  

My figures are very simple (some of the first ones I ever made) but the kids love using them.  As I was taught in my Catechesis training, often the most rustic and simple materials speak most to the children.  I've found this to be true even as my children get older.

After the presentation, the children are invited to work with the materials or trace some simple figures depicting the story. This year, I also gave them the option of making a collage: 

I love the fact that Baby Jesus can be moved from Mary to Simeon's arms in this collage.  You can find the collage and directions here (scroll down to page 10 for the reproducible collage pieces.) 

You can find out more about this feast and its association with candles on the New Advent website  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Traveling Cross Tradition

My son's Catholic school has a neat tradition. Each Wednesday at their school Mass, one class receives a special cross called the Vocations Cross. They are asked to take the cross back to their room.  That class dedicates its prayers all week to vocations, whether it be priests and religious who currently serve the Catholic Church or young men and women who may be considering the religious life.  The hosting class brings the cross with them to the following week's Mass where it is passed to another class. Our pastor announces which class will host the Vocations Cross for a week, so everyone knows who has the special honor for the upcoming week.

Here is a document that describes how this tradition is used within a parish. It was published by the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Vocations.

I was thinking about adapting this tradition to our domestic church. We will decide the week's prayer intentions as family -- whether we are praying for the souls in purgatory, for people we know who are having a tough time, or for vocations, or for some other need. Then one child will have the privilege of taking the cross to her room for the week and asked to dedicate a special prayer each night for the intention.
I think we will craft a special cross especially for this purpose. 

We already have a plain wooden cross like this, which I found at Hobby Lobby a couple of years ago. It could use some embellishment. Maybe we could paint it. It has a slight lip around the edge, so perhaps we could turn it into a mosaic cross using some of the gems I have left from another project.

Alternately, I've thought about making a burnt match cross. It would be a good way to use those wooden matches that are left over after lighting our prayer candle.  Of course, it would take some time to collect those matches. But in the meantime, perhaps we could move our prayer candle to each child's room.  Each time we light the candle, we could write down the prayer intention, then save the spent match.  It would be interesting to read over all those intentions while matching our burnt match cross.

I found directions for making a Burnt Match cross at the DLTK-Bible website.

Have any of you ever used a traveling cross?  Please share your experiences!