One method to approach the Old Testament with children
is to follow the prayers of the liturgy.
For example, in Eucharistic Prayer I, we pray,
"Look with favor on these offerings / and accept them
as once you accepted / the gifts of your servant Abel, / the sacrifice
of Abraham, our father in faith, / and the bread and wine
offered by your priest Melchisedek."
To help the children begin to grapple with the theology contained in this prayer, provide a Bible for each child. Place the above prayer in context, reminding the children what
comes before and after this prayer in the Mass. Ask the children what
it means that we want God to "look with favor on these offerings."
What are we offering to God? How do we make this offering? Point out that
three men are named in this prayer. Each one of them made offerings to God.
Ask them to search in the early portion of the book of Genesis for the place where it records Abel's offering to God. Once they have all found the place, ask for a volunteer to read the passage (Genesis 4:1-7). Ask the children what "one of the best firstlings" means. If they have trouble, explain that a "firstling" is a young animal, perhaps a lamb. How is what we offer like a "best firstling"? Why do we call Jesus "the Lamb of God"? Ask the children why Cain's offering wasn't accepted. Suggest that while the Bible uses the word "best" to describe Abel's offering, Cain's offering was perhaps not the best of what he had grown.
Next, point the children to Genesis 2:1-12 in which the sacrifice
of Abraham is recounted. Have one of the children read the
passage. Ask what God requested that Abraham sacrifice. How
does Abraham's sacrifice compare to what we are offering to God,
in this prayer of the Mass. Is our offering also an "only" and
"beloved son"? Did God ask Abraham to carry through with the
sacrifice? Did he spare his Son from being sacrificed?
Finally, encourage the children to find the biblical passage that mentions Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18 - 20). Invite a child to volunteer to read the passage aloud, and then ask the children if any details strike them. Remind them that this episode occurs long before the birth of Jesus. Why would this priest of "God Most High"
offer bread and wine? Why does the prayer we are examining ask
us to remember this event in the life of Abraham during this
moment of the Mass? You may wish to point out that, for the people
of Abraham's time, food was gathered and made by hand. The
ancient Jewish people viewed the land as a gift of the covenant
relationship with God. To eat and drink its fruits meant to accept
God's gifts and to give a conscious "yes" to God's covenant.
After the liturgical prayer is read again, ask the children to
reflect on the biblical figures that the liturgy asks us to remember
as we ask God to accept our offering. How is Christ, present in the
Eucharist, a gift from us in the same way that Abel's "best firstling"
was a gift to God? How do we sacrifice, as Abraham was asked to
sacrifice, when we enter into the Eucharist? With what attitude of
spirit is the liturgy asking us to approach the table of the Lord?
And why are bread and wine so significant? Why did Jesus choose
to be present to us, to be offered up to the Father, in this way?
Choose songs of offering to sing with the children at the end of your meditation. "All That We Have," "Take This Moment," and "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus" are all good choices. You may ask the children to copy out the prayer into their prayer journals and to spend a few minutes of silence journaling about what it means that we offer Christ to the Father during the Mass and what it means that we also offer ourselves during the Mass. Ask them to consider whether these things, Christ and ourselves, are related to one another as we offer them.
is a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation
leader and the author of Children's Daily Prayer, 2007-2008.