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Understanding Apostolic Succession  
Suzanne M. Lewis  

Use the precious weeks late in the Easter season or during the period of Ordinary Time that falls during the summer to introduce the mystery of apostolic succession . Make certain that the children have had an opportunity to meditate on the mysteries we live and celebrate during the Triduum, before introducing the following material (Refer to the article "Seeing inside a Mystery," January/February 2008 issue of Pastoral Liturgy.)

You will need to gather a sober image of the Last Supper, preferably an icon, 8 1/2 x 11 inches and propped on a small easel; two white candles and candlesticks; a standing crucifix (preferably the San Damiano crucifix); a white cloth; a small plate and goblet; a small line drawing of a priest and another of a bishop, each 3 x 5 inches; your classroom Bible atlas; and the Bible.

Prepare a quiet corner, preferably in a room with few distractions. Place the white cloth on the table, then place the Last Supper painting on its easel in the center of the cloth. Keep all the other items where you will be able to easily reach them. Gather the children around the table and begin with a short introduction, such as the following:

"Jesus celebrated a special meal each year during the feast that the Jewish people call Passover. At the meal, the Jewish people remember when they were slaves in Egypt and God set them free. This was hundreds of years before Jesus was born, about 1200 BC. The Jewish people celebrate their freedom each spring. Jesus and the apostles were celebrating a festival of liberty and freedom on the night of the Last Supper.

"On that night, at the last Passover Jesus ever celebrated, Jesus said some new words, loving words that no one had ever said before. Do you know what those words are? Jesus shared everything with his friends, even his life."

Invite one of the children to read Matthew 26:26 - 30.

Ask the children, "We know what happened to Jesus at the Mount of Olives that night, don't we?" At the moment when the children articulate that Jesus' betrayal and arrest led to his death, place the crucifix on the table in front of the icon of the Last Supper. Prompting the children, say, "And on the third day . . . ?" When they proclaim the Resurrection, place the two candles on the table, one on either side of the crucifix, and light them. Lead the children in singing the acclamation of the Mystery of Faith that is sung at your parish. Leave the candles burning.

After pausing, say, "Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven. Shortly afterwards, the apostles were gathered in a room together, praying, when something amazing happened . . . ."

Invite another child to read Acts 2:1 - 4. Explore this moment by asking, "So what did the apostles receive at Pentecost? And what did it empower them to do?"

Continuing the meditation say, "A short time later, when the apostles were gathered, one of them took the bread in his hands and repeated the Jesus' words from the Last Supper. He took the cup of wine and repeated Jesus' words again, and now Jesus was present with them. He was there with his friends, again! But he was not there in the same way he had been at the Last Supper. He was there in his Risen and glorified body!" Explore the implications of this change.

We also know that the apostles did not stay in that room, keeping Christ all to themselves. They began to go out into all the world, as Jesus had commanded them.

Invite another child to read Matthew 28:16 - 20. Repeat the last phrase of the passage, reminding the children that Jesus has promised to be with his disciples always. With the atlas, trace the routes that some of the apostles took to far lands. Show how Saint Peter went to Rome, Saint James, possibly to Spain , Saints Thomas and Bartholomew perhaps to India, Saints Philip and John to Greece . . . Explain that wherever the apostles went, they repeated the words of Jesus over the bread and the wine, and Christ was present with them. Explain that as the Church grew, the apostles appointed others, called bishops, who repeated the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper. Show the children the picture of the bishop. Explain that as the Church continued to grow, the bishops appointed priests, who were to repeat the words of Jesus from the Last Supper. Show the picture of the priest. Through the ages, the bishops appointed more bishops and priests, even until today. By apostolic succession, we mean the unbroken chain of bishop leaders that goes back from today's bishops to the original apostles chosen by Jesus. Ask the children, "Where do we hear these precious words of Jesus, the words he spoke over the bread and the wine at the Last Supper?"

Conclude the meditation with the following: "I wonder if there could be a more wonderful gift than this gift of Jesus. It's so much to think about." Sing "One Bread, One Body" or "What Wondrous Love Is This?"

Suzanne M. Lewis
is a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation leader and the author of Children's Daily Prayer, 2007-2008.
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