el veintiséis dia de septiembre de 2021

Image borrowed from http://www.booklife.co.uk

RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS AND CHILDREN

Sitting in a pew at Mass this morning, I was once again reminded of the importance of symbols, especially to children who have inquiring minds and to parents who want their children to know something about the faith tradition in which they are growing up. I love to see parents showing little details of the church interior to their children. These may grow to reject or to forget the symbols, but the fundamental basis of their faith tradition is there…deeply rooted; That’s how symbols best perform, from and in the mind and soul.

Symbology was an important part of my seminary education. At my seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota, there was a great effort given to simplicity of symbols, that is to say to avoid their repetition. For example, if one crucifix is visible to the congregation, there is not a need to add more to the sanctuary. The idea behind this kind of symbology is that a symbol can speak for itself and if overemphasized, the meaning becomes obscured. Having more of the same symbol in any church becomes a distraction, much as having two stop-signs at an intersection would be to a driver. Why five crucifixes when only one Jesus was self-sacrificed? Why two stop-signs when STOP already means STOP?

When children are exposed to too much, they are entertained and not catechized. They most likely to ask themselves why so many of this or that and not what does this one thing mean. This is not a critique of any church’s décor, but I think it is true that symbols can be overplayed. As regards children, parents are more easily able to direct them to a single symbol and be adequately prepared to tell the child what it is and what it means.

I am always heartened when I see children examining something in a church, looking here and glancing there. They are taking in so much even in the most minimal designs of a church interior. I love children’s natural wonderment and that they always want to know what something is. The details of the symbols can be reinforced as the child grows, but at any early age the basics are simple just as the fingered nursery rhyme explains. “Here is the Church, there is the steeple, open the doors now and see all the people.”

Children and symbols are a natural combination. This combination can be dynamic and enrich the memory with lasting value and meaning. As I mentioned above, the child when grown up, may reject the fundamentals of their family faith, but even in rejection, they demonstrate an awareness of the symbols. Without the symbol, there would be nothing to reject so we know that deep down in that person, the value of the symbol is still there.

I have been in many family settings in which all are gathered around a member who is dying. Unequivocally, I always notice that even the most cynical will mumble the Lord’s Prayer and/or cross themselves. That’s how deep the value of the symbol has entered into the heart and mind (subconscience, certainly), still speaking the same meaning as on the day the cynic-to-be first encountered the symbol or symbolic action and wondered what it meant. That’s the power of a symbol.

Published by Thomas

Retired from active priestly ministry in the Catholic Church; former Benedictine monk; francophile; Holocaust researcher; Delta One Million Miler; Ex-Patriated American to the Republic of Panama

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