5-Step Illustrated Method

Posted: September 15, 2010 in Ongoing Catechesis, Parents

The 5-Step Illustrated Method, as taught by the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart, is a wonderful way of teaching the Catholic faith to children. This method can be adapted for all age groups and can serve as a valuable tool for parents, catechist, pastors and all involved in the formation of children. I have included links below.

Here is a link to a preview of the Catechist Campanion.
Here is a link to purchase the book.


Peterfy, Ida, et al. Catechist Campanion: Ready-to-Use Lesson Plans: Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, And Saints. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publicatoins, 2009.


When is a child ready to receive their first Reconciliation? This may differ among catechists, but it is to be understood that children do not need to posses full knowledge of the doctrine concerning the sacrament in order for its reception. It is encouraged that catechists be simple in keeping with what is expected for young children. Below is a list of some of the criteria for the readiness of the sacrament.

  1. The child has a personal relationship with God, that is, an awareness of God’s love and God’s call to faith.
  2. The child has a sense of sin, an ability to distinguish right from wrong and describe wrong-doing in his/her own words, and an ability to express sorrow.
  3. The child recognizes in a very simple way that the sacrament of Penance is the special way that Catholics meet the forgiving Lord through the priest.
  4. The child expresses a desire to receive the sacrament. A child who is unwilling should not be forced to receive the sacrament, but normally an awareness of sin brings a need for forgiveness and a desire for God’s help to change and to start anew.

There are number of stages in which children learn and become familiar with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, among them are paraliurgical celebrations, learning from the communal celebration of the sacrament, actual participation in the communal celebration and a continued participation in the sacrament.

Paraliturgical celebrations could incorporate biblical and non-biblical storytelling along with the use of available media materials. Simulation of role-playing in sin/forgiveness situations is also helpful.

Presence at a parish communal celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be a learning opportunity for a child. They can experience the Church’s prayer for forgiveness and witness the community approaching individual confession and absolution. It would be helpful if time were then set aside following the attendance in order that one could explain and answer any questions the child might have. This familiarity is beneficial to building the ongoing and life long process of conversion.

The third stage would involve a child’s participation in the communal celebration. The most appropriate setting for this reception is with the family of the child in a parish setting. It is from this context that a child can learn that the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an action in which all Catholics participate.

The final stage would consist of a continued participation in celebrating the sacrament within and outside the communal setting. Children might profit from a transitional experience from communal to individual celebration. The children should be encouraged to attend parish communal services with their families and/or individual celebrations. This continued reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation should be directly related to the catechesis that will be ongoing in the later grades.


Pastoral Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance with Children, Archdiocese of St Louis, pg 5, (1998).

The celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation must be grounded in experiences for the child both at home and at school. Experiences of non-sacramental celebrations of reconciliation are also valuable. These non-sacramental celebrations in a child’s life fosters a spirit of penance and develops an understanding of the process of reconciliation and conversion lived out each day rather than at one experience.

This life long conversion to which we are all called to is aided by our catechesis and understanding of the saving mystery of redemption. There are a number of ways in which to catechize children on this very notion. Some possibilities are, dramatizations, role-playing, use of media, storytelling, etc. It is through these experiences that children can learn that the Gospel message is a living word for us to hear and live out now.


Pastoral Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance with Children, Archdiocese of St Louis, pg 5, (1998).

While conditions necessary for general absolution are not ordinarily found in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, I do want to note that the document mentions that older children should be aware of the existence of general absolution.


Pastoral Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance with Children, Archdiocese of St Louis, pg 5, (1998).

In celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation communally one can better see the aspect of sin and forgiveness as it pertains to the whole community. It is important for catechists to build upon the fact that we are one body in Christ and are to be aware of our responsibility for one another and to the world as we are challenged to live out the Gospel message. It is by a continued process of conversion that individuals gather as a community to celebrate God’s love and forgiveness. By each individual confession the communion that exists within the community is strengthened and a greater thanksgiving can be expressed. As they mature, children can gradually become familiar with the basic structure of this communal form. It should be adapted to the particular age level or group present. Listed below is the outline:

  1. Gathering:
    1. Celebration begins with an entrance song or song of gathering expressing trust in God’s mercy
    2. Or may begin with simple greeting by the priest (or preferably both)
    3. There is a short time for private prayer followed by the priest’s prayer for pardon and peace.
  2. Liturgy of the Word:
    1. The Word of God is proclaimed
    2. There may be three reading interspersed with silence
      1. Responsorial psalm
      2. Gospel acclamation
    3. If only ONE reading it should be taken from the Gospel.
    4. Children should be familiar with the Scripture text so to be understood and interiorized
    5. A brief homily to further aid in understanding and application
    6. An optional hymn sung after the homily
  3. Examination of Conscience:
    1. Time is allowed for an examination and a deepening of sorrow for sin
    2. Communal examen of conscience in litany form may be used
    3. Carefully prepared and varied examinations can be helpful for children to form their conscience about the demands of the Gospel and sin in their lives
    4. Examination does not need to be exhaustive
    5. Can simply remind the children of an aspect of Christian living and offer some specific questions or reflections on, e.g., relationships, responsibilities, gifts, etc.
  4. Communal Acknowledgment of Sinfulness:
    1. General acknowledgment of sinfulness followed by a litany of contrition or an appropriate song
    2. The Lord’s Prayer is then prayed or sung
  5. Individual Confession and Absolution:
    1. Those desiring to confess their sings go to the priest of their choice
    2. Each accepts a fitting act of penance and receives absolution
  6. Praise and Thanksgiving:
    1. When all confessions have been completed –
      1. The priest invites all to make an act of thanksgiving and praise to God for his mercy
      2. This may be done in song or prayer
  7. Dismissal:
    1. The priest concludes with a prayer and dismisses the people with a blessing.


Pastoral Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance with Children, Archdiocese of St Louis, pg 5, (1998).

When catechizing children for the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is it important to give emphasis to the ecclesial nature of the sacrament and to the prayerful celebration of God’s mercy. The penitent comes to the sacrament not only as an individual but also with reference to and with the reconciling community of the Church. Our personal sins not only affect our personal relationship with God, but they also diminish the bonds of unity that is to exist within the communal body, the Church. The celebration of the sacrament by the penitent is an act of worship and also an encounter with Christ through the ministry of the priest. It is important that this celebration be a humanly healing experience in the context of shared faith and prayer.

Having this in mind as we enter into the Sacrament of Reconciliation we are able to see that it is about a relationship with God. While it is important that the children need to be familiar with the basic structure of the sacrament, the actual mechanics of the rite should not take precedence over the penitent’s attitude and disposition toward the sacrament. Listed below is an outline of the Rite of Penance. It is important that catechists and parish priests discuss these elements with their students.

  1. Preparation for the sacrament is primary importance
    1. Catechesis should include awareness of the remote preparation of daily lived reconciliation, prayer and reflective living
    2. Children need guidance in the examination of conscience
    3. Varying of themes and remaining fixed on Christ helps avoid fixation and legalism
    4. The confession of sin should include an indentifying of sinfulness and discovering sinful attitudes and behaviors rather just listing sin
    5. Examination should be made in presence of God with a focus on Him rather than on self
    6. May be appropriate at times to prepare the children in the classroom through media that deal with the underlying themes of the sacrament or set the tone or context for approaching it
      1. Scripture passages can also be learned by the children to help approach the sacrament
      2. Immediate preparation should include prayer to the Holy Spirit and grace for conversion and forgiveness
  2. Welcoming Rite:
    1. Priest initiates the encounter with a warm greeting and the child responds
    2. They can make the sign of the cross together; priest will continue a simple dialogue
  3. Reading of the Word of God:
    1. The priest or child may read text or it could be part of the preparation. Children should be aware of God’s Word to proclaim and effect repentance.
  4. Confession of Sin:
    1. Children need clear procedure for the confession of sin
    2. Models can be suggested to children so they can vary their expression and avoid a mechanical approach
    3. Tone of confession should be simple and conversational
    4. Attempting to identify sins and areas needing conversion (e.g., the time of the last confession, what I did, why I did it, how can I change)
  5. Contrition:
    1. Priest asks child to express sorrow for sin
    2. Can be done by simple prayer
      1. Either one learned or
      2. An original one
    3. Children must be taught the elements appropriate to an act of contrition
  6. Penance:
    1. Act of penance or satisfaction given by the priest may take the form of prayer, self-denial, service to one’s neighbors and works of mercy
    2. Penance would be determined after talking to the child who would accept it humbly with a firm purpose of amendment
    3. Children will need instruction to understand that this satisfaction is a symbol for the real satisfaction which should occur, that is, a personal and interior conversion
  7. Absolution:
    1. Children should be taught to listen to the words of absolution which emphasize the action of the Trinity and express in a concise fashion the mystery of reconciliation
    2. Should respond with “AMEN”
    3. Children should be prepared for the imposition of hands, an ancient usage whose roots are in the actions of Jesus
  8. Praise and Thanksgiving:
    1. After receiving absolution, the penitent is ready to praise the mercy of God.
    2. The priest may pray a short invocation from scripture which the child responds.
  9. Dismissal: The priest dismisses the child in peace.


Pastoral Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance with Children, Archdiocese of St Louis, pg 5, (1998).

It is important to understand that ongoing moral catechesis is essential for not only children, but for all baptized. It is fundamental to the lives of a Christian and should be a part of ones early childhood formation. The formation of children not only falls on the shoulders of the priest, catechists, teachers and parish, but most importantly on the parents. They are the primary educators and the most important influence on the faith development of their children. By their very example, the parents’ attitudes, values and practices concerning the concept of God, their understanding of self, their prayer lives, their morality, etc., are constantly being communicated to their children. The best catechesis for the child’s first reception of the Sacrament of Penance must involve the parents.

As the children begin to grow in their faith it is an opportunity for parents to renew and deepen their understanding of the sacrament. There should be different times in the preparation the children that the parents can be involved – at least two sessions should be provided.  Both parents should be encouraged to attend and participate in the preparation sessions. There are different ways in which you can involve the parents and or the parish community. Some of the ways listed: a program offered to the whole parish with required attendance for parents of children preparing for First Reconciliation; required sessions in the church or school setting with optional ones in homes.

“Topics for the parent sessions could include: Sharing of parents’ understanding and experience of the sacrament both past and present to clarify and identify positive attitudes to communicate to their children; a history of the sacrament to understand the contemporary expression and celebration of it; an understanding of reconciliation – the concept related to the family, daily Christian living as well as the sacrament; an understanding of sin including the social and ecclesial dimensions; formation of conscience and moral growth from pre-school through adult levels; the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, communal and individual reception, which could include a role-playing situation; an overview of the program for the catechesis of the children; explanation of home activities and practical suggestions of how parents can enrich and support catechesis; prayer experiences and Scriptural background related to reconciliation.”[1]

At the parish level of involvement, the children receiving the Sacrament of Penance for the first time should be able to see the parish support. This can be given in support by prayer to the child, their families and to the catechists. The faithful in the parish are to witness the faith the children. A variety of things can be done to notify the parish of their preparation: announcements, inserts in the bulletin, homilies given by the pastor, sessions that are open and instructional, liturgical celebrations and even a parish reception following the first celebration of Penance. There are many ways to show support and to provide growth for the parish family who will continue to assist in the formation of the children.[2]

[1] Pastoral Guidelines, pg 15, (1998).

[2] Pastoral Guidelines, pg 16, (1998).