M. Cristina Borges. Of Bells and Cells. Illustrated by Michaela Harrison. N.p.: St. Bonosa Books, 2014. 44 pp., paper. List: $13.50. Purchase at Amazon.com.
Maria Montessori. The Mass Explained to Children. [Unaltered reprint of the original publication from Sheed & Ward, 1933.] Foreword by Rev. Matthew A. Delaney. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2015. i + 88 pp., paper. $9.95. Purchase at Amazon.com.
But parents, like all educators, need good resources to lean on. We can't be making everything up as we go along. After decades of relative drought, it is heartening to be witnessing a downpour of solid, traditionally Catholic books being published for children. Some of these have already been reviewed here at NLM (see here, here, and here). Recently I received two more that I can highly recommend to our readers.
Borges devotes several fine pages to the three evangelical counsels, which she explains with admirable simplicity but without the slightest hint of that wishy-washy embarrassment so typical of modern discussions of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In this book, the vows are presented as the ways in which men and women make a total gift of themselves to the Lord, rely completely on Him, surrender all to Him, and emulate, as perfectly as they can, His life and virtues. (Indeed, I cannot help thinking that this children's book would make a better introduction to the subject than many highschool and college texts out there.) I also appreciated her entering into how religious life is structured, its daily round, the steps of entering and making vows, the taking of a new name, the rationale behind wearing the habit (some of the best pages of the book!), the differences between religious orders, and the active and contemplative lives.
The portion of the book dedicated to the priesthood is equally luminous and inspiring. Once again, the fact that the author is willing to explain things like the difference between a secular/diocesan priest and a religious priest, why the clergy wear black (and, in particular, the cassock), how the priest is made "another Christ" through ordination such that he can then offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and forgive sins, sets this book in a class by itself.
An appendix contains brief accounts of the Benedictines, Carmelites, Carthusians, Conceptionists, Dominicans, Franciscans, Poor Clares, Missionaries of Charity, Redemptorists, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Jesuits, to give children some basic information about their founders, most famous saints, and characteristics. This is an especially nice touch, because it helps children to start thinking about how God has provided many different "realizations" of the Gospel and raised up many different kinds of saints who are all living out the baptismal vocation of holiness.
Montessori explains in her Preface that this book is not meant to be used at Mass, but before Mass, to help prepare children to understand what they will be seeing and hearing and doing. It serves that catechetical purpose admirably. It strikes me as an ideal religion text for somewhere in the grammar school years, depending on the aptitude of a given child. Again, I have placed a few photos below to give a better sense of it.
(Attention Montessori teachers and admirers: I've been wondering for a long time if anyone has developed a "Catechesis of the Good Shepherd" approach that fully comports with the traditional Latin Mass for which Maria Montessori originally designed her catechetical materials and approaches. If anyone has any information on this matter, I'd be grateful if you would write it into the comments below, or send me an email.)
Pages from Cristina Borges, Of Bells and Cells
|Look at the text: it's amazing how far we have fallen away from the sense of reverence!|
|Written in 1933, this deep reverence for the priesthood became almost unknown after the Council.|
|Note how Montessori lovingly explains the details rather than demanding their simplification.|
|The holding together of the fingers is connected with the awesome mystery on the altar.|