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The Alive-O Programme

30 November, 1999

This article by John-Paul Sheridan is a general introduction to the Alive-O programme, the primary school religious education programme. Based on the quotation from St Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a person fully alive”, the programme aims at a holistic and integral development of the young person. It first appeared in the Veritas book “Promises […]

This article by John-Paul Sheridan is a general introduction to the Alive-O programme, the primary school religious education programme. Based on the quotation from St Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a person fully alive”, the programme aims at a holistic and integral development of the young person. It first appeared in the Veritas book “Promises to keep: parents and confirmation”.

In 1973 the Conference of Bishops in Ireland decided to update the Primary Religious Education Programme and appointed a team to write a syllabus for the primary schools for the island of Ireland. Teachers welcomed its introduction in 1976, comparing it favourably to the programmes and materials available for other subjects at that time. The programme was innovative and was even adapted for use in English speaking countries throughout the world. It presented the mystery of Christ in all its richness in a gradual way to children as they grew and developed. It drew upon all the sources of God’s revelation for its content: Bible, Liturgy, Church Teaching, Christian Witness and the life experience of the children.

One of its major innovations was the recognition of the different but complementary roles of parent/guardian, teacher and priest/parish in the religious education of children. Though the programme set out to help the teacher in the classroom setting, it also recognised that it is those at home who have the primary responsibility in forming the child’s faith, and that priests and the parish community also have an important contribution to make in the process. The Children of God series was revised in 1983, but even at that time it was seen that a more concise revision needed to take place. In the light of the success of the programme, but conscious of its faults and shortcomings and the fact it has been around for twenty years, it was decided that the programme would be re-presented and that work of representation began in 1993.

In the years since the first introduction of the Children of God series, Ireland has changed considerably. In 1999 Martin Kennedy, who writes extensively on religious education in Ireland, was asked to consult teachers, children and priests on their attitudes towards the Children of God series. He reported his findings in an article for The Furrow.

There is good news and bad news in the report. The good news is that both teachers and students are highly positive about the programme – the classroom emerges as a space where the students engage with religion in a way that is delightful for them. The bad news is that the classroom is increasingly the only space where the students so engage with religion. While in theory the religious education of children involves a partnership of home, parish and school the reality appears to be quite different (1).

He wrote about the concept of the ‘three islands of religious experience’ for children: the school, the home and the parish. Children inhabit these three worlds and in terms of an experience of faith, the biggest is that of the school. More and more there is a drifting apart of the three ‘islands’. Sometimes the faith expressed in the school bears little or no relation to the faith that is expressed (or not) in the home or in the parish. Any catechetical programme ‘worth its salt’ must address this issue and provide resources to foster links between these islands.

However, as time goes on many involved in primary religious education see the island of the school getting bigger and bigger, while the island of the home and the island of the parish are shrinking away, almost to the point of extinction. The speed of cultural change in Ireland in the first years of the new millennium has given educators much to contemplate with regards to the effectiveness of religious education in a changing world.

The General Directory for Catechesis acknowledges that often the first victims of the spiritual and cultural crisis gripping the world are the young/ and suggests that catechesis ‘should be proposed in new ways which are open to the sensibilities and problems of this age-group'(3). A necessary ‘adaptation of catechesis for young people is urged, in order to translate into their terms ‘the message of Jesus with patience and wisdom and without betrayal’ (4).

The Primary School Religious Education Programme (hereafter referred to as the Alive-O programme) is one of the ways that the Irish Church seeks to meet the change, and be challenged by it. The aim and explanation of the programme is taken from the general introduction to the teacher’s book:

As we try and enable the children to grow as people of faith, we hope that they will become as articulate in this area as in any other area of the curriculum. We hope that eventually they will be able to give an account of their own faith, to say what they believe and why. This familiarity with the content of faith will be achieved gradually as the children move from class to class, and as their ability to understand difficult language and concepts increases. Faith, however, is not only something to be understood, it is also something to be lived (4).

The title of the series comes from a quotation from St Irenaeus – ‘The glory of God is people fully alive’ – and the programme acknowledges as many aspects of children’s lives as possible. When referring to a religious education programme, the term catechesis is often used. The term refers to religious education but it takes it a step further. It is also religious formation. It means that when we are learning about faith, our faith is being formed and nurtured. The General Directory for Catechesis calls it the ‘sublime science of Christ’ (6) and states that there are fundamental tasks of catechesis. These tasks are the building blocks of any religious education programme and they are carefully attended to in the Alive-O programme. They are: promoting knowledge of the faith; liturgical formation; moral formation; teaching to pray; education for community life; missionary initiation.

Promoting Knowledge of the Faith
In religious education in the past it was all too easy to pick up a Catechism and learn off a series of answers. Well, maybe it wasn’t necessarily easy, but this type of approach to knowledge of faith left people knowing the what without necessarily knowing the why. In the Alive-O programme there is a desire to help children not only advance in their knowledge of faith, but also give them the opportunity to respond to that knowledge in faith. The children learn that faith is a relationship with God, that it is our assent to what God tells us; faith is also a gift from God and our response to that gift; it is both active and communal; faith has a content and it challenges us to work for the kingdom of God.

The task of the teacher is to accompany children on their faith journey. Generally speaking this journey will have commenced before any encounter between the teacher and any particular group of children and it will continue long after the encounter. It is a journey of discovery on which the children not only grow in their knowledge of God, but come to know God as someone who loves and cares for them personally (7).

Liturgical Formation
In the course of the Primary School, a child will receive the Sacraments of First Holy Communion, Reconciliation and Confirmation. Apart from these, for most children there is a constant exposure to the liturgical life of the Christian community. The programme in Junior and Senior Infants focuses on the four seasons and then from 1st class onwards the programme has many lessons based on the liturgical year: Ash Wednesday and Lent; Easter and Pentecost; the months of October and May for Mary; Advent and Christmas; November and the Commemoration of the Dead. Each year the children are introduced to an Irish saint and by the end of 6th class they will be familiar with the Seven Sacraments of the Church, will know the various prayers and responses of the Mass, and will have learned the mysteries of the Rosary. It is important that this liturgical formation is done according to their young age and faith, and so it is done over the eight years of primary school. However, and this is essential, liturgical education will fail abysmally if it becomes something that is only done in school. By showing children that going to Mass is not something that you just do in school; that the sacred and spiritual dimension of feasts such as Christmas, Easter, St Patrick’s Day and so on are not just the dimension reserved for school, we give the children an opportunity to grow in faith beyond the confines of the school.

Moral Formation
As with liturgical formation, moral formation is taught according to the age, young faith and psychological development of the child. From learning that they are special little individuals (me) in Junior Infants, they move on to learning about having to think of others in Senior Infants (you and me), to learning that there is a wider community in 1st Class (us).

Christian Moral Education includes teaching children to love and worship God and to live moral lives as a response to God’s love. It involves developing in them an awareness of sin and a sense of penance. It also includes teaching them to follow and imitate Jesus Christ in his love of God and of all people, in his forgiveness of others and in his endurance in suffering (8).

The function of moral formation is not to burden the children with a sense of guilt from an early age. The function is to show that they are not the only people in the equation; that they must think of others, that they must share and take turns and must learn to live with one another as best they can. In a time when family sizes are getting smaller, it is often in playschool or in school that children begin to learn socialisation skills for the first time. The point of departure in all this is the abiding, never-ending love of God. This is the image of God that is at the heart of moral formation, and it is this image that the children will learn in the Alive-O programme. Again, like liturgical formation, it is impossible to nurture this in the faith life of the child without the help of parents.

Teaching to Pray
It would seem obvious that prayer is the centre of the Alive-O programme. It is the opportunity to respond in faith to all that the children are learning in the class and around them.

The children’s faith in God is fostered through prayer, and they can learn to express this faith in prayer. Teaching children to pray is not the same as teaching definitions of prayer, nor is it as simple as teaching prayer formulas though this is also important and is accommodated in the programme (9).

The children develop an awareness of God’s presence in the ordinary events of life. They learn to pray as a response to the things they learn about in school and the experiences they have there. There is a strong sense in the programme of cultivating an atmosphere of prayer, and the use of candles, religious images and music all help the children to realise that prayer time in class is not the same as every other part of the day. They learn the formal prayers such as morning and night prayers, grace before and after meals, (even a grace before and after play); they learn the parts of the Mass and the rosary, and the other prayers of the Catholic tradition; they learn different expressions of prayer: vocal, meditative, contemplative and prayer through movement; and different forms of prayer: prayers of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise, of sorrow and repentance and of intercession.

Education for Community Life
We are not individuals when it comes to our faith. While we have a personal relationship with God and often pray privately, we celebrate our faith best when we celebrate it as part of the community of the Church. In learning that they are not just individuals and must acknowledge the wider community as children become socialised, they will also learn that they are part of a wider community of faith – the class, the school, the family, the parish, the diocese and the Church as a global and Catholic community.

Missionary Initiation
Being part of this wider community of faith means becoming aware of the need of others in respect of the global family and in respect of the command of Jesus to ‘Go out and make disciples of all nations’.

The children are helped to understand how the Holy Spirit has always led people to an awareness of the needs of others and to be prepared to respond to those needs, sometimes in courageous and far-reaching ways. The children are led to an awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their own lives, leading them to respond similarly to the needs of those in their own world (10).

Pedagogical Method
The programme follows a particular method in helping the children learn and the key to the process followed in the Alive-O programme is: focus, explore/reflect and respond. As with most things that children learn today it begins with the experience of the child. The programme attempts to form the child in a particular way and imbue them with a particular type of knowledge:

The kind of knowing that we seek is not only one which leads to clarity of thought and articulation, but one that profoundly influences the whole of an individual’s approach to life. We seek to lead the children to become the kind of people who see the world around them and all that is happening in it through the eyes of faith, and whose interpretations of what is happening and responses to it are all influenced by their faith (11).

Focus
The programme seeks to engage the children within the limits of their childhood; their experience so far both at home, in school and possibly in church, their experience of the world around them, and the social and natural environment in which they live. The limits of their vocabulary and understanding are also taken into consideration, but challenged where necessary and when appropriate. The focusing on a particular subject or theme is done through games, stories and activities.

We take for granted much of what happens in our daily lives. Only in rare moments do we stop and think and ask questions about the significance of the ordinary events of our lives. In this religious education programme we seek to provide the opportunity for the children to do that: to stop and think; to ask questions; to explore; to wonder (12).

Explore/Reflect
Here the children are invited to dwell on what they have heard and to explore it. This helps to increase awareness of what is being learnt. The reflection helps to evoke a sense of wonder and mystery, which is at the base of all worship, but has an important place in catechesis; otherwise the material becomes dry and barren.

We seek to provide opportunities for the children to become reflective people who will take time to stop and think, so that they will have the capacity to become aware of the presence and action of God in their lives and in the world around them (13).

Respond
Through words and pictures, acting, singing and prayer the children learn to respond to the material that they have encountered. A variety of responses gives the teacher the opportunity to pitch the programme according to the intellectual ability, imagination and flair of the class being taught.

So, for instance, it may be that they have spent some time thinking about those at home who love them. A response might be, that they would make a card saying ‘thank you’ to those people. It may be that having spent some time thinking about the wonder of the natural world, they take time to pick up litter in the school playground (14).

Some Elements of the Programme

Story
Story forms an important part of the Alive-O programme.

Stories have the capacity to explore abstractions in terms of images and interpersonal experiences. They provide a stage peopled by characters exemplifying the great forces that have shaped humanity and where we can see love, hatred, greed, generosity, compassion and jealousy in action. A good story is a mirror, which shows us the heights and the depths of human experience, and in doing so gives us the opportunity to view our own experience at a safe distance (15).

The vast majority of the stories that the children hear are biblical in origin. I say in origin, because often the stories are adapted to the comprehension and interest of the children. You may remember when you and your child celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. The story of the Lost Sheep from Luke 15:1-7 forms the core of that celebration, and is used in the classroom as a way of bringing the children to an understanding of the infinite love of God. In Alive-O 3, the story is told firstly as it appears in the Bible, next from the point of view of the lost sheep and then from the point of view of the shepherd. In Alive-O 4 it is told from the point of view of the ninety-nine left behind.

Another example of adapting Bible stories comes in Alive-O 7. In a story from Acts 20: 7-12, Paul is preaching and a young man falls out a window. In the programme the young man is given a name, Eutychus, and he is used as a link in a number of the lessons in Term 3. This method appeals to the imagination of the child and to a sense of connectedness with the story.

Poetry
Poetry is a natural ally in the development of religious imagination and it can turn the account of ordinary events into something lasting and memorable.

The struggle to become fully alive is one that unfolds through experience and is expressed through language. In a particular way, experience and language are what poetry works with too. Without the language which poetry puts on human experience, that experience can be hollow and empty (16).

The successful use of image in poetry is at the heart of the best poetry. The inclusion of poems in the programme gives children the opportunity to come in contact with imagery and to learn to appreciate both its transcendence and immanence. The use of poetic imagery, may also help the development of the religious imagination of the child, and assist the child when it comes to writing prayers, or even poems of their own. Poetry here has an appeal to the senses. Apart from the aforementioned, poetry has its own rewards.

Reflect
As the children grow and learn to look at concepts and ideas, the programme offers them the opportunity of chatting, reflecting, and a call to action. The aim is to engage the children with the teacher and with each other as regards the content of the lesson.

The learning process is helped by giving the children the opportunity to put words on what they are learning or experiencing. In doing so they make their own of something new or different (17).

It helps the teacher elucidate as to how well a topic has been understood. Conversation is a medium for learning and the children learn from the answers and opinions of other children. It is not necessarily a question and answer session, but a drawing out of the information learnt by the children, in a nonexamination arena. It requires considerable patience on the part of the teacher, especially as children get more confident and speech skills become more developed.

Music

Music and song speak to the heart in a way that often transcends the spoken word. Music uplifts the spirit and renews the soul (18).

It is also great fun. The music for Alive-O, most of which was composed specially for the programme, is fresh, modern and well-written. It helps to explore the themes of the lesson and the spirit that should be gained from the lesson. In Alive-O 7 and 8 there are a number of songs written for use in the preparation for and celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation: Spirit Anthem helps the children to learn the symbols of the Holy Spirit; Spirit-Filled Day teaches the Fruits of the Holy Spirit; Today and From Now On teaches the Gifts of the Spirit; and another song, which in a modern and child-friendly way, teaches the Ten Commandments.

Art
As with poetry, art deals with the world of imagery.

More than any formal, abstract means of communication, such as language or writing, the image is the immediate personal language of the senses. In a world where many things are transitory, it alone remains as a meaningful record of an event, a sensation, an experience and an emotion. The ever-changing world of the child needs art as a means of expression. It makes possible the externalisation of what might otherwise remain a confused mass of uninterpreted, unrelated stimuli. Art allows the many stimuli – aural, sensory and emotional – to find unity in expression (19).

Children learn to express themselves in art and as a form of expression it is without correction or contradiction. Art is never a situation of right or wrong, although some children are better at it than others. Painting is a very reflective and silent art form and leads the children to thinking about a subject without the need for interaction or speech. As a form of contemplation it ties in very well with the contemplative aspect of prayer.

The following section will give you an insight into some of the ideas and themes of these programmes for fifth and sixth class, along with a brief introduction to each lesson. For each programme there is a pupil’s book and a workbook. Children will probably have a religion copy also. There are also sheets entitled At Home with Alive-O, which are included in the teacher’s resource pack. The suggestion is made to teachers that these sheets are sent home to parents on a number of occasions during the school year; so as to keep parents informed of the work being undertaken in class.

However, there is no substitute for getting involved in these lessons by talking to your children about what they have been doing in school relating to all these or any lessons in the Alive-O programme.

ALIVE-O 7
The major theme of Alive-O 7 is spirit. In this year, children are either treating this as the first of two years of preparation for the Sacrament or are getting ready to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation during the year. The theme, apart from dealing with the Holy Spirit, also covers the notion of spirit in general. The power and action of the Holy Spirit is all-pervasive:

  • It is evident in the practice and witness of adults in the home, in the school and in the local community.
  • It is evident in the lives of the children.
  • It is evident in the sacramental, liturgical and prayerful celebrations.
  • It is evident through the living out of the commandments and through a love for the Word  of God.
  • It is the Spirit of God in Jesus who moves us to faith, hope and love in the first instance.
  • The work of parent, teacher and priest in Religious Education is a work of co-operation with the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit is the source of all growth and development in faith and, as the Spirit of Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge and Light, is the unseen agent in Religious Education.
  • The Holy Spirit disposes us to welcome the Word of God.

TERM 1

Lesson 1 Opening A New School Year
The year begins with a short ritual. This ritual not only explores the importance of beginnings, of new possibilities in our lives, but also the idea of responding to those key moments throughout our lives in prayer and ritual.

Lessons 2-6 Prophecy
These lessons offer an opportunity to explore prophecy as a biblical phenomenon and the call for children to be prophetic in their own lives. Prophecy is about insight more than foresight. The metaphor of clay is used in these lessons reflecting the idea of God as Potter. The work with clay is done in a prayerful atmosphere.

Lesson 7 Mary and the Mysteries of Light
Every year in Alive-O there is a lesson on Mary, the Mother of God. This lesson explores the five recently introduced Luminous Mysteries or Mysteries of Light, encouraging us to meditate on certain particularly significant moments in Christ’s public ministry: Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan; Jesus’ self-manifestation at the Wedding at Cana; Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion; Jesus’ transfiguration; Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the paschal mystery.

Lesson 8 The Saints
As with previous Alive-O programmes, the children are introduced to two Irish saints – Saints Laurence O’Toole and Kevin. The former was canonised by the Church and the latter was declared a saint by ‘vox popularum’ (the voice of the people), due to the devotion that grew up around the saint. The children are also introduced to icons and their use in prayer.

Lesson 9 The Garden Story
The story of the Garden of Eden is not to be taken literally. It is a symbolic story, which is an attempt to explain the human condition and the circumstances of the human race – we are born in a state of separation and alienation from God, and that God continues to love us in spite of our sin.

Lessons 10-11 The Commandments
Moses has been covered in nearly all the Alive-O programmes. The Commandments are seen in the context of God’s unconditional love for each of us and are presented both in traditional and modem way. Other types of commandments from the New Testament are mentioned – the Kingdom commandments, and the Our Father commandments.

Lessons 12-14 Waiting In Joyful Hope
These lessons in Advent offer the children an opportunity to experience ‘waiting in the spirit of Advent.’ The key characters of the lesson are Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary.

TERM 2 AND 3

Term 2, Lessons 1-5 The Seamless Garment
Using the metaphor of weaving, the children are introduced to an exploration of the Christian call to grow and develop in an holistic way and to their full potential. The weaving activity central to the lessons aims to reinforce the notion of a unity of a life despite the various colours, strands and fabrics encountered. Creating this unity in the fabric of life is the Spirit of unity. The lessons concentrate on the Christian Faith, Christian Community, Christian Morality and Christian Love.

Term 2, Lessons 6, 12 and Term 3, Lesson 1 Lent, Holy Week and Easter
Lesson 6 focuses on Lent as a time for new beginnings, new growth – a time to get fit for the climax of Easter and to live the life of a Christian. Lent invites us to a change of heart, to a change of lifestyle. In lesson 12 the saving actions of Jesus Christ, which are the events of Holy Week, are recalled. The concentration is on Palm Sunday Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem; Holy Thursday Washing of the Feet; and Good Friday – The Passion Narrative. The first lesson of term 3 concentrates on four post-Resurrection events: Women at the Tomb; Jesus and Thomas; Jesus appearing to the seven disciples; The Emmaus story.

Term 2, Lessons 7-11 and Term 3, Lessons 3-6 Sacrament of Confirmation
There are a number of lessons relating to the Sacrament of Confirmation. Three are completed by Confirmation and Non-Confirmation classes; two by Confirmation classes only. These lessons are done before Easter or before the Confirmation ceremony. After Easter (or Confirmation) there are four lessons that are titled ‘Where Do We Go From Here’. These four lessons are meant to offer the children a way of engaging with the spirit, history and heritage of the early Christian Church. They are taught through means of a drama, meant to deepen the children’s understanding of growing as a Christian after Easter or Confirmation.

The lessons in preparation for the sacrament will deal with the symbols, gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. Connections are made with the other Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism and Eucharist. It is important to ask for, to hope for, to desire the coming of the Holy Spirit. Such desire is met with a new breath of life, bestowing good news for people of all ages: good news about the love of God. The Rite of Confirmation is studied along with the history of the sacrament. The role of sponsors is explained along with information on choosing a Confirmation name.

Provision has been made in the lessons for a ‘parish link’. Ideally, this material will be used by parish personnel, for example, a priest, catechist or parish team, in order that the local faith community will be given an opportunity to support the children in a very real, public way. Hopefully, parish personnel will take the initiative as regards the Parish Link material. If the class teacher wishes to be engaged in this process, the parish will surely welcome such co-operation.

Term 3, Lesson 2 The Risen Jesus is Present at Mass
In every year since Alive-O 3 there have been lessons relating to the Eucharist. This lesson focuses on the presence of the Risen Jesus: Under the appearance of bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ; in the body of believers in Jesus, the body of Christ; In the Word, broken and shared for our nourishment, in the celebrant and other ministers, sharing through Baptism and Holy Orders in the Priesthood of Christ.

ALIVE-O 8
The major theme of Alive-O 8 is creative relationship. In all aspects of life we are ‘in relation’. From early in the Alive-O programme the children have learnt that they are not alone, in terms of their family, the community, the school and the Church. They have learnt that they form part of these communities and that there are certain ways of acting within these groups; certain responsibilities and obviously certain rules and regulations involved with these relationships. These human relationships are explored in this year’s programme. The term ‘creative relationship’ has been chosen very carefully to signify the types of relationship that we can have as human beings. You and I are friends: sometimes we are very close; sometimes not; we argue, we laugh and perhaps cry; we learn from one another; we are a support and an influence on one another. That which exists between us is a creativity and an energy that can bind us together as friends. Rather than speaking about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ relationships, the term ‘creative’ can suggest a great deal more of what can exist between two people, groups of people, members of a particular parish, the boys and girls in a class and their teacher; the list of definitions for creative relationships is infinite. The potential of relationships in our lives and the lives of those around is something that can be life-giving and that will hopefully bring out the best and most creative in us.

The programme doesn’t just confine itself to an exploration of the aspects of human relationship. The children explore relationship in terms of the world around them – to the world of science, to the natural world, to ecology and to the environment. The third and most significant aspect of relationship that is explored in this programme is our relationship with the Risen Jesus, which happens through the sacraments.

This programme also contains a significant amount of material relating to the Sacrament of Confirmation. This will be the second year that material has been done relating to the sacrament. The reason for this is two-fold: firstly, some children will receive Confirmation in fifth class and some in sixth; secondly is the desire that children are introduced to the material for the preparation and celebration of Confirmation over a two-year period. You may remember that something similar happened when the children received the Sacrament of Reconciliation and made their First Holy Communion.

TERM 1 Lessons 1 – 6 In Relation
In this set of six lessons the theme of creative relationship is explored. It is done here through exploring our relationship with the natural world, with the world of language, mathematics, science and in the area of human relationships. The ultimate and most perfect example of creative relationship is that of the Blessed Trinity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: ‘Christians are baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Before receiving the sacrament, they respond to a three-part question when asked to confess the Father, the Son and the Spirit: “I do”. The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity CCC 232,’ and ‘the Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God’ CCC 237. The Trinity is a difficult and complex mystery, which has occupied the minds of theologians for millennia. In the programme, by speaking of the Trinity in the terms of creative relationship, the children are able to explore the Trinity in a manner that is appropriate to their young age and faith.

Lessons 7 – 12  Sacraments and Sacramentality
In this series of lessons, the children are introduced to the general idea of the sacraments and their meaning. From the beginning of the Alive-O programme, the children have been introduced to ritual as an integral part of responding to the material that they have been learning. The Word of God has also been an important part of the programme, and they are familiar with the idea of gathering as a community, either as a parish community or as a class or school community. Further exploring the role of gathering, symbol, ritual and word in terms of the sacraments, helps to develop an appreciation of sacramental reality, which differs from, but is grounded in the life that we live. In two specific lessons, the seven sacraments are covered. In the first lesson, the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick are revised. They have been previously covered in other Alive-O programmes. In the second lesson, they are introduced to the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders.

Lessons 13-16 Nativity Play
In the lessons that are taught during Advent, the children learn through a drama. Advent and Christmas has been covered throughout the entire previous seven years of the programme, and the children are familiar with the idea of watching and waiting, of preparation and anticipation, which is the central theme of Advent for the Christian Church. The theme of the drama is ‘Word’: the relationship between the Word of God as found in the scriptures and the ‘Word Made Flesh’ – the Son of God, who ‘lived among us’.

TERM 2 AND 3

Term 2, Lessons 1 – 5 Confirmation
These lessons are offered as preparation for the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation and build on the work that has been done in Alive-O 7. Lessons 1-3 concentrate on the ‘call to witness’, which is an implicit part of the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The story of Pentecost is the story of a community emerging from the upper room to be the heralds of the Good News of Jesus Christ, a mandate that is given to each of us. Lessons 4-5 are the same as those in Alive-O 7. As with Alive-O 7, there are a series of Rituals that are offered for celebration in the parish, so that the community can become involved, through ritual and prayer, with the preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Term 2, Lesson 6 Mary
In this lesson, the presence of the Holy Spirit in Mary is explored, especially in the great prayer of Mary, the Magnificat, from the gospel of St Luke. The children learn about some of the various feasts associated with Our Lady.

Term 2, Lessons 7 – 8 and Term 3 Lesson 1 Lent, Holy Week, and Easter
These lessons are part of the exploration of the liturgical year, which form an important part of the Alive-O programme. In Alive-O 3, Jesus is described as a journeyman. Journey is one of the great themes of human history and a common theme in literature and in the scriptures. Jesus as journeyman is the man who never stayed still, always going from one place to another; a command he subsequently gave to the seventy-two disciples when he sent them out to preach his word, ‘when he sent them out ahead of him, to all the places he himself was to visit’ (Luke 10:1). In the seasons of Holy Week and Easter, all Jesus’ journeys come to a culmination, with Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his Passion and Death, and his journeying with his disciples after the Resurrection, as he prepares to leave them.

In lesson 7 the link between the celebration of the season of Lent and the preparation for Baptism is explored. In the Early Church, the season of Lent was the last part of the journey of catechumens before their initiation into the Church .on Holy Saturday night, at the Easter Vigil. Lesson 8 follows some of the events of Holy Week, told through the eyes of the centurion Longinus. Longinus, according to legend, was the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with a lance, and he was said to have become a Christian. He is commemorated in a statue in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Longinus narrates the journey of Jesus to the cross, from the entry into Jerusalem, the clearing of the Temple, the capture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the crucifixion of Jesus. The first lesson in term 3 stays with the character of Longinus, as he narrates the journey of Easter from the Resurrection to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and it includes some of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Term 3, Lessons 2 – 8 The Kingdom of God
These final lessons of Alive-O 8 and indeed, the whole Alive-O programme are concerned with the Kingdom of God. The kingdom is seen in terms of ‘right relationship’ or ‘creative relationship’ of all the elements involved. Jesus revealed the Kingdom of God as that which constantly empowers the world with the possibility of good. The Kingdom of God has already been explored in Alive-O 5, when the children learnt of the Kingdom of God in the presence and actions of Jesus. In the lessons here the Kingdom is seen: in the relationship between the various parts of the body; the relationship between children; the relationship of power and poverty in the developing world and need for social justice; the relationship between the various Christian Churches; the relationship with the environment and our caring for creation; the relationship with the Kingdom when it arrives ‘in the fullness of time’.

Lesson 3 contains material that is normally part of the Relationship and Sexuality Education in Primary Schools. Here it is presented in the context of the Kingdom of God. The lesson follows the five dimensions of the body mentioned in the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme: breathing, feeding, growing, reproducing and sensing. It should be remembered that Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) should be the responsibility of both parents and teachers, in conjunction with the school authorities. Whereas the material is offered, it is advised that it should be taught in accordance with the RSE policy of the school’s Board of Management, and should not be undertaken without the permission of parents. None of this material appears in the pupil book.

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