Jesus hangs from the cross in the sanctuary of every Catholic church, so it’s no surprise that young children will want the details behind His life, death, and resurrection.
Still, it can be tough to find the right words to describe Jesus’s passion and crucifixion to little kids – even with the bright spot of His resurrection to happily end the story.
How can Catholic parents speak truthfully about Jesus’s passion and death to their children without frightening them?
“How we talk about the core events in the Christian faith to small children depends on their age, interest, and how the conversation about the topic develops,” explains Katie Dawson, Diocese of Orange director of Parish Evangelization and Faith Formation. “The conversation should be customized to the individual child.”
With her own children, Dawson used a book, “The Garden, the Curtain and The Cross,” by Carl Lafterton, available on Amazon.com in hard cover for $10.99.
“It’s a beautifully illustrated story that begins when God made the world, where everything was good, with lovely pictures of the Garden of Eden,” she says. “The book takes you through the whole Christian story through a child’s eyes.”
With a very young child, she doesn’t tell them about Jesus’s crucifixion, the pain, suffering, blood and torture. “I simply say that things were broken, and Jesus came to fix them. He gave Himself willingly and defeated death and came back.” She adds that when we become friends of Jesus, we can do the same thing and live forever with Him.
For Dawson, talking about the crucifixion with kids is a lot like talking about sex. “We don’t need to give them all the details when they’re not ready. As they get older and we foster their understanding of Scripture and the Mass, the symbols and signs of our faith are good markers for them to focus on.
“Jesus suffered, He died, and He rose again, that’s the core of the story,” she adds. “But when it comes to meditating on wounds of Jesus or the depth of His suffering, I think that is up to each individual set of parents. It’s not where I would focus with the child.”
Whenever Catechesis of the Good Shepherd teachers discuss the crucifixion at St. Vincent de Paul Church, says Rose Antognoli, director of parish faith formation, they make sure to focus on the fact that Jesus not only died but rose from the dead. During each Easter season, children celebrate the Liturgy of Light, in which they light a pascal candle to represent the light of Christ and every child lights his own candle from it.
“They learn that Christ’s light is stronger than death,” Antognoli says.
Kendra Tierney, writing on her website CatholicAllYear.org, has an alternative viewpoint. During Holy Week, she reads her children the story of Jesus’s passion and death from Scripture. She doesn’t leave out any parts or soften anything.
“Even though my 2-year-old isn’t ready to understand everything that happens in the story, and he’s certainly not ready to grasp the horrors of Jesus’ suffering, I do think he is ready to hear about it.”
Once the story is finished, she asks the kids to lead the conversation. “I have found that they have always been able to see through all of that and understand that Jesus’ passion is a story of love,” she says. “I think even the littlest kids deserve to hear it.”