Exploring the Mass is a brand new resource, authored by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, published by the Teacher's Enterprise in Religious Education. It has been published in the Autumn 2017 and provides a high quality, versatile DVD and textbook for the study of the Mass. Here I offer some of my own thoughts on the two products.
Firstly, I think it is vital that Catholic schools do not leave knowledge and understanding of the Mass to chance. As Saint John Vianney said, "If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.". We must aim for this! Catholic schools will often celebrate Mass - start of term, end of term, holy days of obligation... but to what extent do their students really know what is going on? Even for non-Catholic students, to know what is happening, will make it more interesting, even if they do not see it as an act of faith. I will be ensuring that my students will be watching this DVD before our next school Mass.
The role of bishop is one of teacher, and Cardinal Nichols takes on this role for these two resources. He is relaxed, and the film juxtapositions the Cardinal celebrating Mass, alongside a Q&A sessions with students. While these questions are clearly 'set up', they do not feel overly contrived - indeed this is the view of the cynical adult, not the target audience! It's a format that work's very well, and keeps interest throughout.
The explanations are perfect for students for whom this is targeted (KS2-3); the Cardinal uses clear, understandable language that is easily accessible to all. His answers are clearly planned out; thoughtfully and personally so. It is not all technical, we get a real insight into the faith of Cardinal Nichols. It's engaging and interesting. Even for an experienced RE teacher, and lifelong Catholic, I got new insights into the Mass; I enjoyed it!
As well as the straightforward language used, and additional explanations in the chapter transitions (for example, Liturgy of the Word - God speaks to us), the setting helps ensure clarity and focus. Mass takes place in a simple chapel, with a small congregation. I have seen other resources that use the beauty of the Cathedral, with a large congregation. The focus on teaching is best set in this intimate setting.
I really enjoyed the final section that includes some insightful and wise reflections on the importance and significance of the Mass for Catholics. This DVD is not just the 'what', but the 'why' and also beyond.
The DVD is accompanied by some helpful questions in a leaflet inside the box. These focus on recall of the key knowledge. It recommends watching the DVD in it's entirety before returning to each section, using the questions to guide note taking. I would use this approach in class without hesitation.
Technically, the DVD is well shot, and the menu, graphics and transitions are of very high quality. I watched on a large 4K TV and the image quality was excellent. Subtitles would have been a nice additional feature for some EAL students, but there are ways around this for students that have a particular need. I realised that at the end, whether deliberate or not, a real variety of music had been used in the DVD reflecting different styles of Catholic worship, a nice touch. The DVD runs to 37 minutes; ideal for classroom use.
This was also written by Cardinal Nichols. Here is the comprehensive contents - it fits a lot into just 40 pages:
As with all TERE textbooks, the book is set out clearly and logically. It uses subheadings to break up the material into manageable chunks. It links very well to the DVD, and it would make sense to use the two together - for example the Gospel in the textbook matches that of the DVD.
It includes lots of helpful features, helpful to teachers: quick quizzes, clear and straightforward tasks, a few discussion points (or extension writing in my lessons!) as well as scripture based tasks and key summaries. The summary at the end of the book, the FAQ and glossary are particularly useful - especially for teachers who like key word tests!
It has a good mix of photos and artwork, that help link the story of Jesus to the celebration of the Mass. The DVD does not focus on this aspect, but the textbook helps to do this well, ensuring that important scripture is referenced.
How to use
For schools already studying the Way, Truth and Life:
- This will perfectly compliment The Truth in Year 8 "The Mystery of the Eucharist".
- This will be ideal to use before the first school Mass with Year 7, and perhaps again in The Way "The Sacraments"
- It may be worth revisiting in Year 9 with The Life on "God's Call"
- GCSE students may also find this useful when studying the Mass / formal worship, if time permits. [See note at the start about not leaving understanding of the Mass to chance - make time!]
- Once you get familiar with DVD, you may use sections, rather than the whole film.
- The textbook may be useful supplementary material, or useful for staff induction. If staff do not know what is going on, or why the Mass is so important, how can they convey this to the students?
For other schools:
- This could be used as at least half a term's work. The DVD and textbook work in such a way that even a non-specialist would be able to easily use. Is the Mass adequately covered in your Key Stage 3? If not, this will help hugely.
- Non-Catholic schools could use as a resource to better understand the Catholic faith. Essentially, the Eucharist is the "source and summit" (CCC 1324), and so to understand the Mass, is to understand many of the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic Church.
- Catechises - for parents or young people, Confirmation, youth groups, RCIA...
- The DVD is fantastic value for £35. It will get used over and over again in classrooms from KS2, even to KS5. Every Catholic school should have a copy. It is a privilege to intimately share the Mass with Cardinal Nichols. ***** (5/5)
- The accompanying textbook provides a perfect, accessible companion. The activities and tasks enable the inexperienced teacher to help students digest and learn it's contents. A real bargain at £7. ***** (5/5)
- I am unaware of any other resource, published recently, that comes anywhere close to presenting the Mass as clearly as this.
DVD Preview & Ordering
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This new DVD offers a beautifully clear presentation of Catholic belief in the Eucharist. It will really engage the interest of young people as well as those who are helping them to deepen their faith in Jesus Christ. The Cardinal’s conversation with a group of students reveals their own understanding as well as their commitment to the Lord as they draw some profound insights from Cardinal Vincent. We see the young people’s participation in the Mass as the Cardinal leads them in worship and we see him explaining the Mass to them as a teacher of the faith. This high-quality film, with its accompanying textbook, will be a welcome resource to teachers and catechists and it could also be fruitfully used by parish groups or in the home setting.
Rt Rev Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham