Mum of seven, Sarah Hlavacek, had been looking for years for books that could assist her in explaining the Mass to her children in both a beautiful and simple way, without taking away from the sense of mystery and importance of what takes place. She was also looking for something that helped explain the sacred vessels and gestures used throughout the Mass.
When nothing became apparent, she decided to take matters into her own hands by creating her own book, road testing the choice and flow of words and images with her children, along with some other mums and friends, until she finally produced and self-published the final version of When I Go To Mass.
Sarah’s 42-page picture book follows the Mass in chronological order and covers the basic faith formation elements that children will experience during the Mass—the sign of the cross, genuflection, prayer before Mass and after communion. She also highlights the moments of consecration in the Mass, using bright colourful illustrations that will help children delve more deeply into the mystery.
‘I wanted something on the Mass that wasn’t just a missal and which I could read to my own children before we went to Mass,’ said Sarah. ‘I wanted to be able to explain what a tabernacle is and why we genuflect and bless with holy water. I also wanted something that had all the sacred vessels in it with their proper names and what they are used for, such as the chalice and paten.’
‘Most importantly, I wanted something that taught on the real presence, in a beautiful way that could speak to the hearts of children. I really found nothing when I was looking around. Books were either really simple and didn’t speak much on the consecration or were overly complicated and filled with so much information that it was just too much, even for the adult reading it.
‘It was really challenging to find the right words to explain the Mass, particularly the consecration, without detracting from the miracle or overwhelming the child so I try to let the illustrations do most of the talking. I hope it will inspire conversations between parents and their children.’
In creating the book, Sarah was inspired by the formation and learning she received as a Catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Christian formation program for children aged 3 to 12 years.
‘One of the works in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is centred on the “epiclesis”, the moment when the priest stretches out his hands over the bread and wine, and the Holy Spirit descends. Until then I had never even heard that word or noticed that moment in the Mass,’ said Sarah.
‘But what a profound and beautiful mystery! I couldn’t get it out of my head. I created a photoshop image of how I imagined the epiclesis would be long before I began any illustrations for the book.’
‘I also came across some really inspiring old artwork on the Mass, many showing the presence of all the angels and saints at the Mass and Jesus crucified at the elevation of the host. It had a big impact on me, she said. ‘It’s amazing how the beauty of spiritual art can really enhance your faith life, and make you appreciate the immensity of the Mass. I just wished I could get this kind of stuff in front of the eyes of my children.’
When I Go To Mass now makes this possible for Sarah’s children and for many others. And while she created it for her own children ‘first and foremost’, she hopes the book will assist and support other families in teaching the truths of the Catholic faith.
Sarah lives in Melbourne with her husband, Dominik and seven children. She is a trained catechist for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program and cofounder of AustralianCatholicMums.com. She hopes to continue writing books to help enrich the faith life of families. Contact Sarah for copies of When I Go To Mass.
Melbourne Catholic22 September 2021
Fiona Basile21 September 2021