We all know that St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals. He is commonly shown with birds and other animals by his side in paintings and statues. We even bless animals in churches on his feast day.
But I was fascinated with this story about St. Francis and a little lamb that wouldn’t leave his side. I had to share it, so I wrote a kid version of the story for you to read with your kids. It would be a great way to start a discussion about reverence during the Mass.
The Story of St. Francis and the Sheep
St. Francis was known among his peers for his love of animals. Some people living in Assisi brought a gift for him: a little lamb.
St. Francis had a special love for all sheep, but especially for lambs. Jesus Christ referred to himself as the Good Shepherd leading his people as a flock of sheep. Jesus also took the place of the Pascal Lamb and sacrificed himself for our sins. For these reasons, sheep and lambs were special to him.
St. Francis was honored by the gift of the sheep, but he could not accept it. He had taken a strict vow of poverty, and he could not keep the sheep as his possession. He could own nothing, not even a little lamb.
St. Francis turned to the sheep and told him to be free and praise God without bothering the other friars.
The sheep understood the command. He looked up to the great saint and followed him around Assisi even into into the church of Santa Maria della Porziuncola. There the little lamb could be heard bleating along with the brothers in the choir singing and praising God.
The sheep’s reverence during Mass was an amazing sight to see. During the celebration of the Eucharist, the priest elevated the host up into the air as he did during every Mass saying, “Take this all of you and eat of it; this is my body.” At this moment, the sheep could be seen with knees bent to the ground bowing down as an example for all to follow.
Imagine seeing a sheep bowing down before the Lord? This little lamb showed such reverence before the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, he could put the people nearby to shame. We could all take a lesson from him about how to behave during Mass, singing with the choir and bowing down before the Lord.
According to the legend, St. Francis finally gave the sheep to a follower named Jacopa. She kept the sheep and wove its wool into a habit for St. Francis. She brought it with her to give to him during his last days to wear before he died.
St. Francis and the Sheep Story Questions
- Why are sheep and lambs such important symbols for Christians?
- How was St. Francis’s sheep an example for reverence before God?
- How can we show Jesus reverence during Mass?