Traditionally in Ireland Catholic schools contribute most to the formal religious education of children. They have worked tirelessly in teaching the catechetical programme. They built on the foundation of the children’s experience of faith in the home and in the parish. In practice the parish and the family, over the past number of years have tended to let the school carry the overall responsibility in completing the Rites of Initiation through Eucharist and Confirmation. Parish Sacramental preparation tries to re-unite the home, school and parish in completing the Rites of Initiation.
We are presently in an age of secularity – a time when there is little time or enthusiasm in peoples’ lives for what really matters – their relationship with God. Secular society encourages the fullness of life without any reference to God the creator of life. The tragedy is that secularism has penetrated more into disadvantaged areas of our society. It is in these areas where we as Religious Sisters of Charity, with our fourth vow of service to the poor, work. The foundation of children’s experience of faith in the home has diminished greatly. It is within this culture that many Catholic parents present their children for the Sacraments of Initiation. Many of them have been drawn away from faith practice and yet request the Sacraments for their children.
The preparation for Sacraments now involves the whole Christian community. The parish community is seen here as a family of families. The parish as the bigger family is called to be a place of welcome, where families feel they belong, where they feel affirmed and where they are nourished and supported in their faith development. However, this requires sowing the seed of adult community catechesis. Faith formation of the whole community is an essential element which engages the head, heart and hands; so our Christian faith becomes lived, living and life giving for the entire parish community. Good experience of Liturgy is key to this catechesis, and this does not happen by waving a magic wand!
Our Sacrament preparation requires that a programme of parish liturgies be put in place and celebrated in the presence of the parish community during Sunday Eucharist. Many parishes in Ireland are now using ‘Do this in Memory of Me’ for First Holy Communion families and for Confirmation families the ‘Confirming our Children’ during Sunday parish liturgies. Through these liturgies it is hoped that catechesis is happening not only for the child but for the parents and siblings who participate. It is also necessary that total community catechesis is happening.
We are constantly devising new ways of keeping things fresh and exciting. ‘You shall be my Witnesses’ is a five week programme for Confirmation candidates. This is designed mainly to enrich the faith life of parents. Parents are trained to be ‘leaders’ of this programme. ‘Leaders’ comment that their training and leading a group of candidates has reawakened what they learned in preparation for their own Confirmation.
These parishes are investing a lot of time, energy and finance into these catechetical initiatives during Sacramental preparation. Sacraments are administered and celebrated and the reality is – most of these new Christians and their families no longer seem to value the gathering of the worshiping community at Sunday Eucharist. Yet, we the workers in the vineyard count our blessings that the families participated very well during the year of preparation. Meanwhile, we have to trust in the slow work of God and the cycle begins again for another group.
Written by Sr. Philomena Neary R.S.C., Catechist and Parish Sacramental Preparation Co-Ordinator for four schools in Dublin 7.