As parents, we know that life is filled with many milestones, the most important of which are the sacraments. More than milestones, sacraments are the means by which Jesus Christ continues His work on earth – He touches us personally in the sacraments through the rites of the Church. In Baptism, the priest (who acts in the person of Christ) speaks our name and pours water and anoints; in Reconciliation, the priest says to us as individuals, “I absolve YOU, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;” in Confirmation, the bishop speaks the name of each individual candidate while anointing them with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As parents, we also know that “sacrament years” require an extra commitment of our own time and energy, and the involvement of others within and beyond the family in order to properly prepare our children for the reception of the sacraments. If you have a child preparing for First Holy Communion or Confirmation, this is an important year for the entire family, and a blessed opportunity to involve everyone in the process, to deepen everyone’s appreciation of the great gift of grace that Christ continually pours over us through the ministry of the Church.
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are many levels of preparation during a sacrament year. Every arena of learning plays a part: home, parish, and school. The role of parents is “irreplaceable” (National Directory for Catechesis, 48), and preparation “begins in the home” (NDC, 36). Yet it is the responsibility of the parish to prepare its parishioners for fruitful reception of the sacraments (Canon 773), because “the parish is ‘the primary experience of the Church’ for most Catholics...It is the ‘living and permanent environment for growth in the faith.’… The parish is the preeminent place for the catechesis of adults, youth, and children.” (NDC 60). The school (particularly parochial school) is an additional place of religious instruction. But the General Directory for Catechesis distinguishes between the education received in school and the catechetical formation received through the parish: “The relationship between religious instruction in schools and catechesis is one of distinction and complementarity: ‘there is an absolute necessity to distinguish clearly between religious instruction and catechesis.’” (GDC, 73) And again: “Christian education in the family, catechesis (in the parish), and religious instruction in schools are, each in its own way, closely interrelated with the service of Christian education…” (GDC, 76).
They are interrelated, but not identical. While students receive religious instruction in the school, there is a different and complementary formation received through the parish, and it is the responsibility of the parish to insure that students are properly prepared for the sacraments: “Parents and the parish catechetical leader, together with the pastor, are responsible for determining when children have attained the age of reason and are ready to receive First Communion. Because reception of the Eucharist…is integral to the child’s full incorporation into the ecclesial community, the pastor has the responsibility in determining every child’s readiness to receive First Communion.”(NDC 36)
Our goal as a parish is to prepare students for the sacraments of First Reconciliation, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation within the assembly of the parish community in a comprehensive way that accommodates the needs of each student and each family, while not losing sight of the truth that we are a community of faith, and that every student receiving these sacraments is a member of the same parish family, whether they attend public school, parochial school, or home school.
For the past several years, we have brought all the students together on Wednesday evenings to prepare as a group, regardless of where they attend school; this is not meant to undermine what they are learning elsewhere, nor to be burdensome to families, but to encourage families to come together to share a meal and learn together, while providing a forum for the students to learn and grow together.