In December 1981 at the first deanery meeting I ever attended there was hot discussion on preparation for the Sacraments. I had a real sense of Deja vu on Monday last at our local deanery meeting. I felt I had been transported in a time machine to the Dominican retreat house in Tallaght in December 38 years ago, the issues were the same and the discussion as animated. This whole issue has been discussed endlessly at gatherings of priests both formal gatherings and amongst groups of friends. There has been a growing unease with the automatic conveyor belt like practice that has prevailed for many years, where second class means First Confession and Holy Communion and 6th class, Confirmation. The reality has become that in the years between those sacraments the young people are largely absent from the life of the church with about 10% being the exceptions. And once Confirmation has been celebrated they have effectively graduated from us completely. It has become the Sacrament of farewell.
Sadly, the focus of sacramental days can become skewed, particularly in families where religious practice is absent or minimal and the social aspect of the days involved can take over to a ridiculous degree. Yes of course they are also social occasions and opportunities for family get-togethers but the social aspect is peripheral. Sacraments are essentially moments of faith for a people of faith, they are not rites of passage.
As I wrote here on this subject some two years ago, the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The old model served us well in an Ireland where religious practice was the norm rather than the exception; but you don't need to be a genius to know how drastically Ireland has changed. The religious culture we live in has changed in parallel and is continuing to evolve, and the church must take a fresh look at the way it prepares the young for the important faith moments in their lives in a way that connects with the lives of their families and parish community and that sustains faith. There is little point in all dressed up well-rehearsed ceremonial extravaganzas if faith is not sustained.
The approach being proposed in the diocese will centre on the role of parents. Parents are the primary educators of their children and should be involved heavily in the preparation of their children for these key moments of faith. It's not a change that can happen overnight, there will have to be much consultation with everyone involved, parents, teachers and parishes. It will mean offering formation and training and will require willing volunteers, and it won't be easy. It is clear that what has taken us this far will take us no further, we need a fresh approach.
I do hope that my deja vu days are past and that we will see real change.
St. Mary's Lucan