First Holy Communion Preparation

The BBC is currently showing a series of three documentaries entitled, Catholics. One on seminarians (the more inspiring one so far), one on children filmed in a rural Lancashire parish and one on women (Thursday, 9pm, BBC 4). There are lots of interesting things that could be said about its portrayal of Catholic faith and life, and this particular style of documentary.

What interests me here, though, is the catechetical angle – of course… ;-)

This clip from the second episode shows the preparation of some children for First Holy Communion. Firstly, I want to make clear that I know these women are doing their best, they are giving up their time, they clearly care about what they are doing. But I feel that these catechists, like many catechists up and down the country, could use a bit of catechesis themselves. “Who wants to try some holy bread and holy wine?” “Next week, it’ll be different…” without explaining how or what it will be. And even in the church: “When you come to receive the holy bread…” “It’s just like a party!” Well, if this is a party, as soon as they are a few years older they’ll be going to parties a whole lot more fun than this one, and this one will soon be forgotten about…

If there were three things I would say to all First Communion catechists (and priests whose overall responsibility it is for catechesis) if I had the chance, it would be these:

  • Children are able to grasp the concept that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ
  • So call it what it is! Our seven-year-olds can tell you that the “Eucharist” is the “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ”. They very quickly learn not to call the Eucharist “bread” and “wine”
  • Seven-year-olds can understand (and even say!) the word “transubstantiation” (I recently asked a group what it meant, and a boy blurted out – “it is something that annoys the devil!” but he also knew that it was the change of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood)
Somehow, I think it’s a different problem than catechists thinking children cannot handle it. I think actually it’s a problem of them not knowing themselves. Later on in the programme a class teacher is filmed giving an RE lesson where she emphasises that the Eucharist is a “mystery” that no one understands really, at all! Using the “mystery” card to avoid explaining any doctrine – the Eucharist, the Blessed Trinity, the Resurrection – is a cop out which misunderstands “mystery” – something that we can know truly, but not fully.

Two thoughts came to me after watching this programme:

1. It would be great to build up a pool of video clips showing good catechetical practice as well as bad – it’s fine learning it in theory, but seeing it happen in practice really helps catechists understand catechetical principles concretely;

2. All Catholic teachers and catechists really should study at Maryvale…

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About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

4 responses to “First Holy Communion Preparation

  • Tonia

    Wouldn’t it be great if every catechist could study at Maryvale. I managed to do it from Sydney!

    Our parish’s First Holy Communion program usually has about 140 children. The catechesis takes place in peoples homes in groups of 6 to 8 children. Each child brings a parent (this gets round behaviour management issues as well as being an extra opportunity for catechesis). Parents are asked if they’ll volunteer to either host or lead a group or both. The group leaders are usually committed practising parents or ones who are on their 3rd or 4th First Holy Communion program.

    Ideally we’d have a team of trained Catechists but people don’t seem too interested in leading groups where they don’t have a child attending. What we do have is a training night for the group leaders and fairly comprehensive leader notes. I think if you can’t have everyone Maryvale trained, the important message is for them to stick to the script. Lots of families have one Catholic parent and one Anglican, so it’s really important to use the words Body and Blood.

  • Nix

    I think the pool of video clips idea is excellent. I also agree with you about Maryvale. I’d highly recommend it.

  • Paul Rodden

    Hi there,

    It’s sort of off-topic, but can’t see any other way of contacting you…

    I am leading a Lent Group as a way of catechising the laity, by showing Robert Barron’s, Catholicism series.

    The trouble is, even though he’s quite ‘low key’, their thinking has been so infected by modernism that it always seems to end up a discussion about how arrogant Catholicism is thinking it’s got the truth, etc..

    This week we watched the episode on the Eucharist and they were saying that closed communion is so unfair and elitist, because Anglicans can’t receive communion. (They suggested ‘receptionism’ as a perfectly valid view of the Eucharist because the First Communion catechesis at the local Catholic primary school taught this (a Catholic school wouldn’t teach heresy, surely…!))

    It always ends up with them thinking I’m a “Protestant-bashing traditionalist”, even though I’m as gentle as I can be. They are desperate to know how their ‘faith’ (they don’t even know the basics, despite going to Catholic schools) can be deeper, but there’s a disconnect owing to the modernist/relativist lens through which they’re approaching the whole process (i.e., the way they were catechised ‘in the spirit of Vatican II’). “How could kind old Fr Loisy who taught me to hug trees and that everyone was an ‘anonymous Christian’ when I was in Infants be wrong? He was far more loving than any of the old-fashioned (read faithful) priests I’ve known”

    Although I try to teach using the Pedagogy of God, stressing the love and mercy of God the Father, it’s as if we’re talking across each other. The toxin of modernism is so entrenched, they can’t see how Church/God are about love as they both seem to be so exclusive. Even analogies about the family needing to be exclusive and have rules is met by resistance when it comes to Church. I actually find RCIA easier because there isn’t this ‘baggage’!

    From your experience, how do you get past this mindset in badly catechised adults? Should I ‘let things lie’? Should I try to steer a via media between Loisy and Voris :) if so, how is it possible? (Although I’m a fan of Voris’ no-nonsense approach – great for youtube – it’s no use if you don’t want to alienate cradle Catholics within 5 nanoseconds!)

    I’m at a loss as, despite the eloquence of Fr Dwight Longenecker on the subject and its toxicity, for example, no one seems to be giving tips on how to tackle it charitably because, however gentle and charitable one tries to be, it’s perceived as an attack on what little faith they have, or that Pope Benedict is trying to drag us back into the favourite, oft-quoted, ‘Dark Ages’, of the atheists and Tablet-istas.

    Any thoughts, please? I’d be so grateful.

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