Sometimes it can seem like we are just preparing children for the sacraments of initiation when we should be preparing them for a sacramental life. John Paul II wrote very strongly about this:
“sacramental life is impoverished and very soon turns into hollow ritualism if it is not based on serious knowledge of the meaning of the sacraments, and catechesis becomes intellectualised if it fails to come alive in the sacramental practice” CT 23
Both of these dangers are apparent in our parishes, but it’s the second one – catechesis failing to come alive in a sacramental life – that I see becoming a danger in many families. The seven-year-olds we have prepared this year for First Communion have a really strong grasp of things at this stage. In the last few classes, our programme covered heaven, hell, purgatory, Mary and the saints – and we keep recapping all the time on the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. These are children with no material needs and who between them travel round the globe each half-term. But I started noticing little remarks which expressed a real desire for something more: “I want to go to Heaven!” one girl said during one class, and another, as we were going into church one day: “I want to be holy!” Even if it was just for a moment, I could see it was a real desire in them. Today I chatted to another mum as her son came out of Confession and looked super-fervent as he went to kneel down and do his penance. “He takes it so seriously!” she commented. “When we were in Malta he wanted me to buy him all these statues and crucifixes.”
The sad reality is that every year families who attended Mass the whole year during sacramental preparation suddenly fall off the radar after the First Communion Mass. This is really sad for the children, whose sacramental life will have just begun then abruptly finished. The role of parents as first catechists is SO VITAL!! How they can ensure that their children’s sacramental life continues to grow? Here are some practical suggestions we encourage in the parish:
- Weekly Sunday Mass (OK, so less of a suggestion and more of a rule…)
- Regular Confession (monthly) – as a parish this is possible for children after school on Tuesdays, on Saturday mornings, and during Mass on Sundays
- Ongoing catechesis (at church, school and home)
- Adoration for children (on Fridays)
- Mass on Saturday mornings and during school holidays
- Visits to the Blessed Sacrament
- Family prayer at home, reading Scripture together, praying the Rosary
- Practice of charity – witness of service of others particularly the poor, forgiveness, generosity, cardinal virtues, value of work and order, etc.
- Talking about faith in everyday life
- Use of sacramentals at home, e.g. holy water, miraculous medal, relics
- Memorisation of prayers, Ten Commandments, key Bible verses, etc.
- Avoiding influences in family life which actively destroy the sacramental life (e.g. individualism such as TV in children’s bedrooms)