How long?

How do we prepare young people to receive the sacraments fruitfully?

How do we prepare young people to receive the sacraments fruitfully?

Here I am, still marvelling every day at where I’ve landed, right on the south coast. A lot of adjustment is going on: from the city to the seaside; from a fast-paced lifestyle to a slower one; from hundreds of young adults in church to… (let’s be honest) very few. I’m getting my head around a few things. My current experience is probably closer to every normal Catholic’s experience, but it is quite different from where I’ve come from.

So, blog readers, this is where you come in🙂 Adjusting from a pretty rosy catechetical scene, I now find myself asking – how do we get there? How does this happen? What is the Lord calling us to do?

Here’s my first little topic for us to mull over…

I’m coming from a parish where every sacramental programme was no less than a year long. It was the system in place when I arrived four years ago, and I had never experienced anything like it, least of all in my own sacramental preparation as a child and teenager. But over time, I began to see the huge benefit of it. Gradually I became a big advocate of long programmes. Why? Here are some reasons:

  • Catechesis should be ongoing, anyway – for every single one of us (see GDC 84) – so if we can’t have permanent catechesis for all children, then their sacramental preparation needs to at least be long enough to cover the Deposit of Faith
  • Every baptised person has a right to be taught the full Deposit of Faith and you cannot do that in six sessions
  • Sacramental preparation should prepare each person’s heart to receive the sacrament fruitfully – which only happens if they have the right disposition. Creating the conditions for this disposition to be formed is a work of delicacy, prayer, and much effort, and, as with everything involving the Holy Spirit, takes time – why rush the conversion process?
  • There is a great advantage to regularity in formation – if we go to something each week, it is far more likely to become a good habit – there is more chance this will continue after the sacraments have been received
  • Regular nourishment is how God wants to form us! Not a great big feast and then starvation mode for several years. He wants to feed us with his Scriptures and teaching regularly, frequently

I admit – it is hard enough maintaining a long programme already in place. Parents see the parish next door confirming any teenager who moves, and they are resentful at what they see as the “demands” placed on them.

Every year we faced grumbles like this. During one parent’s meeting, however, one parent (previously dubious) stood up to defend the length of the programme, saying that the community and friendship which was forged as a result was remarkable and now sustained her daughter’s faith life.

In my experience, it is worth holding firm and sticking to your guns, and allowing the few who will drop off and head to the next door parish to do just that.

But, if you are starting this up somewhere, I imagine it is a whole different story. How do you suggest the new approach to parents? How do you convince young people this will be worth it? Please share your ideas!

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

6 responses to “How long?

  • Tonia

    How about making the courses longer each year (or every couple of years)? If you tell the people who come for three months that next year it will be six months they’ll be relieved! How flexible are you on age? If someone has two children within 20 months or so of each other we give them the option of both children doing the programme together. That tends to be easier on the parents.

  • cinemacatechesis

    We have classroom Catechisis for Pre-K through 12th grade, then we also have our Youth Group for 6th grade through 12th grade for the service and social aspect. It is a diocesan requirement for us that each student (at minimum) attend two years of instruction prior to reception of the sacraments. So while we have one year of prep on the particular sacrament which culminates in the reception of the Sacrament, the student is required to participate in at least one year immediately prior. We meet each week (Wednesdays) during the school year. We are a rarity even in our own area. Most parents however, are very happy to drop off their children so they have time to go to Mass, or have “date night.” It is long sometimes, but I know I explain it to people as we have people in our Church spending their lifetime just trying to understand one particular aspect of our Catholic faith… so how can you expect to learn everything in such a short time?
    We’ve had a lot of other parishes that quit doing any sort of classroom education once their youth are done with Confirmation. They claim that the kids just won’t come. That hasn’t really been the case for us. Our experience has been that if they get something out of it (learn something) they keep coming. It’s when they feel like the leader doesn’t really care, or is too over their head that they stop.
    Good luck & God Bless!

  • Paul Rodden

    I think your analysis is spot on, especially about the correct disposition and it being ongoing (errr…lifelong🙂 ), irrespective of course length.

    There’s a lot that could be said about this topic as my undergrad dissertation looked at the negative pastoral impact of a faulty Frame of Reference, spiritual narcissism, and self-deception on discipleship and church growth within Evangelicalism (and, interestingly, something Pope Francis is keen to address within Catholicism, too):
    http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otc.cfm?id=1066

    The one thing I would say – although I was looking at Anglican and Non-Conformist methods and models (which have their own inherent problems) – is that the most effective model which created (committed) disciples and growth, rather than a shallow ‘audience’ (which had to be continually entertained or frightened), was where the congregation itself was one of real discipleship. The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity uses a term, Whole Life Discipleship – and although they don’t use it as I am using it – I think it best describes what I’m suggesting below as an objective for catechesis. ‘Whole Life Discipleship’ encourages discipleship in those around them (i.e., that horrible word: Tradition!).🙂

    In Bonhoeffer’s terms, the now pervasive ‘cheap grace’ (what Newman called ‘liberalism’) approach found in today’s congregations works against spiritual growth, I believe, yet it has been the meat-and-potatoes of catechesis in most parishes ‘since Vatican II’.

    Therefore, I’d argue a wonderful catechist is pretty powerless, as any enthusiasm they generate is subject to entropy and the inertia of an unenthusiastic (in its literal sense, en-theos) congregation which just wants to go to the garage for petrol (US gas station for gas🙂 ) every Sunday without any aggro or other commitment. This sort of congregation sucks. Literally.

    However within Catholicism, owing to the covert, if not overt, tendency towards ‘learned clericalism’ (see M Seligman’s, Learned Helplessness) within congregations, the priest is pretty key to the whole thing, and without his support it will be rather a hide into nothing for the catechist, however brilliant, and I’m sure there have been catechists who’ve experienced this.

    How does this answer the questions? Well, sadly, I think it’s a tall order, and a Sisyphean task for a catechist alone owing to (spiritual) inertia and entropy. But, we are a Church, and not a coterie of egos (i.e., not the Protestant Ecclesiological model).

    So, in the final analysis, it seems to me that ‘buy-in’ by uncommitted parents and kids is proportional to the ‘fruits of the spirit’ they see in the healthy discipleship around them. In other words, they need to see the benefits. They need to ‘feel the buzz’

    Again, I think it’s also a matter of seeing ‘normal’ people ‘like themselves’ (not leaders or people in special roles or ‘ministries’, which includes catechists) alive in the Spirit.

    They need to see it is ‘for them’, and without the concrete evidence in the Christians around them in the congregation, no amount of talk or entertainment will get the sort of enthusiasm for the Gospel that the grace others will impart to them like Tinkerbell’s magic dust.

    Get that right, and I believe they’ll want it more than what they’ll get in the next door parish…

  • Paul Rodden

    Seems like Fr Bevil Bramwell, OMI, brings our themes together in his post on The Catholic Thing, today🙂 :
    http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2013/what-should-come-next.html

  • Paul Rodden

    I hope you’ll allow a second bite at the cherry🙂, as I’ve been pondering this one a lot as your question is a very important and difficult one, yet absolutely central to so much of what we do with young people.

    Firstly, I’m not sure what can be done with those who don’t go to Catholic Schools. The secular school’s philosophy/ethos is radically instrumentalist. Owing to it’s philosophical roots in various schools of pragmatism (Dewey, et al), it’s essence is inimical to learning anything as a good in itself. (I’ve had this discussion with a piano teacher who says the ‘pragmatic’ mentality reduces the quality of playing (as beauty is assumed as secondary to technical precision) and makes the process far more arduous and frustrating for the student too, because learning the piano can’t be done in ‘modules’. It’s often simply the hard slog of practice and discipline).

    Within this mentality, everything has to be a means to an end. Even kids who study art don’t do it for the pleasure so much as its use in their career.
    Hence, your question, ‘How do you convince young people this will be worth it?’ is appropriate in the context of that mentality, because that is what we have to do because that’s what they’re expecting. In a sense, experiencing that instrumental mentality has conditioned your question.
    The kids (and their parents) assume anything they do has to have some utilitarian benefit. So, marketing and edutainment are the only things that would ‘work’ with that mentality, but also, nurturing conversion is almost predestined to be an uphill struggle.

    However, if we look at Catholic Schools, then there should be a philosophy/ethos of things being good in and of themselves, but if there isn’t, then we’re in the same boat as the secular school, above.

    I would suggest, therefore, that if those who attend Catholic Schools have the ‘secular’ mentality (and sadly all the Catholic Schools I know are in that mould), then the Catholic School isn’t teaching what is essentially Catholic (i.e., not embodying the values as outlined in the recently republished (and excellent) CTS document: Christ at the Centre: Why the Church Provides Catholic Schools.

    In other words, even the Catholic school which feeds candidates into to us is actually working against the Catechist who wants to form disciples if it doesn’t embody sound Catholic values in all aspects of its life, as that document describes.

    My wife has recently been made a governor of our local Catholic School and the secretary has been bemoaning the fact that the latest NQTs know nothing about the Faith at all so I am currently in the process of trying to persuade them that running some sessions on Christ at the Centre and Fit for Mission with teachers might be beneficial – because I’m even having to sell the idea that its worth their time to putatively Catholic teachers!

    In short, I think the best way is to get the Catholic School to embody the same ethos so they simply accept it as an expectation of what it is to be Catholic, and so when they come to us, they know what’s expected.

    But, in both what I said previously, and this comment, I don’t think there are any quick fixes and we can’t do it on our own. In fact, (note to self!) to think we can – or ought – to do it without others seems to smack of spiritual hubris to me.

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