A long time ago, in a parish far far away, I got in terrible trouble on the feast of St. Angela Merici (+1540), who was foundress of the Ursulines in Brescia and is a patroness of Catholic education.
I had been asked to go to the parish school to bless the school rooms. Naturally such an undertaking would require spending some time in the rooms talking with the children. On my appointed rounds in this K-8 school, I wanted to make sure that the kids knew what I was doing and what it was for. Armed with ritual and holy water, off I went.
Now, one might expect a certain amount of hesitation in the youngest of the children when asked if they knew what the difference is between a sacrament and a sacramental. However, after around 6-8 years of Catholic education you might think that the older children would know at least how to respond to some part of that question. To my astonishment, in the 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes I could no find a single child… not a single child… who could tell me even the name of ONE of the sacraments, much less what a sacrament is or, imagine, what a sacramental is. So, I spent a little time in each class explaining what a sacrament is. I figured that if the kids were going to HOLY COMMUNION at school Masses, they might as well know that “that piece of bread thing”* was a sacrament.
What was the reaction of the teachers? They got angry with ME for explaining to the children what sacraments are and difference between them and blessings, which are sacramentals. They got angry with me, even though it was THEIR responsibility in the ambient of the school room to teach the basics of our Catholic faith to the children in their charge. Not being one to take issues like this lightly, the ruckus did not die down for while.
To make a long story short, I always remember with bittersweet fondness the feast day of St. Angela Merici. I will thus put to you simple questions. Do your children know what a sacrament is? Do they know the names of the sacraments? Do they know what the difference is between a sacrament and a sacramental?
Pietati tuae, quaesumus, Domine,
nos beata virgo Angela commendare non desinat,
ut, eius caritatis et prudentiae documenta sectantes,
tuam valeamus doctrinam custodire
et moribus profiteri.
We beg You, O Lord, let the blessed virgin Angela
not cease to commend us to You mercy,
so that, closely following her concrete examples of charity and prudence,
we may be able to guard Your fundamental teaching
and make progess in a good conduct of life.
Here I am guessing that doctrina is not just simply “teaching”, but “teaching” in the sense of “catechism”. For example, when Italians talk about the fundamental
catechism given to children they call it “la dottrina”. Since this prayer concerns a saint foundress of an order dedicated to teaching children, this seems a good choice.
We should all take time to review the fundamental teachings of our Catholic Faith. We read in 1Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” A good way to make this review would be with your own copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Get one and give one to those whom you love.
*This was an actual response I once got from a child two days before making his First Holy Communion. Having been asked to show the kids the church and help them understand what to do, I showed them how to genuflect before the tabernacle. They were previously unaware of such a practice. Of course, children like to know WHY they do things, right? So, I said that we pay special attention to the tabernacle (pointing to it and explaining that I meant that beautiful box, etc. etc.) because that is where Jesus is present in the Host they were going to receive for their First Communion. Blank stares. So, going deeper, we had a little quiz about Communion, and its meaning. Blank stares. I asked about Jesus and His being present in Communion. Blank stares. I asked about if they had ever noticed that their parents receive the Host during Mass. At that point one young boy said, “You mean that piece of bread thing?”