A long time ago, in a parish far far away, I got in terrible trouble on the feast of St. Angela Merici (+1540), foundress of the Ursulines in Brescia and a patroness of Catholic education.
I was asked to bless the school rooms of the K-8 parish school. This would clearly also involve talking with the children to make sure they knew what this was all about.
One reasonably expects some confusion in the very youngest children about, say, the difference between a sacrament and a sacramental. After 6-8 years of Catholic education, however, the older children ought to know this. To my astonishment, in the 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes I could not 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 much less a sacramental. Seeing how things were going I spent some time in each room explaining what a sacrament is before I blessed the room and then asked some questions afterward. 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.
In most schools when the priest comes to the classroom, the teachers are pleased to see him and make sure the kids know that it is a special occasion. Not at this school! What was the reaction of the teachers? They got angry with ME for explaining to the children what sacraments are and what the difference is between them and sacramentals (like blessing the room). Leave aside the fact that it was THEIR responsibility in the school room to teach the basics of our Catholic faith.
To make a long story short, I always remember with bittersweet fondness the feast day of St. Angela Merici.
Here is the "opening prayer" for today’s great saint, St. Angela Merici.
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 Your 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 think is in doctrina an echo of the Italian "dottrina", "teaching" in the sense of "catechism" for children, the fundamentals. When Italians call religious instruction for children "la dottrina". Since this prayer concerns a saint foundress of an order dedicated to teaching children, this seems a good choice.
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?
Take time to review the fundamental teachings of our Catholic Faith. We read in 1 Peter 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 from a child two days before making their First Holy Communion. I was 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. Children like to know WHY they do things, right? I said 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, 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?"