Angry priest: “I’ve had it!” with sacrament prep of young people!

A while back I gave a talk in Chicago to the group Legatus.  I had the great pleasure of meeting several great priests.  One of them was Fr. Richard Simon, Pastor of St. Lambert’s in Skokie. Fr. Simon is a regular host of Relevant Radio’s “Go ask your Father”.

Father is fed up with religious education as it is. He rants in his blog post and I must share some of it with my emphases and comments:

[...]

When I realized that Eastern Rite Catholics from the Middle East don’t have Communion and Confirmation classes, a light went on in my head. They receive first Communion and Confirmation when they are Baptized, even if they are infants. They have religious education for the rest of their lives and, consequently, they have a spiritual life. They are prepared for the Sacrament of Penance, but not for Communion and Confirmation. The result is that they have a vibrant spiritual like that they have maintained in the face of 1,300 years of unremitting persecution. In this country, we can’t manage a religious life because we are up against team sports.

I intend to drop the classroom model and go to a discipleship model that is called Youthchurch. It will involve Bibles, catechisms and water balloons. And maybe doughnuts. I will know the program is a success when I find that the kids are mad at their parents for missing Mass on Sunday.

I no longer intend to prepare children for First Communion and Confirmation. There will no longer be First Communion and Confirmation classes. How and when will the children receive Communion and Confirmation? They will receive when they are ready. When are they ready? They are ready when they want the Sacrament. How do we know they want the Sacrament? When they understand it, can tell the pastor what it is and why they want it. [OORAH!] If they are not in ongoing religious education and they are not coming to Mass on regular basis, they don’t want the Sacrament.

I am tired to distraction of having to chase young people down the aisles in church to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament because they have no clue what it is. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] A year or so back, I was offering a funeral Mass and a teenaged girl came up for Communion, took the host, looked at it, turned it over and began to walk away holding it in her palm. I followed her and asked, “Have you made your First Communion?” She said simply, “I’m Jewish.” I smiled and said, “Perhaps I should take that from you.” Quite a few of the mourners were furious with me for my discourtesy.

At another funeral not long ago I saw a passel of tattooed and pierced adolescents coming down the aisle at a funeral. It was a large funeral so a number of priests were helping with Communion. I had finished my line so I stood about ten paces from the celebrant, a visiting priest. The first of the young Goths received the host, looked at it curiously and as she passed me I asked, are you Catholic? She said, “no.” I said “Perhaps I should take that.” So there began a curious ritual, of clueless youths. One priest would say “Body of Christ and the second priest would say “I’ll just take that.

I’ve had it. My efforts will be directed to preparing people for the Sacrament of Conversion (Maybe you call it Penance or Reconciliation. Whatever.) Then maybe the little dears will understand that Communion is more than an edible poker chip. Registration will take place over the summer. I will be doing it personally. If you are registered in the parish and using envelopes, that will be the first step to getting your child in Youthchurch. How else can I tell if you are coming to Mass? As I’ve said before I don’t care that money’s in the envelope, I care that you are in the pew.

Fr. Simon

How very intriguing!

WDTPRS kudos to Fr. Simon!

UPDATE:

I just sent him some Z-Swag!

 

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72 Responses to Angry priest: “I’ve had it!” with sacrament prep of young people!

  1. Supertradmum says:

    I cannot agree with this more, having been involved in sacramental prep for years and witnessing, even to the past few months, abuses with the prep.

    Firstly, I am all in agreement as to the parents being the primary educators of the child. If the child is in a faithful family, the family can do the prep. We did this. We had an enlightened monsignor who allowed us to educate our son for sacramental prep of Holy Communion and First Confession. He, the son, was ready at age five.

    Secondly, Confirmation prep is not necessary as it is a Sacrament of Initiation. Having been a Byzantine Catholic for years, I recognized the beauty and sense of that practice of giving all the Sacraments of Initiation at one time. How wonderful to grow up in grace.

    Thirdly, parents must take responsibility. That is their role. To give that responsibility to a school or parish is against basic Catholic teaching.

    Kudos big time to this priest. We have lost our understanding of all the Sacraments of Initiation. And, this is a step in the right direction. Parents must be in charge, however, as I have seen too many Confirmed going home after the sacrament never to be seen again. This is outrageous and sadly, even here in GB common.

  2. Matt R says:

    Bingo…
    Fr Sticha also blogged about this and I dropped in on his comments, basically saying that the Liturgy is neglected in favor of everything else. (Also, now I’m seeing why certain criticisms are raised regarding Theology of the Body; it’s not focused on Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.)

  3. A lot of things would happen if they made me the Pope tomorrow. One of them would be a universal reordering of sacraments of initiation in the Latin church; baptism shortly after birth, Confirmation at the age of reason, and Communion at the onset of puberty (seventh or eighth grade, and only then if they can demonstrate knowing the score). A child’s first Confession would occur sometime before his or her first Communion, at the discretion of the local bishop, or the pastor, or the parents, or whomever.

    With all due respect to his memory, I believe Pius X was mistaken in lowering the age for Communion. I would restore its traditional order, thereby facilitating its traditional understanding.

    But hey, that’s just me.

  4. jbosco88 says:

    There is a sense of right amongst parents (who are more poorly catechised than the children) for the young ones to receive all these Sacraments at the same time. If a Priest were to take this admirable approach in England, there would be serious trouble, unfortunately.

    At the First Communion service at my Parish Church a year or two ago I was holding the Communion Plate (all the children received kneeling on the tongue at Father’s request), and had to run after a rogue child who “didn’t want to be left out” according to his co-habiting, divorced, contracepting ‘catholic’ Mother who accosted me in the Nave. Terrible.

  5. pfreddys says:

    Well……at the very least I like his moxie!!! The Church however has to establish norms for hundreds of thousands, nay millions of people. Could what he is doing become “norms”, perhaps.

  6. Bob B. says:

    Conversely…

    Where I taught, the 7th and 8th graders were like sponges, wanting to know their Faith and would rather have Religion than other subjects. (I even had 4th graders tell me that they were looking forward to my Religion classes!) The parents were very happy with what students were learning and former students would return and say their first year in high school Religion was a breeze.

    Not so with the Jesuit-schooled principal who knew little of the Faith and constructed road blocks along the way (e.g., forbidding a religious retreat, getting upset about Holy Cards that I gave to the whole school with the Memorare – which she hadn’t heard of before – and halting the Angelus at lunchtime, etc, etc).

    Complaints to the pastor came to naught and the Superintendent’s office, who installed the principal, kept its hands clean.

    Of course, what happened? The school closed.

  7. guatadopt says:

    Amen all around for this priest! This is one of the reasons I quit doing youth ministry at my parish. “Sacramental prep” was a joke (and still is). Not only that but there is a huge emphasis, especially with 8th graders, that they have to “earn” the “right” to be Confirmed…a heterdox and absurd instruction if I ever heard one. I used to vehemently protest this, but to no avail. Now I sit back and watch as hopelessly unprepared kids receive the sacraments. Although…I have started some Early and Medieval church history courses that I teach to decent sized crowds.

    Bottom line….The sacraments should be restored to the traditional order…Baptism, Confirmation and Communion all together and all at birth. Or, at the very least Baptism and Confirmation should be given at birth.

  8. Papabile says:

    I feel greatly for Father and agree with him re: the ridiculous level of understanding of the Sacraments.

    However, it is often assumed that the first reception of the Sacraments is up to the Priest. The teaching in Quam Singulari is that it is up the the “father and the priest [who is their] confessor” of the child – not just the Priest alone.

    The Code in 1984 expanded this to include the “parents” of the child so the mother is not excluded.

    For those who would like to delay reception of First Communion until an age later than that of the age of discretion (which is not a firmly set age – but simply around 7), there is an anathema attached to that by Trent.

    “If anyone denies that each and all Christians of both sexes are bound, when they have attained the years of discretion, to receive Communion every year at least at Easter, in accordance with the precept of Holy Mother Church, let him be anathema.”

  9. LisaP. says:

    YES!!!!!!! He gets it!

    On a secondary note, the last time I went up to Communion the young lady with the chalice had a pierced lip. It was very distracting, and I couldn’t help but feel that she was drawing attention to herself at a very inappropriate time. It also made me wonder about the nature of piercing, if it connects in with some kind of cultural memory of Christ’s pierced hands, and if that means these kids long for that connection or are mocking and trying to appropriate it. . . .

    Absolutely love the image of the two priests!

  10. Well something sure has to change right now. I hope Fr. Simon is very successful with this. Frankly I get kind of angry when I think about all the relevant instruction I missed out on because I was taught fluffy junk instead of important, relevant things when I ‘prepared’ for my sacraments.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Receiving First Communion early didn’t hurt St. Therese, or Bl. Francisco and Jacinta Marto. As early as a Latin Rite kid understands, he or she should be receiving.

    Moving along, though… when I was a kid, I was too scared/shy to ever ask a priest anything. He was Not to Be Bothered by Kids, as every adult made perfectly plain. Yet this seems to mean that kids have to not just go up to, but converse with, a priest? Worse, the pastor??

    Um, Father, I wouldn’t have been able to receive until I was twenty! You have NO IDEA how shy I was!

  12. Joe Magarac says:

    Two points:

    1. I really like the idea of replacing sacramental prep classes with a discipleship model. Kudos to Fr. Simon for suggesting it.

    2. Fr. Simon suggests that at funerals, mourners who are not Catholic have been coming up to communicate. The easy way to prevent issues like this is, at events like funerals and weddings that are likely to have non-Catholics in attendance, to explain in the homily or after the consecration that communion is only for Catholics. I’ve seen this done many times, and in every case the non-Catholics have understood and respected the priest’s admonition. I don’t know why Fr. Simon doesn’t do this at funerals; it would probably save him some aggravation.

  13. PA mom says:

    YES!!!! He’s got it!!! Having taught CCD for five years I can tell you very certainly, that the current system is wildly not working… The kids are bored by endless sacrament prep, pep talk (you too can be a saint, you too can be the light of Christ….) and saints stories. They are bored numb, then they feel bad for not liking it and it only makes them want to be as far away from Church and God as possible. Pope Benedict said that we just have to teach the kids how to pray and they will be ok.
    What did they enjoy? When I had them reading bible passages relevant to the Church calendar. When I took them down into the chapel to talk about being in the presence of Jesus,and had them kneel silently. When they had to memorize new prayers for the first time since second grade. When we discussed the stories of the creation, Eden, the fall of mankind, Noah and the promise, then the 10 commandments ,all that time God teaching and training mankind to be ready for His Son and His new expectations. When we discussed evil and named sins, and tried to really see the ones most blocking us from God.
    There is no question that children are capable, even starving for knowledge of God, and it is unacceptable that so many of them, even after nine years of this schooling, do not have anything that can remotely be called a relationship with God. While it is certainly partly their parents fault, at no time can I recall even once a sermon directed to parents on what they should be teaching their children and when, none on how to start children into a life of prayer. I cannot but point out that our parish priests spend virtually no time on this, but are disgusted by how little the kids know. Meanwhile the parents are required to attend meeting that repeat the basics, even if they have other children who have already attended. Parental wasting of time, too.
    Great idea to sign them up yourself Father! Your presence will emphasize that they should take this seriously. I often thought that what they really needed was a lot less talking about it, and a lot more doing it. At home, at Church and in school, not “services”, but Mass, adoration, novenas, the Stations of the Cross,, the real deal mixed in to lessons too. Hope he will continue to write to describe his work and very likely stunning success.

  14. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    My pastor interviews young people before they are Confirmed. He makes sure they are ready, and they know they will get some questions put them well in advance – it’ legendary. LOL

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: above — Well of course I founded Confession a horrible ordeal, but it’s not really conversing, per se, just like it’s not really Father, per se. And since I was usually crying the entire time, I didn’t have to actually look at Father much, even though we always had to go to Confession face to face! So there’s a bright side to everything!

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: homilies as education

    Yup, lots of people have never heard anything about how to establish a prayer life, self-examine for sins, etc. “Teach the ignorant” is something priests should feel free to do.

    Honestly, you may as well just do homilies on the basics of the Church’s teaching. You can chat a bit about the readings and their meaning, and connect to the basics, and I guarantee there’ll be tons of parishioners who’ve never heard that before or had previously never absorbed it.

  17. Cheesesteak Expert says:

    The priest talks about the benefits of receiving Baptism, Communion and Confirmation as infants to Middle Eastern Christians, but then does not consider that as a recommendation for his flock – why?

  18. Imrahil says:

    Well well well… if there were no scheduled First Communion, I’d probably – possible miracles always excepted – never had started practising the Catholic Faith.

    Things are not always easy.

  19. Ezra says:

    I followed her and asked, “Have you made your First Communion?” She said simply, “I’m Jewish.” I smiled and said, “Perhaps I should take that from you.” Quite a few of the mourners were furious with me for my discourtesy.

    Good thing she wasn’t a lesbian Buddhist! (Or maybe that’s just a Washington thing.)

  20. jacobi says:

    Fr Simon,

    May I suggest

    1. Reception of Communion kneeling, at the altar rails and on the tongue.

    2. Reception of the Host alone ( the totality is in the Host ) except in the instances originally provided for.

    That should sort out most of them and for those who have problems with this, hard luck! Or rather, leave that in the hands of God; We are only human after all!

  21. Alice says:

    If it were up to me, children would receive all the Sacraments of Initiation at once and only people who looked like they had a clue would receive at Mass. I have never understood why children need to have reached the Age of Reason to receive because every child whose parents were doing their job believed that receiving Holy Communion was receiving Jesus long before they had any clue about sin. Teaching the younger children in my second grade CCD classes about sin and confession was like trying to teach the blind to see. The same children knew from infused faith, I guess, that it was Jesus they received in Holy Communion.

  22. Imrahil says:

    But I should think that the problem is not communion classes, but what is taught there and how (and for how long).

    Dear @PA mom is hitting the nail on the top, I think.

    And never forget, what is a story (e. g. the Passing through the Red Sea… the 40 Years in the Desert… the Macabees…), no matter how holy, is never less than a story. Children, I’ve heard, do like stories. But then – and I’ve actually heard that – a religious education teacher apprentice was rebuked by his instructor for talking to storytelling-wise about one of these topics because “that would seem to imply that these stories had really happened”. I’m sad to say so but that’s not kidding.

    There could be said a real lot about the “earn the Confirmation” thing, including good things, although it is as such, of course, a heterodox notion.

  23. rcg says:

    This is so right. This can and should include adults who have grown up in the last fifty years with no clue. These are the people who looked at me and shrugged, ‘what’s the big deal’ with the new translation.

    Start by firing every Lay Liturgist in North America.

  24. Centristian says:

    Cheesteak Expert:

    “The priest talks about the benefits of receiving Baptism, Communion and Confirmation as infants to Middle Eastern Christians, but then does not consider that as a recommendation for his flock – why?”

    Above his paygrade? As we sometimes forget, the Catholic Church is a hierarchical Church ruled by bishops in union with a pope, not a congregationalist Church in which pastors have complete autonomy.

  25. Suburbanbanshee: “Receiving First Communion early didn’t hurt St. Therese, or Bl. Francisco and Jacinta Marto. As early as a Latin Rite kid understands, he or she should be receiving.”

    There is a record of a young girl receiving first Communion at the age of four. It didn’t “hurt” her either. We’re not talking about the exceptions, but the norm, and even the norm in this case allows for circumstances of emotional and spiritual maturity. (My son was raised a Byzantine Catholic. He received First Communion when he was several weeks old. It didn’t “hurt” him either.)

    reg: Most “liturgists” at the parish level are not really certified as such. They took a few classes engaging in a lot of pet theories, without ever reading a serious classic work on the subject. Many dioceses could use one, frankly, and a priest is not always qualified either. (How can I say this? I’ve been on the phone with enough of them.)

  26. Bryan Boyle says:

    You think youth instruction is bad…you ought to see what passes for catechesis (yes, that word…) in RCIA in many places.

    It’s not just youth training, the sacramental sequence, or even rooting out the “Jesus is your best buddy” meme that needs be expunged.

    It’s the whole shooting match from Baptism through Final Rites (in terms of life as a Catholic) that’s sorely lacking. But, it starts at the infant stage. There is no way we can expect a teenager, who’s been conditioned by poor catechesis, training, and vanilla-pudding homiletics on Sunday to NOT view their Confirmation as a ‘graduation’ ceremony from CCD or religious ed.

    Those that are in the forefront, and recognized the problem with the Usual Suspects attempting to hijack (anyone remember the “National Catechetical Directory”???) the process are reasserting their authority. Sadly, though, there are many who were lost.

  27. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Well, I’m all for Byzantine Catholics doing their thing, and I’m all for Latin Rite Catholics doing ours.

    Now, if Catholics who don’t have mental problems are having trouble reaching the age of discretion/reason by age seven or so, I would suggest that we do have a problem. And not with the kids themselves….

  28. amenamen says:

    I understand the problem, and the anger and frustration. I wish him well, but I do not understand exactly what Father Simon intends to do to that will improve the situation. He says there will be no “sacramental preparation.” But then, he says, the children will be able to receive First Communion or Confirmation when they they are “ready.”

    He says, “When are they ready? They are ready when they want the Sacrament. How do we know they want the Sacrament? When they understand it, can tell the pastor what it is and why they want it. If they are not in ongoing religious education and they are not coming to Mass on regular basis, they don’t want the Sacrament.”

    Ongoing “religious education” and faithful attendance at Mass. Some sort of interview or test to deterrmine how much they understand. That sounds like sacramental preparation to me. What is different?

    I am not familiar with the Youthchurch program. I am all too familiar with programs that rely on donuts and water balloons for catechesis. But maybe this one is different?

  29. Hey, I was just saying what I’d do as Pope. I was gonna consider you for my Secretary of State, but you can just forget it, alright?

  30. Ef-lover says:

    I too would like to see the sacraments of Initiation all done at baptism as in the Eastern Rite.
    I teach 7th graders ( begining confirmation prep for 8th grade confirmation) about 90% of the kids do not attend mass on a regular basis and about 55% do not want to be in religion class ,it is the lowest rung on the ladder. On another note–the First Communion mass is just aweful– it is anything but sacred ,nothing more then a show for the kids to dress up and look cute , every child has some physical activity to do, sing stupid ditties, receive Our Lord in the hand ( DRE and Past0rs request),get their picture taken and have a party. And BTW you can not believe the noise level of the parents in church before the mass began.

  31. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Heh, heh… if that’s addressed to me, it’s just as well. You wouldn’t like me as a diplomat….

  32. Kathleen10 says:

    At my mother’s funeral last year, per our request for just this reason, Father explained the nature of Catholic Holy Communion. There are many ways in which someone may end up in a Communion line at a funeral, but one of them is the wish to “participate” out of respect for the deceased or their family, which would be fine in a protestant church, but of course, not at all in a Catholic Church. The best reason why a short explanation at the beginning of the Funeral Rite is helpful and indicated. I asked for that from Father, specifically, and he obliged wonderfully. Most people do not wish to receive inappropriately, I believe. Young people today are in a different category, and I wouldn’t know how to address that.

    As far as religious ed or not. Hmm. I really don’t know. What “works” in one place doesn’t always in another, there’s that. I think there has to be regular, formalized instruction.
    I just put my great-nephew through two years of preparation for First Holy Communion. His separated parents are not churched in any way, either one of them. In fact, you might say skepticism and some bit of mockery were more apparent than anything. Very discouraging, but, this is how it just IS. Without formal CCD, the child would have almost zero opportunities to experience anything religious or Catholic. His older brother has been in CCD, but, has just told me he does not want to attend Mass, and I am not putting him in CCD this fall. (sing the Kenny Rogers song here “The Gambler”,which I often have to sing to myself about this whole matter.) Now, the 8 year-old is telling me he does not want to attend Mass, and I dislike paying him off to go with us. I’m at a bit of a standstill, not sure if I even want to sign HIM up this fall. I love him dearly. I really don’t know what to do.
    You never saw such a raucous group as this little group of second graders about to receive First Holy Communion! I know it was like herding CATS to get them to pay attention and cooperate all year. Boisterous, loud, needing constant adult “interventions”. But you also never saw a more reverent, prayerful, earnest little group in their procession about to go into the church proper, for First Communion. Hands folded prayerfully, each one deep in thought, my own baby so wrapped up in mental and spiritual preparation his tiny hands were in position to receive. He didn’t even “see” me standing right there in front of him. When I tell you they all looked like angels or saints, I’m not kidding. They made an ethereal picture.
    Their program was excellent! They got the real deal, at Easter, praying the full, FULL Stations of the Cross! Even the first graders did this! I never thought they’d make it, but they did! I think CCD is great, if the religious instruction is great. It’s a waste, if the religious instruction is a waste. Fewer butterflies and rainbows, and more Rosary and Stations of the Cross. My adult son got butterflies and rainbows, and now at 36, he’s a Protestant.
    Even when they get great instruction, it’s never certain how things will work out I guess, but it’s a far better start. For children with zero religious education at home, it’s just about all they’ll get. Keep them until you just can’t keep them anymore. I think without a formal CCD program, most children will get nothing, or next to nothing. Only the “truly” Catholic families will provide home education. Do we want to influence children for whom CCD may be the ONLY catechesis they will get?
    Nonetheless, I like Father’s moxie and attitude, especially his “protection” of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

  33. monmir says:

    This is how I was taught (way back), although with first communion at 7 and confirmation at 8 . We even had a booklet to be signed by the priest when we were away from our parish, to make sure we had attended Mass on Sundays during our vacations.
    I have attempted to teach a catechism class for confirmation age youths and I abandoned as I soon found out they did not care, neither did the parents. They just wanted “confirmation”.
    It is very sad to see that many of us (or all of us) are looking for the minimum we can give to God. I would take as an example a discussion on how late I can eat so as to keep a one hour fast, calculating to the minute. Why is it that despite all the Masses on Sundays people cannot still go to Mass? Sundays look too much like the day God commits to us instead of us to Him. So it is with learning the Faith or teaching the children.
    Quid retribuam..

  34. dominicop says:

    As many of the other posters have already pointed out, an important feature of Father’s reflection is his original inspiration. The East has a lot to teach us both ritually and spiritually about the Faith. The best advice I’ve gotten on confession and penance, both as a penitent and as a confessor, has come from the Christian East. We should pay closer attention to them.

  35. Sissy says:

    Fr. Simon has a very long essay on his site Rev Know-It-All about the origins of what he calls the “Hootenanny Mass”. It’s well-worth reading.

  36. ReginaMarie says:

    It isn’t just Eastern Rite Catholics from the Middle East, but Eastern Catholics in general who follow the tradition of children receiving the Holy Mysteries of Illumination shorty after birth – Baptism, Chrismation & First Holy Eucharist. I am grateful that, now being raised in the Eastern Catholic tradition, our children are able to receive these sacramental graces from infancy. Children are in need of these graces now more than ever in today’s hostile culture. I am in favor of reordering the Sacraments so that, once Baptized, a child may fully partake of these sacramental graces as a member of the Church.

    “As a mother will not deny her children food until they understand what they eat, so too the Church will not deny the spiritual food of the Eucharist until a person understands.” (St. John Chrysostom)

    “That infant & children not yet come to the use of reason may not only validly but even fruitfully receive the Blessed Eucharist is now the universally received opinion.” (Council of Trent)

  37. capchoirgirl says:

    I think this is a bit overarching. I received communion in second grade (I had turned eight), confession in fourth grade (age 10) and confirmation in eighth grade (age 14). Now, I do think that confession pre-communion is a good idea to introduce the idea of mortal and venial sins in practice, as opposed to just theory. Now, I went to Catholic school, and we were very well-prepared for all the sacraments.
    And who *truly* understands the Eucharist? I mean, yes, most of us can explain what it is as a dictionary definition. But to truly grasp that great mystery, to even attempt to truly plum its depths, can take an entire lifetime. I’m with St .Pius X, here. Let kids have the opportunity to receive that grace!
    Yes, I think parents need to be more involved in the sacramental prep and church life, and not just pass it off to the church/school. But at the same time, a few bad apples shouldn’t ruin the bunch. At my current parish, the kids are exceedingly reverent–and they also receive confirmation in sixth grade. It varies in so many places.

  38. Kate says:

    I LOVE IT!

    (From this mom’s point of view: In our home, we try hard to keep the Faith alive. My daughter was soooo looking forward to making her Confirmation; she was excited to start taking the preparation courses. Only trouble was…..her classmates did not care. In their defense, I tried to get her to consider the idea that maybe in their hearts they cared, but they felt it wasn’t “cool” to seem interested in class, so maybe they were just acting disinterested….but that idea didn’t go far.

    When the classroom is filled with a majority of kids who simply do not care about the preparation, are rude to each other and the teacher, and are, in general, turned off, it affects the kids who are excited.

    In our parish, Confirmation students must also attend a diocesean-wide outdoor Mass for teens. My niece went and witnessed one girl piercing the ear of another girl during Mass…..

    So, I love the idea of dropping the classroom model. I will prep my kids, and they will approach this wonderful priest to ask for and explain the sacrament. Sounds like a great deal.)

  39. Kate says:

    When I asked a priest why Confirmation is not currently administered at an earlier age (the average age in our area is about 15 or 16….), the priest replied, “Confirmation is commonly referred to as ‘the Sacrament of Leaving the Church’”

    The hope is that keeping teens in class for another year or eight will finally allow something to stick, and they will keep the Faith.

    I don’t know that this tactic is working, however….

  40. The Sicilian Woman says:

    Fr. Simon is correct in his thinking. He’s going to get some pretty nasty blowback from the folks who think that sacraments are a right and not a privilege, a given. The child whose parents get upset at the child’s not having a big First Holy Communion party (because it’s all about the Big Parties) at age 7 or 8 will be the adult who leaves the Church and/or marries outside of the Church, or marries in the Church only for the Big Church Wedding, which, of course, will be expected as a right, only post-wedding to ignore Church teaching on birth control and everything else.

    Speaking for myself, I received my First Holy Communion and Confirmation at the usual ages, 7 and 12 (or 13) respectively, having attended “Sunday School” on Saturday mornings for my Communion prep while in public elementary school, then attending a Catholic school during my Confirmation formation. Both times, I did so because it was the thing to do, not because I really cared. It’s amazing what I wasn’t taught then, and how my faith has grown since I’ve taken the initiative recently to learn.

    I think it should be the standard that at “event” Masses (funeral Masses, nuptial Masses, etc., where you are likely to get non-Catholics), the priest clearly defines who may receive Communion. In discussing faith issues with an Episcopalian friend of mine recently, she told me that received the Eucharist at a Mass once. The priest hadn’t made a point of clarifying who could receive, so she’d thought it was okay.

    One last thing – children receiving Communion at birth? I’ve never heard of that. Granted, I’m Roman Rite, not Eastern, but still.

  41. AnnAsher says:

    Amen, Amen, Amen amen amen Amen!
    Oh how it grieves me when my kids Know this is Jesus and want to receive and I have to say not yet. I completely agree that formal, one year preparation is a detriment to the life of faith thereafter. I wrote Bp Gaydos a year ago requesting Communion and Confirmation for my three kids who are (now) 4-7 years old. He ignored me.

  42. AnnAsher says:

    Amen, Amen, Amen amen amen Amen!
    Oh how it grieves me when my kids Know this is Jesus and want to receive and I have to say not yet. I completely agree that formal, one year preparation is a detriment to the life of faith thereafter. I wrote Bp (blank) a year ago requesting Communion and Confirmation for my three kids who are (now) 4-7 years old. He ignored me.

  43. AnnAsher says:

    Oh and I gotta say ” I’ll be doing it personally” is refreshing!

  44. ReginaMarie says:

    History shows that for 1,200 years the universal practice of the entire Church (both East & West) was to communicate infants. The view that infants & children under the age of reason should not be welcomed to the Lord’s Table developed solely in the Western Church & dates only from about 800 years ago. All the Christian Churches of the East (including Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, Byzantine, Orthodox, etc.) have maintained the earlier tradition of administering the Eucharist to infants as well as adults.

    In the 1990 publication of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Eastern Catholic Canon Law), Canon 710 states: “With respect to the participation of infants in the Divine Eucharist after baptism and chrismation with holy myron, the prescriptions of the liturgical books of each Church sui iuris are to be observed with the suitable due precautions.”

    It is also mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a norm in the Eastern Catholic Churches: “In the Eastern rites the Christian initiation of infants also begins with Baptism followed immediately by Confirmation and the Eucharist…” (1233)

    While some of the Eastern Churches began to follow the practice of not permitting children to receive the Holy Eucharist until the ‘age of reason’, in the past 15 years or so, various Eastern Catholic Churches have begun to restore infant Communion with encouragement from Rome.

  45. AnnAsher says:

    I’ve just been over to read the whole post – strongly reccomended.

  46. The Cobbler says:

    On the one hand, anyone who wanted their kid to have the Sacraments would actually have to teach them enough for them to understand what they’re getting. Sloppy catechesis no longer cuts it.

    On the other hand, those of us who’ve already got our acts together don’t have to go over to the EF or Byzantine parish to avoid having to play games with the parish directors (some of them lay, some of them priests) over qualifications. True story: I know someone who nearly was never confirmed because the lay parish directors said she could swap out XYZ class for the really crappy one and then took it back. Another true story: I know of a priest who has held kids back beyond his diocese’s standard age for Confirmation not because they didn’t understand and want it but because he is possessed of the notion that children cannot make real choices (and of course he also thinks Confirmation’s about choosing to be Catholic, but seriously — kids can’t make actual decisions? if there’s one unshakeable argument against clerical celibacy, it’s the urgent need some overly clever men have for a slapping in the face by reality).

    Here’s a question for Dr. Peters, or any other canon lawyers lurking (does Pete Vere ever come around these parts?): Is my understanding correct that canon law requires catechumens and children to have and understanding of Holy Communion and Confirmation, but no requirement that this understanding be passed down by such a particular means as classes? And if that’s correct, wouldn’t there be a decent argument that the above method conforms already to the norms of canon law whereas requiring kids to attend XYZ to be Confirmed while not requiring them to demonstrate understanding afterward does not?

  47. Joe in Canada says:

    I would make 2 distinctions. First, the approach Father describes would not help with the aberrant situations he describes.
    Second, “sacramental preparation” is a bit of a catch-all for “what people should know as a Catholic”. I have been asked 3 times in my life as a priest to help prepare someone who fell through the cracks and for one reason or another could not follow “the program”. Both times took about an hour. In one case the young man was so enthusiastic we met 5 or 6 times, but it was really for prayer and spiritual direction.
    It would be a pity to deprive young people of the Sacraments unless they “really” meant it. A lot of young people don’t know what they want, because their parents, who are willing to take them to the endless “faith first” or “generations of faith” or whatever it is, themselves don’t know what “It” is. But they want something.
    And Youthchurch? Was that meant to be parody? In a nutshell, I think Father’s problem is with the content of the program, not the way Sacramental initiation is practiced in the Western church.
    ps I think much more than 800 years ago the West decided that the presence of the Bishop was of greater importance than the unity of Baptism, Confirmation, Communion. The East made a different prudential judgment, deciding that the unity of the Sacraments was more important than the presence of Bishop. Both were concessions to the reality that the Bishop could no longer be conveniently present very often.

  48. The Cobbler says:

    I actually just thought of something to add to the first point in my comment: By making it about the kids wanting the Sacrament for what it really is, besides the inherent but open-to-any-method catechesis requirement there’s also an easy response to parents who want their kids to have their rights or whatever: It’s not about what you want, it’s about what a kid wants — what he or she actually wants, not just what they think without knowing what it is, but in any case not about the parent wanting to get another gold star for getting their kid the ceremonial mean-whatever-you-want-it-to mark.

    Of course, that brings up the fact that such people are really more ritualistic than traditional, actual Catholicism ever was; for it’s the moderns who insist on us all participating in some ritual together even though they insist it means nothing more nor less than whatever you want it to, which is the height of empty ritual and going through the motions, and it is only the ancient Church that holds there is something the ritual means for you to actually learn so you are niether going through the motions nor partaking of an empty ritual for the sake of joining others in ritual. Next time someone suggests that your old-fashioned ideas about the meaning of the Sacraments are part of empty ritualism, point out that nothing’s more empty ritualism than wanting to go through something with everybody while believing nothing about it but whatever fuzzy feelings are involved in going through it with everybody!!

  49. albinus1 says:

    ps I think much more than 800 years ago the West decided that the presence of the Bishop was of greater importance than the unity of Baptism, Confirmation, Communion

    Then why is Confirmation so often delegated to priests these days?

  50. John Weidner says:

    I’m aware of the objections to the practice of giving a blessing to those who don’t receive Communion. But at our parish we do so, and on the plus side we never have to chase Jewish girls down the aisle at funerals and explain things! (And also our Pastor said that people no longer confess to having received Communion unworthily due to peer pressure.)

  51. Supertradmum says:

    One does not need to understand to receive grace. We do not understand, really, the indwelling of the Trinity in our souls. We do not understand many truths, like the Trinity but, we accept, we believe.

    All the Sacraments of Initiation should be given at baptism, as in the Byzantine Rite. Our children need to grow up with grace. Why deny the sacraments? God bless this priest and I wish those who think we must understand come to realize that we never shall until we are in heaven.

  52. Joe Magarac says: Fr. Simon suggests that at funerals, mourners who are not Catholic have been coming up to communicate. The easy way to prevent issues like this is, at events like funerals and weddings that are likely to have non-Catholics in attendance, to explain in the homily or after the consecration that communion is only for Catholics.

    And another really good way to discourage non-Catholics from approaching Communion would be to bring back the altar rail and have Catholics receive Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue. As long as Communion looks like a buffet line, non-Catholics will not see any reason why they too shouldn’t receive.

  53. TravelerWithChrist says:

    He is SPOT ON!! Catechism actually should be a 24/7 lifelong process. With CCD (or Catholic school), the children and teachers make it a process to receive a sacrament. Once the sacrament is received, so many drop out until prep-time for the next sacrament. Homeschooling has enlightened me how it’s a 24/7 process – every minute is a God moment, when we can discuss God, the Faith, morals, the saints, and so much more. I try to make the school revolve around God.
    I frequently remind myself and others – what is our purpose in life – “To know, love and serve God”, it’s not about Math, science, friends, etc…
    Until we make God first in our lives as adults, the children won’t get it (nor will we).

  54. Cheesesteak Expert says:

    Centristian: Yes, but who’s enforcing rubrics these days? Pastors take a lot more liberties these days and nobody says boo, from the Pope on down. So maybe the “restoration” goes back to best practices from 800 years ago, and not just 50,60 or 80. Why not? And, if it worked for Western Christians 1000 years ago, and that same practice is – by this priest’s evidence – working great for Eastern Christians, that seems worth considering, don’t you think?

  55. billt says:

    Anita –

    I’d say about a third of the used about about a third of the people. Father explains that he is really “The Last of The Liberals” – who encourages Diversity: you can communicate standing OR at the rail.

  56. acardnal says:

    I concur with Supertradmum’s position.

  57. acardnal says:

    However, I should have added to my above, that proper disposition of the recipient is necessary. The better one is disposed, the more the sacramental grace will be effective.

  58. irishgirl says:

    @ manwiththeblackhat: FYI, the name of the little four-year-old who received First Communion was a little Irish lass named Nellie Organ. Or as she was more often called, ‘Little Nellie of Holy God’. She lived from 1904 to 1908. She received every Sacrament in her short life except Matrimony and Holy Orders.
    Back on topic-I think this priest really nails it! And I’m also glad that he cares enough about protecting Our Lord from sacrilege by going after people in the Communion line who don’t have a clue about Who they received!

  59. LisaP. says:

    I think in America in the 21st century we really are fundamentally and subconsciously inclined to think all learning must be classroom learning. I have talked to people, educated people, who don’t and can’t “get” that formalized compulsory government schooling has not been the historical norm, even in America (it’s a product of the 30s, like income taxes, which educated people also have no clue is a relatively modern innovation). We all went to school, right? Everybody goes to school, right? So the best way to get someone ready for anything — be it healing the sick, building a building, or receiving a sacrament — is to sit him in a classroom and make him fill out spaces in a workbook, right?

    But, of course, most people in the history of the world (think Plato to Jefferson) in no way received any of their education this way.

    I find it remarkable, literally, that this priest is willing to shake off this way of thinking enough to realize that being an individual communicating with an individual is the best way to receive and give knowledge. If you ask your average religious education coordinator what she needs to do in order to determine if a child is properly disposed to receive First Communion, you’re likely to hear, “I need him to attend two years of religious education and one course of sacramental preparation class to include attendance at one religious retreat, and I need him to complete the “We Are Church (and by the way here’s this communion thing we do)” curriculum package.” If you ask a priest of this ilk what he needs to do in order to determine if a child is properly disposed, he’ll tell you, “I ask him.” Being ready for Communion is not about logging hours of attendance, it’s about understanding, loving, and wanting.

    There’s a lot of back and forth about why the Catholic Church in America started to lose parishioners, it was happening before Vatican II, it accelerated after Vatican II. Maybe what happened was instead of people passing down their faith as individuals, as family and community and parish members, they started leaving it up to to people they hired to sit their kids in desks. The decline of the Catholic Church in America tracks pretty closely with the decline in educational achievement in the public schools in America.

  60. Kathleen10 says:

    Supertradmum, great point. We never fully comprehend, you’re right. But, preparation means at least the understanding that this thing we’re doing is not just having a cracker, say, which is all an 8 year old would think if he was plopped in line without advance preparation of some kind. (or an adult for that matter) Even a child can grasp, and ought to grasp, that this is a Holy Sacrament, something incredibly important. That our faith says “This is Jesus” and He comes to you. Perhaps the most necessary aspect to teach, after that, is really that this fact alone means we must be reverent, prayerful, and even serious. The God of all Creation is coming to you, He made the world and the sky, moon and stars, and He is coming to YOU. It’s lofty, but even a child can comprehend the magnitude of it all in some way, especially since, hopefully, he or she is surrounded by an atmosphere (at least IN the church) that reflects the awesomeness of that reality. To me, that at least, is appropriate preparation of the minimal kind. It takes preparation to begin to comprehend this, hence, one or two years of CCD. It all leads up to the big day. They do grasp that. They wear a nice suit or beautiful dress. Auntie So and So and friends are there, and taking pictures. There’s a cake, and when the grownups look at you, they smile, and might even cry a bit. You sit up front in the church with your friends, and Father speaks to you specifically, as a group.
    It seems somewhat superficial, but they do understand that this day is not like any other day, and some of them might always remember it. I am still in the glow of the recent First Holy Communion of my great-nephew, in which I know the program was excellent, and the children as well prepared and instructed as any children could be, in the real faith, not silliness and fluff.
    The preparation is only as good as the instruction.
    This is the first discussion of varying ages to receive sacraments I’ve ever seen. Interesting.
    I hope there are worthy theologians working on this somewhere.

  61. Supertradmum says:

    Kathleen10, If a child grows up in a prayerful house, where the parents go to Mass not only on Sunday, but when they can during the week, and if the parents take the child to Adoration, that is good preparation. We learned the Baltimore Catechism before First Holy Communion, and if a parent knows the Faith, some of the same points may be covered without memorization. The problem is not the child, but the parents…as usual.

    I am a strong believer that the parents are the primary educators of the child, which means we need Adult Faith Formation first.

  62. oakdiocesegirl says:

    Jacobi above had the best comment! Stories like the above are the best argument for why we must return to communion on the Tongue Only [I prefer kneeling at the rail, too, but exception must be made for disabled in wheelchairs and such, so that is not as crucial] If a recipient was so rude as to spit it out, it would be pretty obvious who was being “discourteous”-hopefully the other faithful would be horrified by such sacrilege.

  63. Marie S. says:

    YES, YES, YES!

    Holy Communion and Confirmation are not prizes to be passed out, or certificates of achievement after completing a course. Religious education should be about the joy of learning about God, His will and His people. The mechanics can be taught in less than an hour to those who are ready.

    Since active participation in RE can be used by the priest or deacon to determine a child’s readiness, parents who wants their child confirmed have every incentive to get her to RE.

    Agree with Joe in Canada that “Youthchurch” is an awful name, though.

    A query: do eastern rite churches all distribute on the tongue? If not, how do they have a delayed second communion or have some other way to deal with children too young to understand what they are being given?

  64. Imrahil says:

    Religious education should be about the joy of learning about God, His will and His people. The mechanics can be taught in less than an hour to those who are ready.

    I’m sorry but I’m of another opinion. First, while incitement to morality is perhaps the most important thing education can achieve, in the process of making (unless that there is no technical process of making, but you see what I mean) this is a side-product, and technically education is about something else.

    Then also, what do you mean with “being about the joy of learning about God, His will and His people”? That the teacher stands himself to the front of the class and says “I’m here to teach you that learning about God, His will and His people is a joyful thing?” Unfortunately general principles of education are about so concrete things. What would happen, then? Of a class of thirty, 7 would say “why should it be”. 22 (and perhaps some of the 7) would explicitly hear in their conscience an order not to hold this opinion, and would just be confused, and saying all possible things if asked because they do not know what they really mean. And 1 would say: “No news there, but then why don’t we do it?” This one is right.

    And while you may be true about the mechanics concerning those who are ready, there still must not be forget those who are not ready for the learning you mention, but still have not with complete force actively decided to apostatize, which would probably be a vast majority. A policy to select out the few worthy completely forbids itself. (And no, this is nothing against the very different problem of adult unworthy communicants, that is, those unworthy by some clear-enough principle.)
    Neither can we forget that while I agree that preparation should only be about that needed for the respective Sacrament, and not all of religion, still there’s some actual knowledge that needs to be taught. Even for Holy Communion, it is advisable not only to know something about Transsubstantiation, but also about… well, I cut that, it’d become to long, and would actually be worthy of a treatise, not an aside-comment, but you’d get the idea.

    I’m also convinced that however harmful testing people (or children) may be, whenever we do have to test people (or children), then the least harmful way to do so is a test. A situation where a child is, perhaps even intentionally, led into doubt whether his participation in RE is active enough to be deemed ready, and the only other solution is a canonical appeal to the General Vicar to make sure the Sacraments are no longer withhold for no crime whatsoever, such a situation is not the situation I’d want to live in.

  65. Imrahil says:

    Please excuse that awful grammar I wrote the comment in.

  66. LisaP. says:

    I can teach a kid, even a nonCatholic or even nonChristian kid, everything she needs to know about Confession in fifteen minutes. I can teach her everything she needs to know about Communion in 5.

    The concepts are very simple. And they are not hard for kids. Kids get it. Adults are the ones that get all uncertain and confused. Miracles, love, sin, and forgiveness are completely natural to children.

    There are, of course, kids that have already been taught to ignore their gut when it comes to these things. This argues for earlier reception of the sacraments, but it also indicts us as a society. A seven year old who is questioning God’s existence or scoffs at transubstantiation has been turned into a cynical teenager before his time. How to solve that is a hard question, but sitting in a desk chair for hours is certainly not going to do it.

  67. Imrahil says:

    Can you? In that case, I can only say: congratulations.

    But still – and I was never thinking of children who have adults’ problems. Still there’s something they actually have to know. I mean, noone in his senses should try to have them combat ideas they never would have had. But there’s still something they actually have to been told.

    An expectation that they scoff at Transsubstantion will be counterproductive; it may create in them the very idea that there is such a thing as scoffing Transsubstantiation. (Oh how much did I suffer from having been told in a child radioplay, Benjamin the Elephant, that there is such a thing as not-wanting-to-live and that it can be connected with wanting-to-be-for-oneself, which most unfortunately was my habit at the time.) But still, in so far as Transsubstantiation is concerned, someone must at least tell them the good old “smells like bread, feels like bread, tastes like bread, is not bread” formula.

    It does not stop there. Someone must tell them that Jesus Christ is God’s Son; that this means, he is God; that he is, in fact, wholly God, wholly man; that in God there are three persons in one being and that they need not worry if they don’t understand that; that there is a Holy Spirit. Someone must tell them some basical Bible stories about the life of the Son of God. Someone must at least mention to them that he took upon himself our sins and paid the ransom. Someone must make them memorize the Ten Commandments, and draw the connection to the feelings of morality they do indeed feel. Someone must tell them about the Double Commandment of Charity, and perhaps also (bad conscience for sinless deeds is nearly always very counterproductive) that feeling an aversion is not in itself a sin. If boys are concerned, even at early age someone should mention that Christ did not command pacifism, but that ability for just defence, and soldiering, has a place in Christianity. (In that case, even children must be exposed to some little formal reasoning, because the, wrong, interpretation of certain Scripture verses to the contrary is so very frequent these days, aided, it must be said, by what is indeed the intuitive understand of the sound of them.) Someone must teach them the basical structure of Holy Mass, especially the responses, so that they can follow. Someone perhaps should make them memorize the Credo in Deum (and the Credo in unum Deum), the Our Father, the Hail Mary (and, for Confirmation, the whole structure of the Rosary). Someone must mention to them that the way of forgiveness is the Sacrament of Penance, and what to say then, and – very important – what to do about forgetting a sin.

    Now subsidiarity is no one-way-street, and about the general state of knowledge to be expected before any organized education let be silent the minstrel’s courtesy.

    So if you can do all that in fifteen minutes, I can only say congratulations.

    (Still, I had confirmands of age 12 or 13 in mind; an age that for some reasons seems advisable to me, which cannot be put out here, but in any case is still way less than the age of Confirmation common around here.)

  68. Imrahil says:

    I’ll cut one thing: No one must draw the connection to the feelings of morality they do indeed feel from the Ten Commandments. Once they’ve been told that God commanded us to do so, they need not have their nose put in what they already know.

  69. LisaP. says:

    Imrahil,

    I agree that introducing topics the child has not considered yet is a bad thing, I agree with your examples absolutely.

    As for what they need to know, your list contains very important things that I teach my children, and that I’d like every child to know.

    But what is *necessary* to know before receiving the sacraments of Confession and Communion?

    Confession is harder, because the child needs to know what sin is, know what sins are grave (commandments), know what mortal sin and venial sin are, and know what repentance and forgiveness are. He also needs to understand absolution and that it comes from God, not from the priest himself, who stands in.

    Communion, you only need to know that you must be in a state of grace (and what that means) and that it is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, literally, although it is in the form of bread and wine. You need to understand why — that Christ sacrificed himself on the cross for our sins, and that he asked us to do this.

    If a child’s not Christian, you have to explain there is one God, three persons, and Christ is God who died for our sins.

    The rest is important. The rest brings a child closer to God. But the rest is not *necessary* for receiving the graces of the sacraments.

    If we truly believe the sacraments confer graces, then we need to act like it. Not meaning they are some magic spell, but meaning they have been given to us for the reception of the grace of God. We act as if the grace of God comes through study, through knowledge and understanding — and therefore the sacraments are just some kind of excuse to get the kids in and give them the grace of education. I loves my Augustine, and Patrick, and Teresa, and Therese, and all the other brilliant doctors who explain the Church to me. As an adult who came back to the Church, I *needed* someone to give me the Bread of Life passage from the Bible to help me move through my doubt and questions about transubstantiation. These are all great things. But they are there for some who need them, they are not needed by everyone. My kid doesn’t need to understand the difference between a secular and a Biblical view of warfare to take Communion — she does understand the difference, but she doesn’t need to.

    Look upon it this way — let’s say you have a child who has no understanding of most of what you’ve listed. But he is 7, fully aware that he does wrong, and he is told what I listed above about Confession. He was baptized. He wants to confess. He stands outside the confessional and he asks to confess because he has sinned and he wants the forgiveness of God, and he wants to be with God if he dies tomorrow. Would you step between that boy and the box, and tell him he must first memorize the Ten Commandments? (I picked an important thing from your list so you know I’m not treating it lightly). But that is what is happening, kids are kept from Confession, Communion, even baptism when they understand the sacrament and want it, because they haven’t taken classes, or their parents haven’t. Sometimes they are kept from it for a month, sometimes for a lifetime. But I would not keep a person who understands what Confession is out of that box for 30 seconds, not for any good cause.

    I strongly feel that the new requirements for sacramental prep, while well intentioned and trying to fix decades of missing catechesis, essentially are a new form of “you’ve got to earn that sacrament”. I hope priests and bishops can come to be able to see this point of view.

  70. Imrahil says:

    Dear @LisaP., thank you very much for your answer. You did give me some food for thought… and I want to write an answer, but that’ll be not just now.

  71. LisaP. says:

    Imrahil, I look forward to it! And I’m stealing your list for my home catechism next year!

  72. acatholiclife says:

    Kudos to Father! I just wanted to put in a plug for CatechismClass.com, as a viable option for children and adults that engages them and really helps in sacramental preparation. Our program has given parents first hand involvement in the child’s religious education and has received the praise of Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Burke, Bishop Vasa, Archbishop Chaput and others.

    Parents have the first responsibility to teach their children and how can they if they do not have proper resources? Please keep CatechismClass.com in mind for this upcoming school year.