Sacramental Preparation and Celebration
This September, the Grow in Love Religious Education programmes for First Class/P3 and Second Class/P4 will be implemented in Catholic schools. These programmes will place a particular emphasis on catechesis about the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, conscious that this is the stage at which most children celebrate these sacraments for the first time. There are many models of sacramental preparation and celebration in operation throughout the island of Ireland. The writers of the Grow in Love series are mindful of this, but also mindful of the need for the programme to lead good practice in this area. The programmes for First and Second Class/P3 and P4 are therefore written with the following understandings:
Share the Good News (SGN) outlines how, in preparing children for their first celebration of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, there are three partners: the home, the school and the parish. Traditionally, our Catholic schools prepare children for these sacraments and have played a prominent role in children’s first celebration of Eucharist and Reconciliation, building on the foundation of children’s experience of faith in the home and the parish. With changing times, that foundation can no longer be presumed, and schools often find themselves in a role far beyond what was previously expected. In recent years, various initiatives have been implemented in parishes to encourage and empower home and parish communities to take on a greater sense of responsibility. That said, Catholic schools contribute an indispensable amount of commitment, expertise and resources to sacramental preparation and celebration. It has been, and will remain, a vital partner in this area, as well as in the religious education of children in a more general sense. However, the role of school and its teachers must be to support families and their parish in the Christian initiation of children, not the other way around. (cf. SGN, 102)
The role of parents and families in their child’s religious education is vital from the very first day that they start in a Catholic school. Their involvement is not and should not be confined to times of sacramental preparation, but many parents are more conscious of their role at this time than at others. In order to encourage and support families to teach their children about the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, teachers should send some religious education work to be done at home every week. This gives parents and their children something concrete to do together. The Grow in Love children’s book is designed to facilitate this home involvement.
The celebration of the sacraments are events in the life of the Christian community, not just in the life of the individual. The celebration for the first time of Reconciliation and Holy Communion are graced moments in the child’s initiation into the community of faith. Therefore, they are also moments in the life of that community. Parish communities must therefore take their share of responsibility and ownership for sacramental preparation and celebration.
In the past, a certain emphasis may have been placed on teaching children in Second Class/P4 about the Mass in a concentrated way over a short period of time in order to prepare them for their first celebration of Holy Communion. The Grow in Love series envisages a more incremental approach to learning about the Mass over a longer period of time. It is hoped that this will offer children the space and time to understand what happens at Mass, rather than learning about it in the context of the immediate and practical preparation for the sacraments.
When speaking to children in Second Class/P4, our language can sometimes focus on ‘the day’ of First Holy Communion, rather than on the ongoing celebration of the sacrament. Our aim in Grow in Love is to avoid reference to the day of first Holy Communion, and instead to emphasise Mass and the reception of Holy Communion as something that happens every Sunday, to which children and their families are always invited.
In tandem with a school-based programme like Grow in Love, parish-based programmes of preparation for the first celebration of Reconciliation and Holy Communion should be in operation in parishes, and parents and families should be actively encouraged to participate in these. They should run in parallel to the school-based programme, and are not the responsibility of teachers and/or school communities.
It is envisaged that the implementation of the Grow in Love series at this level will encourage a conversation to take place between home, school and parish communities about the model of sacramental preparation and celebration that is currently in operation. This conversation may lead to a decision to change from models that are overly and exclusively reliant on the school to one in which each partner – home, school and parish – can be encouraged and enabled to take their own share of the responsibility.
Grow in Love – Home, School and Parish.pdf