Sacramental Preparation



Recently our parish gathered all the parents and 2nd graders for a meeting.  This year was different than in years past because I’m trying to include the parents in more things this year.  Our parish is trying to make an concerted effort to involve the parents in all our programming.  We have approxamately 166 2nd graders this year.  With a group this large we put half of them in the church for the 1st 25 minutes and half in the Parish Hall and then we switched.  The part in the church was with our pastor talking about the Sacrament as well as my coordinator who spoke about many logistical things.  I led the part in the parish hall.

Here is what I did with the kids and parents:

1) I opened with prayer reading the parable of the Vine and the Branches (John 15:1-6)

2) I then had parents and kids read it from the Bible at their table and answer 5 questions (and then having kids come up and share their answers):

  • Who is the Vine and who are the branches (verse 1)?
  • What does Jesus ask us to do (verse 4)?
  • What happens if we do what Jesus asks us to do (verse 4-5)?
  • What does Jesus say happens when we sin and cut ourselves off from the vine (verse 6)?
  • How does this relate to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and our relationship with Jesus?

3) Next I asked for a Dad volunteer and about 5 kids.  They helped me reenact the parable:  Dad was the Vine and the kids were the branches.  When I shared that when we do things that are not what God would have us do (when we sin) we break off from the vine (a few kids broke off) but then when we are cleansed (through going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation – kids went over to a poster I had that said Sacrament of Reconciliation) we are connect back onto the vine (kids reconnected to the Vine).  And finally when we do God’s will and are connected to him we “bear much fruit”.  Everyone was given an apple to illustrate this.  

4) Then I asked all the 2nd graders to go to a table where I had two things: 1) a branch from a tree and 2) a holy card illustrating an icon of the Jesus the vine.

5) I shared with the kids and parents to take the branch home and watch it for a week and reflect how when the branch is not connected to the vine it withers and dies.  We are called to stay connected to Jesus and he wants us to.  This time of preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a good time to help us remember the need to be connected to Jesus the vine.

6) I closed with a brief prayer.

I think it went over very well.  I was pleased with how it turned out and the good vibe I received about these two 25 minute experiences.

 

What things have you done with 2nd graders and parents at the beginning of the year parent meeting?  I’d really enjoy hearing about what others do to engage both parents and kids.

 

 


Lisa Mladinich came to the Land of Oz this past Sunday and Monday to share how to not only be an amazing catechist but to help catechists and their students love Christ and His Church more fully and with great joy!  She spoke at two different parishes (mine being one of them) during their catechist in-service to begin the year.  She also spoke at a third parish about how to be an amazing catechist through sacramental preparation.

Her In-Service was broken up into two main parts.  The first 45 minutes was an exciting presentation about numerous aspects of being a faith-filled and empowered catechist.  During the second part of the in-service she was not only very practical but very engaging.  She had 60 catechists on their feet learning about ways to involve their students and engage their minds and hearts.

Lisa’s enthusiasm, excitement about the faith and her experience of engaging students as a catechist herself throughout the years captivated and motivated so many of my catechists.  A number of them came to me afterwards or over the next few days sharing that they really “got a lot” out of the in-service and they hoped to see her again in the future.

 


With only 30% of Catholics attending Mass on a weekly basis there are many challenges in preparing young people to receive sacraments.  Sacraments are increasingly seen as an ending and less as a precious gift from God and a call to deeper discipleship. I was reading an article by a Fr. James Mallon who is proposing a new model of pastoral care of the sacraments.

He shares some very interesting thoughts:

He asserts that no one size fits all when preparing kids for sacraments.  “We will have to move from programs with fixed starting and ending points, with their respective rewards, to a process more akin to mentoring, walking with those who knock so that they can celebrate sacraments when they are ready.”

My guess is that those who read the above will respond similarly to me: Yes, this is great!  The challenge is how to make changes in such a way that will not be harmful to evangelization and drawing people into the faith.

Another point Fr. Mellon makes is that,

Today, the results of this theology [the focus on the ontological effects of the Sacraments] can be seen in the fact that so often we are contented with the liturgy of the sacraments, with the sacramentum tantum, and the concern for “validity” which concerns itself with the conferral of the invisible grace, even without any visible ecclesial dimension being lived out.  As a result, sacraments become close to magical moments where spiritual vitamins are distributed, through ritual that, although it takes place in the church building, has little or no connection to the Church as the community of disciples.

The focus has become too much on the traditional age that one receives even if they are not at a place where conversion and the possibility of fruitfulness is taking place.

Fr. Mallon proposes these questions worth pondering:

1. How do parishes help foster community outside of Sunday Mass?

2. How can we get beyond one’s spiritual life being one that is more private than a public witness and profession of faith?

3. How can sacramental preparation look more like a mentoring process than an endurance test that will soon be over?

 

I would be very interested in your thoughts.  What do you think about Fr. Mallon’s article and some of the suggestions he makes?


Are your Confirmation Sessions teaching teens the faith or forming them in the faith?  Ok, this is a bit of a trick question, because we ideally need to do both: catechize so transformation will occur.  Recently we had a Confirmation Session with 100 8th graders that was extremely powerful and really blew all of us away at what the Holy Spirit did.

Some background

This year we have implemented a new format for our Confirmation Program by taking kids out of the classroom setting and gathering them all together and trying to do more formation in the faith as compared to merely a catechesis about various topics of the faith.  New Programs/formats always need tweaking.  We have learned a lot this year about empowering volunteers and engaging large numbers of teens.  We have had many frustrations with attendance, volunteers not showing up and a lack of the right kind of engagement from volunteers but we’ve persevered, continued to pray and asked the Holy Spirit to lead us.

Confirmation

We wanted to create a night that gave teens an idea of what happens during the Confirmation Mass.  Many who’ve been through it have said they didn’t really have much of a clue what was going on while it was happening.  So the following is what we did to try to change that.

Gather and Proclaim

We open the night with a humorous 2 minute video about what Confirmation is (the video does not give any answers).  We then had a skit entitled: At the Movies with Jesus and it focused on choosing Christ.  We then debriefed about the skit and shared how tonight we were going to explore a little about Confirmation and the amazing things that happen at the Confirmation Mass.

Break

Small group leaders then took their students to discuss some of the aspects of the Confirmation Mass.  The leaders shared that there was some good discussion during this time.

Send

We concluded by showing another movie clip and discussed that God is asking us to give Him permission.  Joe, one of our youth ministers shared a story and ended up giving away a rosary that was very valuable to him and blessed by the pope.  It truly was a Holy Spirit moment and it was very powerful for the person who received it. She had a hard time receiving it because she felt she didn’t deserve it (that’s exactly the point – we don’t deserve God’s gave and gifts but He cares for us so much that He freely and lovingly showers his grace and gifts upon us).

The Holy Spirit continued to work as we invited teens to come up and share why they were excited about Confirmation.  They came up and shared things like – It’ll bring me closer to God, it’ll strengthen my faith, it’s very important to me.  This was their way of standing up in front of others and witnessing their faith.  It was powerful and exciting to see the teens stand up for their faith.  We had one of those “they finally got it” moments.

It turned out to be a great night!  We were skeptical before the evening began regarding how it would go and how much involvement we’d get from the teens.  God certainly was not outdone is generosity.  Thank you Holy Spirit!

This is one example of how we’ve sought to really engage our teens and form them into the disciples Christ He is calling them to be.  We pray that their faith continues to grow.  Here is an outline of the night – Confirmation.

How About You?

What have you done to engage your Confirmation Candidates?


As I get ready to have a parent meeting for First Communion here are some practical suggestions for parents as they help their child prepare for this most significant event/encounter – their First Holy Communion.

Practical Ways to Help Your Child Prepare for their First Communion

 

      1. Go to Sunday Mass with your children. Nothing is more important!

        1. Talk about what went on at Mass.
        2. Share how special it is to receive Jesus.
        3. Make Mass important and a valuable experience & not merely a “gotta go and get it done for the day” experience.
        4. Pray a special prayer daily as they prepare.
        5. Take the time to really go through the assignments…make them a special time.

a. Establish a weekly time

b. Show enthusiasm

c. Take the time to be thorough

6. Make visits to the Blessed Sacrament

a. Come early to Mass (or stay after) and pray before the Blessed Sacrament

b. Spend time in the Adoration Chapel

7.  When passing by a Catholic Church make the sign of the cross and/or say a prayer with your child.

   8. Talk about how God is working in your life and what the Eucharist means to you.

a. Share your experience

b. Of your First Communion (have grandparents and aunts & uncles share their experiences).

c. Of how receiving Eucharist every week impacts your life and helps you grow in your relationship with Christ.

d. Read a book on the Eucharist.

9. Help your child to know how to pray after Communion.

10. Make it a priority to eat dinner together as a family.  This helps them understand more clearly how the Eucharist is the family meal of the Church.

11. Pray regularly for a greater love of Christ who is truly present in the Eucharist.  For example: Jesus, as I prepare for my First Communion please help me love you more and do your will.               

12. Have them write a letter to Jesus or to journal over these next couple months.

Please share your suggestions on how parents can help prepare their children.


Misunderstandings

Why does the Sacrament of Confirmation seem to be so misunderstood?  My pastor was speaking to a group of people about how the understanding of the Sacrament of Confirmation has been misunderstood.  Over the last  40 years it has been emphasized as a Sacrament of commitment, a sacrament of adulthood and a sacrament to personally make the decision to live one’s Catholic Faith.  Even though this is not all wrong, these do not communicate or give the central meaning of the Sacrament.  First and foremost the Sacrament of Confirmation is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as gift, just as it was at Pentecost.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost”(Para. # 1302).

Gift of the Holy Spirit

A Sacrament is a free gift of God’s very life.  The Sacrament of Confirmation is primarily a gift of God’s grace and life to the those who receive it.  The Catechism speaks of this gift in the follow paragraphs:

1288 “From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.”99

1289 Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name “Christian,” which means “anointed” and derives from that of Christ himself whom God “anointed with the Holy Spirit.”100 This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or myron which means “chrism.” In the West, the term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.

How To Rediscover It

How do we help those preparing for this sacrament, especially those receiving it in middle school or high school?  I would like to suggest the following ways to focus on the gift of Confirmation through a catechetical renewal of sorts.

1. Put greater emphasis on God’s action of the gift of the Spirit being poured out into their lives.  It’s more about what God is giving than what we are going to do to respond (as important as that is).

2. When speaking about being witnesses for Christ and living out The Faith do this within the context of communicating the fruit of God’s life and love poured out to us.  Scripture speaks about how the apostles were compelled to respond to the great love and grace God had poured out (see Acts 2 and following).  Encouraging young people to “live out” their faith is a natural response to God’s generosity.   Repeating and emphasizing this is vital to an authentic renewal and rediscovery of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

3. During Confirmation preparation period speak of Confirmation not being a completion of their time in religious education but a beginning to the next step in their lives.  Confirmation is so much more about new beginnings than it is a graduation or completion of something.

4. Find ways to involve students long after the Confirmation Mass is over.

How have you succeeded at your parish in helping students continue to grow and be involved after Confirmation?


A couple of weeks ago our second grade parents who’s child is preparing for their First Holy Communion were invited to participate in one of the regular Wednesday night classes with their child.  Here is the outline of the night:

1. Children brought their parents to their regular classroom for an opening prayer service (and usual housekeeping things).

2. All the 2nd grade classes came to a large gathering area where parents interacted with their child doing the following (I was the MC helping facilitate and transition):

a. They looked up First Communion related Scripture verses and then shared with the whole group (I called upon volunteers) what they had discovered.

b. Parents worked with their child on a letter to Jesus expressing their excitement of approaching the day of their First Communion.

c. Everyone participated in a re-enactment of the Last Summer (we had matzah bread and grape juice and a script at each table).

This class allows for parents to be a part of their child’s First Communion preparations.  I hope parents are doing things at home to prepare and assist their child’s faith formation.  This opportunity which I do once during their First Reconciliation preparation and once before First Communion is always a way to give parents the opportunity to come together with other parents to continue their child’s preparations.

If you want any additional information about this class please feel free to email me at woleary@kcascension.org

What do you do in your parish to involve parents as their child prepares for First Communion?


A Dinner Like No Other

Imagine this dinner…the “Last” Supper that these 12 men (11 before the end of the dinner) would have with their Lord, Master and friend, Jesus Christ.  He gave them something truly incredible – His very self.  It was their First Holy Communion.  They experienced a communion not only of being in His presence, as they had been for 3 years, but they now celebrated and encountered Him by receiving Him and becoming living tabernacles filled with God.  I can barely get my head around it – Jesus Christ is present in the flesh of His body and in the flesh under the disguise of bread and wine at the same time.  At the Last Supper, He is giving His total self to them and will physically do the same the day after this amazing paschal meal.

First Communion Then and Now

Thousands of new Catholics (fully initiated into the Church) will receive their First Communion this Easter Vigil and thousands of 2nd graders over the next two months.  The miracle of the Eucharist, of simple bread and wine that are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ will come into the lives of so many in a new, more complete manner as they not only take and receive but encounter their divine savior filling them with nothing less than God’s very self.  No greater love, no greater wonder then this!

The Apostles didn’t have any gift giving and party after their First Communion but their memory of that Last Supper was never forgotten and transformed them beyond their wildest imaginations.

Thank you Jesus for giving us yourself so that we can be more fully transformed and one with you.   May we be changed beyond our wildest imaginations every time we encounter you in Holy Communion, Amen.


This past Saturday our parish had their annual “Forgiveness Day” for the students who are preparing to receive their First Reconciliation next week.  It was from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM.  Students rotated through 8 different stations each focusing about an aspect of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Here is a little bit about each station:

1) Priest Station – one of our priests talks with the students about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, shows them one of the “Reconciliation Rooms” or Confessionals and answers any questions the kids have.

2) Game Station – A station where there is a board game that students play answering various questions about the Sacrament.

3) Snack Station – A snack is served and kids do a word search related to reconciliation.

4)Movie Station – A brief video about Reconciliation and discuss some of the details from the video with the students.

5) The Quiz Station – Students are posed various questions that they are asked to answer.

6) The Story Station – A story is read about forgiveness and then discussed with the kids.

7) The Heart Station – Students decorate a heart, cut out of felt, which has their name on it. This is then put on a large banner and put in our gathering space for Reconciliation.

8) Activity Station – Students played a “hands on” interactive game with a reconciliation theme.

The parents who help out share with us how much they enjoyed the experience.  We also find even parents who did not help out share with us how much their child enjoyed it and how they talked about the experience the rest of the weekend.  Forgiveness Day is a great way to prepare students and help them feel comfortable about making their First Reconciliation.

Does your parish do any kind of retreat for the 2nd graders preparing for their First Reconciliation?  I’d love to hear what you do!


Over the years I have found one resounding misconception about the Sacrament of Confirmation – you do not become an adult in the Church when receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Paragraph #1308 says:

Although Confirmation is sometimes called the “sacrament of Christian maturity,” we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need “ratification” to become effective. St. Thomas reminds us of this:

Age of body does not determine age of soul. Even in childhood man can attain spiritual maturity: as the book of Wisdom says: “For old age is not honored for length of time, or measured by number of years. “Many children, through the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received, have bravely fought for Christ even to the shedding of their blood.126

The way I communicate it to parents and catechists is that the Sacrament of Confirmation is, for many, the third Sacrament of Initiation.  It calls one to take the next step in their life as a disciple of Christ and as a witness of the Christian life.  For so many who receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in 7th or 8th grade or even High School they do not become an adult in the same way that parents are adults who have to pay a mortgage and responsibilities of a full time job and providing for a family.  On the other hand by virtue of receiving our Confirmation one is being called to be a greater witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Catechism Paragraph # 1309 says:

“Preparation for Confirmation should aim at leading the Christian toward a more intimate union with Christ and a more lively familiarity with the Holy Spirit – his actions, his gifts, and his biddings – in order to be more capable of assuming the apostolic responsibilities of Christian life…”

The emphasis should be on a more intimate union with Christ and being called to be a witness.  Yes, it is true that they are called to “assume the apostolic responsibilities of Christian life” but the understanding that one becomes an adult in the Church is inaccurate.  I find that trying to empower candidates to see themselves as an adult in the Church is not putting the emphasis on the right thing but on reaching a goal or destination of becoming an adult.  The Christian maturity the Church is speaking of is an intimate union with Christ and the call to go into the world and live your faith.  We don’t have to be an adult to live our faith or be involved in our parish.  This Sacrament is just the beginning of a life lived for Christ and His body, the Church.


This year I had a parent share with me that she thinks 2nd graders do not really get much out of preparing for the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist – they just do what they have to do to receive the sacraments.  She insisted that it is really all over their heads and at their age they do not really understand what they are going to be receiving.  I encouraged her help prepare her son and for her to consider waiting until 3rd grade if she did not think her son was ready to receive this year.

God cares for us so much and has loved us first.  He invites us always to Himself and gives us an abundance of blessings and graces to respond to His commandments and His will in our lives.  God’s grace is a free and unmerited gift, but that does not mean it is not without a commitment and readiness from the one receiving.  In my experience over the last 10+ years there is a temptation in programs to have a “herd” mentality – bring them in and move them through the preparation process.  Canon Law’s emphasis on proper disposition and knowledge can be downplayed.  In the Code of Canon Law it states the following regarding the preparation of the Eucharist:

Can. 913 §1. The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.

Paragraph 914 continues as follows: “It is for the pastor to exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion.”

It has been said by some that the Church can’t “deny” a sacrament.  However, the law of the Church asks pastors and those whom that pastor has entrusted to prepare children to make sure students are prepared in order that they are “sufficiently disposed” to receive the sacrament.  There are situations that a sacrament may need to be “delayed” because the recipient is not ready.

It is important that parents and children approach the sacraments with a proper disposition as best they can so that the sacraments may not be seen merely as something that every 2nd grader deserves regardless of their readiness.


first_communionOur parish has 200 children receiving their First Communion in the next two weeks.  We will have three Masses for the First Communicants.  Here are a few ways that catechists and parents can help their child prepare for one of the most special days of their life!  

1) Take the opportunity to live in the moment

Yes, there is lots to prepare for…dress clothes, gifts, invites to the party, groceries, a clean house, etc, etc…  But don’t forget that is all secondary to helping your child be prepared and excited about receiving Jesus Christ body, blood, soul and divinity!  As you share how wonderful Jesus is to receive and to always be close to Him the child in turn will be excited and seek to focus on being close to Jesus.  Take many moments during the final days and share with excitement your love for Jesus and how Jesus helps you be holy, to be loving, to be patient.  As they see how important Jesus is to you they will continue to grow as they receive Jesus every Sunday. 

2. Make a Novena or pray a Rosary everyday for the one preparing for First Communion.        

Prayer is powerful and full of God’s abundance.  Take the time to pray and seek the floodgates of God’s life to be poured out to the child(ren) receiving First Communion.  

3) Continue a life of Grace

It’s not about one special day in the 2nd or 3rd Grade.  It’s the beginning of a marvelous friendship and abundant graces in ones life.  It’s sad that so many who receive Jesus in 2nd or 3rd grade don’t go to Mass very often after their First Communion – if they only knew the treasure of graces.  God knows how much we need Him and He wants to give Himself to us.  He wants to form a constant foundation and give us a wellspring of grace and strength to draw from in our daily life.  We need Jesus in the Eucharist so much – it’s our lifeline!  

4. Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation – i.e., Confession

Go to the font of mercy and have children receive the sacrament.  Go to Confession so they can be cleansed of sins, even if it is just venial sin so they can be open to all the graces Jesus Christ has for them at their First Communion.  Going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation opens one up to a more profound reception of Jesus in the Eucharist.


first-communion21

Parishes throughout the country are preparing children to receive their First Communion in the next few months. Here are some suggestions on how parents can help connect and prepare their child who will be receiving the greatest of gifts.

1. Go to Mass as a family. Make the next few months special by helping your child see how important Sunday Mass is to your family. Spend time on Sundays talking about the Scripture readings.

2. Have parents go over the lessons they are covering related to the Sacrament of the Eucharist (and the Mass). At my parish parents receive a book (this year we are using Loyola Press’ First Euchairst Book) which consists of 7 chapters and a handout with each chapter. Parents are instructed to sit down with their child and cover the chapters and complete the worksheet. We encourage them to make it a special time for their child and to show enthusiasm as they cover the material.

3. Make visits to the Blessed Sacrament. It is very important to foster your love for the Eucharist by taking the time to visit Jesus who is really present in the tabernacle. If your parish has Eucharistic Adoration, be sure to take your child their for some time of prayer and help him/her come to know Jesus and love being in His presence.

4 . Parents – share how God is working in your life. Show your child that you have a personal relationship/friendship with Jesus that affects your whole life.

5. Pray. Gather as a family to pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. Pray with your child for a open heart as they prepare for their First Communion. Show your child that your prayer life is an important part of following Jesus.


reconciliationAt every parish I’ve worked at there has been a day of reflection for the children preparing for First Penance/Reconciliation.  Often a video is shown regarding a child preparing for the Sacrament of Reconcilaition  There are a number of 2nd grade videos out there, however the ones I’ve seen are all dated.  Does anyone know of a First Penance/Reconciliation video that is good and has come out in the last couple of years?  We, as Catholics, have a great need to improve our media resources especially in the area of sacramental preparation.

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