Sacramental Preparation



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“And they devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, the communal Life, the breaking of the bread and prayers.” ~ Acts 2:42

 

In the beginning, I presumed as a DRE that the best way for catechists to cover lessons over the course of a year was to have them go in chapter order. The publishers must know and have a reason for the order the chapters are in right?  Over the years I’ve rethought this idea and discerned a few things I’d like to share about chapters and what is important to cover during the year.

1. It is important that catechists know what is to be covered each week.  A “whatever the Holy Spirit leads me to talk about” is not what is best, although occurring occasionally.  It is important as a DRE to set out what your grade level catechists will be cover over the course of the year.

Dr. believes more is better

2. I have to get through all the chapters in the book right?  More is not better.  Our aim as catechists is to lead our students into a greater understanding of the deposit of faith that has been given to us and through a greater understanding of what we believe students are brought into a deeper union, a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  We should strive to help students encounter Christ, to actually meet Jesus.  We know that this does not merely happen by getting all the “information” taught.  There needs to be a “dynamism” that both proclaims the truths of the Gospel Message as well as fostering this encounter with Jesus Christ.

3. The Acts 2:42 quote communicates the 4 dimensions of our Faith – the Faith Professed, Celebrated, Lived and Prayed.  These four dimensions should not only be covered individually but more importantly they need to be an integrated whole and seen as unifying the Faith to be in harmony and not just merely a bunch of individual truths.  I wrote a brief blog post on this a little while back entitled Teaching the 4 Dimensions of the Christian Life.  Our Lessons should reflect this reality even when the textbook doesn’t always provide this unity.

4. Classroom Lessons should be uniform.  If you have two classes of say 2nd grade it’s important that essentially the same thing is covered and not something drastically different (this week class A talked about the parts of the Mass and class B watched the Br. Francis “Bread of Life” DVD).  Both of these are all well and good, however it’s important that a program is able to assign lessons the program will focus on during the course of each year.  This does not mean that catechist A has to do the exact same thing as catechist B, however it does mean that they should both meet the same set of objectives or outcomes for that particular lesson.

 

In Summary, DRE’s will benefit greatly in establishing specific weekly lessons for each grade so parents and catechists know what is expected of them to cover.  This helps students both know more about the life of Christ and His Church and most importantly foster a desire in each student to meet Jesus and encounter Him (with all that that entails).

 

Holy Spirit Come

 

 


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?

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