Current debate and reflection regarding school patronage is both necessary and relevant. Recent Census statistics however regarding the vast majority of citizens subscribing to faith membership needs serious analysis. What exactly does it mean to be a member of a faith community at this time in our present culture. Are Sacraments for the vast majority of people Rites of passage, occasions for family and friends to celebrate, things that simply we do? What happens after these rituals? After the big baptism bash when is the next time the infant is brought back to Church? After Confirmation how many will return the following Sunday? A recent statistic less than 3%.
Pope Francis reminds us clergy always to celebrate sacraments with inclusivity, hospitality and friendship. Sacraments are never trophies for those who tick the right boxes, rather food that strengthens and heals our often broken lives. Recently an important conversation took place on local media regarding how we celebrate First Communion Day. This is a big event in the life of every child and indeed family. I am always uplifted by children’s great openness and indeed enthusiasm to their faith and Good News Story. I find it inspirational when I consider the great sacrifices and generosity given by parents to their children who are preparing for First Holy Communion. I also salute the fantastic preparation regarding Faith Formation in our Catholic Primary Schools. However, when it comes to how best can we authentically celebrate the sacrament of First Holy Communion and indeed all sacraments in the Catholic Church I have many questions.
I was appalled to discover a recent survey concerning how one in every eight families, borrow in excess of €1,200 to finance the ‘Big Day’, that is First Holy Communion. Many families struggle with the cost of creating this “Perfect day”. I have encountered many families who rely on money lenders who often charge up to 70% interest on such unnecessary loans.
When the focus on First Communion becomes just an adult, nostalgic and secular one, First Communion becomes a ‘Big Day Out’. A day when over-indulgence on the material, compensates often for the poverty and want of many adults, projected onto ostentatious dresses and extravagant parties. Often the most disadvantaged in our community place themselves at the mercy of money lenders to finance the fairy tale hour of Communion for children, that ends up in a mighty hangover for adults.
Do parents in Second Class Catholic Schools really have a choice if they wish their child to celebrate First Communion? Despite the reality of fewer numbers in the pews, well over 90% of children in Second Class continue to receive Holy Communion. I imagine less than 5% return the following Sunday to receive second communion. How real is this? I sense a palpable sense of total disengagement from many parents who subscribe to their child “Getting” sacraments because they happen to be in 2nd or 6th class in a catholic primary school. Often during these rituals an active policing takes place, trying to maintain a sense of dignity that any place of worship deserves.
Simply too many feel compelled to go through this ritual as opposed to actively embracing a faith filled choice and option.
One way I suggest to break the ‘Big Day Out’ mentality is to place a much greater emphasis on the role of parish in celebrating our sacraments. There is often a clear disconnect between sacrament and faith community. Pope John Paul 11 once said, “Every generation is a new Continent for Christ”. It is so important that we as church invest much more energy in supporting families on their faith journey. We need a real conversation into how we can breathe new life into a more authentic celebration of sacramental moments in all our parishes. Sacraments must be more than a one day wonder.
One of the very positive aspects to modern Ireland, I find, is the call to authenticity and freedom of choice. It is clear to me that First Communion and indeed many of the sacraments, need a fundamental review regarding our attitudes to them. If the ‘Big Day’ is so big, why do so many families not bring back their children for their second, third, fourth etc. Holy Communion. I’m not making judgements, nor am I in any way disregarding the inspirational sacrifices made by parents and heroic work by primary school teachers. If we don’t ‘get real’, the time will come when First Communion will be a thing of the past or at best a pantomime.
A Prayer for our Families
God, our Father, we are brothers and sisters in Jesus your Son,
One family, in the Spirit of your love.
Bless us with the joy of love.
Make us patient and kind, gentle and generous,
welcoming to those in need.
Help us to live your forgiveness and peace.
Protect all families with your loving care,
Especially those for whom we now pray:
[We pause and remember family members and others by name].
Increase our faith,
Strengthen our hope,
Keep us safe in your love,
Make us always grateful for the gift of life that we share.
This we ask, through Christ our Lord,.