Turning The Sacraments into Perfunctory Gestures…

… See, this is why I could never be a catechist. I would lose my mind.

Warning: language

A close acquaintance told me that she has several kids in her 2nd grade First Communion class who are obviously not ready. They’ve failed every test and consistently not handed in work. When I asked her if she just spoke to the parents, she said she’s tried. They always promise things will improve but they never do. She wanted my advice.

I suggested she tell the parents exactly what she told me… they are not ready.

Explain to the parents, I said, that you cannot recommend, in good conscience, to Father that their child is ready to receive their First Holy Communion and that perhaps next year they will be more mature. I mean there is no requirement that kids have to receive First Communion in second grade. It’s an important sacrament and imperative for their child’s spiritual development that they get it right. What parent, what Catholic parent, wouldn’t appreciate a teacher so caring that she is trying to impart the importance of the Eucharist on her students by stressing the sacraments are not to be taken lightly.

I felt so certain if she was just honest with the parents about the gravity of the situation the parents would react reasonably, you know, like responsible parents. Give the thought consideration, have a discussion with their spouse, talk to their kid about the sacrament, offer to help them with anything they don’t understand. Typical stuff I like to refer to as obvious normal parenting stuff. I naively imagined their response to her honest candor to be rational and civilized.

Why thank you, good lady. My wife and I will handle this with all the seriousness this situation warrants. You’ve been kind in your instruction and I welcome your honesty. Jolly good. Pip pip and stuff.

Nope. Turns out there aren’t enough rage face memes in the whole wide internet to accurately depict the stunningly bat shit crazy reactions.

She was called a horrible teacher, a lazy teacher, ineffective, worthless, incompetent. You can’t fail my kid, we’ve already planned his First Communion party. Think about the nonrefundable venue deposits. The already printed out invitations. What kind of monster fails an seven year old child?! I am going straight to Sister, Father, Brother, God Almighty Himself. You haven’t heard the last of this!

The uproar was so loud that finally this catechist who doesn’t even get paid but volunteers her own time and classroom supplies, and who dearly loves her students but loves the Eucharist more, was told that she was not allowed to fail any student… even the ones who could care less and can’t even spell Eucharist.

Things have deteriorated so badly that the parents were even able to get a request through to dumb down the Act of Contrition… because it’s too hard and long to remember and boo feakin’ hoo. Seriously. Is that even legal or did I just completely miss the huge ass sign out front that says Catholic Church? Because…


And the drum of poor catechism beats on.

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About Katrina Fernandez

Mackerel Snapping Papist

  • Nan

    Hey! I learned the Act of Contrition when I was in 2nd grade; “Oh, my God, I am sorry for my sins, forgive me and help me love you more.” Age appropriate.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

      It’s not age inappropriate to expect them to know the right prayer. Have them right it down then. I think the formula is important, you know, with the ” promising to avoid sin and sin no more ” bit.

      • Nan

        And what did you memorize at age 7 that was comparable to the act of contrition; if you recall, the Publican’s prayer was simply “Lord, have Mercy on me, a sinner.” The act of contrition isn’t limited to the one form; there are many variations.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

          As Romulus noted above…

          Confession is a tribunal, and the Act of Contrition is a “legal” form with essential components: perfect contrition for having offended God (not just regret for having done wrong) and a firm purpose of amendment. The disposition of the penitent must be clearly established before absolution can be granted. See CIC 980 & 987.

          • Nan

            So you just copied and pasted his false assertions. Good job!

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

            Which was shown not to be false at all. So your redundant comment got a little redundancy back. No big whoop.

          • Nan

            You apparently can’t read; the canons cited don’t say what Romulus claims and are actually quite similar to the Catechism, which would be the ordinary place one would seek information.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

            Do you really think a petty back and forth is necessary?

    • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

      That is not age appropriate for a seven year old. They should know all the Mass responses and Creed at that point, and the Act of Contrition is hardly more complicated.

      • Romulus

        Agreed. I learned a full and correct AoC in the first grade. So did everyone else.

      • Nan

        You’re calling into question the decision of a faithful priest.

        • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

          As a prudential judgement, applied across the board to all children of age seven, it is is incorrect. It’s not a question of his faithfulness, but his good judgement, and he can be respectfully disagreed with.

          I can certainly imagine situations where a simplified act of contrition is prudent, but even there, the act of contrition you quoted lacks a resolution of amendment.

          • Nan

            Lord have mercy on me, a sinner doesn’t either yet it’s an example in the bible of an act of contrition.

  • Fr. Cory Sticha

    Welcome to the world of “The Sacraments are Only Received as an Excuse to Hold a Party”. I’m sorry, but not surprised, that her pastor didn’t back her up against the parents. Can’t hurt anyone’s feelings, don’t you know?

  • Lily

    Also, there is no standard Act of Contrition. We learn one, to help us out, but a kid could go in there and say “I’m really sorry God.”, and that would be fine.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

      I don’t know… promising to avoid sin and sin no more seems pretty important and necessary.

    • Romulus

      No, that would be only a start. Not “fine”. The standard forms of the Act of Contrition weren’t just composed as a hazy devotion. Confession is a tribunal, and the Act of Contrition is a “legal” form with essential components: perfect contrition for having offended God (not just regret for having done wrong) and a firm purpose of amendment. The disposition of the penitent must be clearly established before absolution can be granted. See CIC 980 & 987.

      • Lily

        And when the kid is 7, the priest can determine their disposition pretty easily without them reciting some memorised words.

        Don’t get me wrong: the prayer we use is good, and is well worth them memorising in order to grow on it. But it isn’t the end of the world if they get it wrong, or say something else. We had kids in our class with various learning difficulties: I trust our priest to have made their reconciliation ‘work’ if they forgot the words.

        They didn’t need to pass an academic test, but they could pray, and talk about the faith.

        • Nan

          Note that in my parish, the short form of contrition is posted in the confessional to make the line go faster.

        • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

          Can the priest determine the disposition of a seven year old without a word perfect act of contrition? Sure.
          But Confession can be scary. It’s cruel to send them in without clearly knowing what to do. For children, a clear script of what they’re supposed to say and hear is the best way to prepare them. Discussions of what components an act of contrition needs are age inappropriate.

          • Lily

            Well of course you teach them a standard format. As I said: learning a good Act of Contrition (and we use a quite different one here in the UK to the one you all seem to learn, shorter for one thing) is a good thing. But it isn’t disastrous if the kid can’t learn it, or if they need a simpler form.

            And a child’s inability to learn a rote prayer is certainly not a reason to deny them the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

            It is the priest’s call what happens about that child’s Sacraments. If the priest is happy that the child can communicate their contrition, then it’s not our place to badmouth anyone.

          • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

            There’s quite a lot to unpack here, so let me take things one by one.

            First if all, no one has advocated denying kids the Sacrament of Penance if they can’t say a word perfect act of contrition. I don’t know how this idea crept into the conversation. Maybe as a side effect of discussing the necessary components of an act of contrition? Anyway, no one is arguing for turning crying seven year olds away from the confessional without absolution, so let’s just leave that ugly idea alone and stop poking it with a stick.

            The real point of contention is what is the point of a catechist, if a catechist cannot recommend that some students are not ready for their first communion without unleashing epic tantrums and bullying by the parents? The catechist is the one who has been praying with and for, teaching, and observing their students for at least the current year. It is certainly the pastor’s call, but completely disregarding the recommendation of the catechist who has extensive experience with the individual children in question is… Well, it makes serving in the role of catechist pointless. Disregarding the carechist’s recommendation under pressure from the parents is even a little scandalous.

            It’s at this point we get to the act of contrition and the question of what’s age appropriate to learn. In the related brouhaha, the parents got a dumbed down act of contrition to replace the standard one. But pedagogically, this is a big mistake, for several reasons.

            One, children at this age are memorizing machines. Most kids find it easy (they don’t like doing it, but that’s irrelevant to effectiveness) and as a teaching strategy it’s very successful. Especially when it can be set to music or rhyme. It makes a good starting point for deeper learning and it drives me bonkers that people dismiss it as something bad.

            Two, receiving Communion is active participation in the full life of the Church. It’s important. Important enough that the basic requirements can’t be degraded without diminishing the sacrament. The standard act of contrition is part of those requirements. Simplifying the language across the board risks omitting an important component, as well as threatens to bore the child – as he grows there isn’t enough in a simplified act if contrition to keep his attention.

            …train has reached the lab. I’ll continue when I have a spare moment.

      • Nan

        Have you read the catechism? Because the paragraphs you cite don’t call Confession a tribunal nor do they refer to the act of contrition as a legal form. Maybe you should review the Code of Canon Law and see if it’s in there?

        980 It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church: Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers “a laborious kind of baptism.” This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.

        987 “In the forgiveness of sins, both priests and sacraments are instruments which our Lord Jesus Christ, the only author and liberal giver of salvation, wills to use in order to efface our sins and give us the grace of justification” (Roman Catechism, I, 11, 6)

        • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

          CIC is Codex Iuris Canonici. CCC is Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s a really easy mistake to make, especially with 980 and 987 referring to the forgiveness of sins from the creed.

          • Nan

            And again, the cited paragraphs don’t say what Romulus claims they say. Nor is that something a seven year old would have available to study.

            Can. 980 If the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of the penitent, and the penitent seeks absolution, absolution is to be neither refused nor deferred.

            Can. 987 To receive the salvific remedy of the sacrament of penance, a member of the Christian faithful must be disposed in such a way that, rejecting sins committed and having a purpose of amendment, the person is turned back to God.

          • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

            Actually, while I’m a little uncertain about the requirement for perfect contrition, those canons say exactly what he says. 980 – you can’t delay absolution if you are confident in the disposition of the penitent. 987 – this is what the disposition if the penitent ought to be. Acts of contrition are meant to clearly communicate 987 to achieve 980. If an act of contrition is lacking a component of 987, in this particular case a resolution of amendment, 980 comes into effect.

      • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

        Nope, the act, not the formula, of contrition is a necessary action by the penitent, but may be expressed in different forms, including the formula that you may be referring to, which is not even the only one.

  • Gail Finke

    When I taught First Communion prep, only one of my three students knew the Our Father and the Hail Mary. None of them could name any incidents in the life if Christ except that he was born and died. But they all knew all five stages in the evolution of all their favorite Pokemons. We don’t ask our kids to learn anything and guess what??? They don’t!

    Later on, I helped teach a Catechism of the Good Shepherd class — that’s an amazing program for young children based on the work of Maria Montessori, who was Catholic and whose schools were all originally Catholic schools. At ages 3-6, the kids were learning prayers, parables, the gestures and colors and equipment for Mass, the geography of Israel, and all kids of things. They just picked it up and they loved it, too.

    My point is not just that kids will learn if the environment is right (Montessorian here) but that if they aren’t being taught at home, they don’t know anything. Parents cannot send them off to catechism class the way, say, Jewish parents send their kids to Hebrew school and expect them to be taught anything worthwhile. The stuff we had to teach in our parish program, the same one used by our diocesan schools except that it was taught once a week instead of every day, was pretty much useless. USELESS. What do you get when you combine kids not taught anything at home with kids taught next to nothing a CCD (or PSR, or whatever you call it)? NOTHING.

    • Gail Finke

      Oh, and while we went over a lot of things for First Communion, the kids weren’t required to know anything, they were just required to participate. So there was no way to fail them. But really, there’ s not that much to know. You can give infants First Communion, there’s no need to know anything at all. What did the kids in this class not know? Maybe the program was not good to begin with, no offense to your friend.

    • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

      I have the same experience with the parish Catechesis versus CotGS. The latter is excellent. But the former takes place in the parish school kindergarten class, which is so crowded with the day teacher’s …tools that we can barely move without knocking something over and we spend half our time futilely trying to keep the kids from meddling with the day students stuff. We are supposed to discourage them from using the bathroom or getting a drink. We aren’t allowed to give them a snack. Class is an hour and a half running from 6:30 to 8pm (from dinner time till bedtime). I’m teaching 5 year olds. Everything about this situation is inappropriate for them.
      But they all know the Lords Prayer – we sing it as our opening prayer. And they’re making excellent progress memorizing the sung Nunc Dimittus (in English) with which we close class. I sent the text of that one home in the introductory letter to the parents as a nice bedtime prayer, but I don’t know how many use it.

  • heidisaxton

    Another point of view: The Eucharist is not a “reward” for passing a test, but an indispensable source of grace and food for the soul. This evening I start to prepare (for the next eight weeks) four teenage girls for the Sacrament of Confirmation. They were baptized Catholic but sad family circumstances kept them from receiving their other sacraments until just last week. When I asked them why they wanted to be confirmed, they each named their grandparents (who died when they were younger) as their source of inspiration, and wanting to follow in their footsteps. And so when I laid out the learning plan — an ambitious course of readings in addition to weekly class and service projects — they were eager to start. You just never know how God will work in the life of a young person. We just need to feed them (in every sense of the word) and pray for them, and trust God for the rest.
    For what it’s worth (and I realize this may ruffle a few feathers here), I sneaked into Mass — and received Eucharist — for six months before I went to the RCIA director and asked to take classes. I had been raised anti-Catholic, but I knew this tiny parish in South Pasadena was the only place I found any peace. Now, I stopped receiving communion (as the catechist directed) until I was confirmed at the Vigil. But I sometimes wonder if I would have found the strength to make the journey, if I hadn’t been “fed.” So I hope this woman can find it in her heart to blessed her students, witness them being fed with joy, and continue to pray for them — knowing they most certainly will need her prayers.

    • Quittin’ time at Tara!

      Bless you for that highly naughty story about “sneaking.” I think it shows great love.

  • Mrshopey

    It saddens me that she was called names, attacked personally. There is a great urge to pile the teachings during the Sacrament years as seasoned catechists will know, they will not see them, most, again till next sacrament then again at marriage IF THAT.
    But, as much as you can expose how they do not seem ready, it is still up to parents and priest too. So, although she may not think they are ready, it is ultimately a pastor/parent decision.
    If I had to do this again, I would repeat till I was blue in the face Q & A style at the beginning of class. And keep repeating. And keep repeating and pray for the children, parents, and priest in charge.
    I made the decision to hold off our youngest sons 1st Holy Communion because unlike these children, he did know what was required, he wasn’t ready personally. We kept going to confession and taking it to prayer and the day did come. If he had been in the normal class he would have been pushed through unless I had taken him out – which I don’t agree with, not all priests respect what the parents say.

  • Lisa Cook

    We were confirmation catechists for seven kids in our tiny parish. We were forced to continue to relax the requirements because of lazy parents. We required our students to come to Mass on class days (class was before Mass, about once a month), and this was the ONLY TIME we ever saw them at Sunday Mass (our parish only has one Mass, so it is not like we missed them at a different Mass), and usually by themselves. Their parents would pick them up after Mass. We actually had to petition the pastor to ask one family to withdraw from the program because the student had already missed more than half of the classes, midway through the 2-year prep, even after repeated reminders by phone and email of the class/Mass requirement. It was insanity. Why do these parents even CARE about their kids receiving the sacrament if they don’t actually take their families to Church…ever? WHY?

  • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

    I’m sorry, I support the scorched earth Catechesis technique. No more scheduled sacraments. Sacraments and scheduled rites of passage need to be decoupled stat. Either sacramentalize them immediately like the Eastern Churches do, or Confirm them before 1st Communion. None of this “excuse to have a party” bullshit.

    At my parish you can’t even stay in the same CCE classes if you haven’t received 1st Communion on schedule. My son is only 5, but I’m seeing indications he won’t be ready at 7 and I am already dreading the knock down drag out with the DRE and Deacon over this.

    • Nan

      But it’s the Bishop who makes those decisions so your opinion is immaterial.

      • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

        My opinion is I that I refuse to present my son for communion until I am certain he won’t spit out the Body and Blood of Christ. If my bishop takes issue with this, then we have bigger problems.
        But he won’t. :-) The only diocese in Texas that has a better bishop is San Angelo.

        • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

          Or the diocese where the bishop of San Angelo came from: Austin. ;-)

          • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

            We can agreed to disagree! :-)

            But Bishop Sis married us, and he’s very special to Himself and I.

        • et

          Who is your bishop?

  • AnneG

    I would not encourage my son when he was a high school sophomore to receive Confirmation because it was not important enough to him to get himself to class. He did receive the sacrament while a freshman at the Citadel, another reason to send your kids to the right college.
    The Catechists should stand her ground and explain kindly but forcefully to the pastor why these kids are not ready. She might not be a Catechists anymore at that parish. So sorry for e abuse. Friends who are school teachers say the same thing is happening there, too.

  • Romulus

    Speaking as an (adult) catechist here, there’s a point at which one simply must draw the line. I am not going to make myself accomplice to a sacrilege by affirming the readiness of someone who’s unprepared and unconcerned. If I got pushback from the “customer” (as they see themselves), I would expect the pastor to back me up. If he wouldn’t back me up, I’d quit on the spot. But he wouldn’t like that, as I’d be sure to let him know my letter of resignation would be accompanied by letters to the bishop, and in Rome, the Congregations for Clergy, Doctrine of the Faith, and Divine Worship. If he really wants to go there to enable a fraudulent and sacrilegious act, he’ll be on his own. Finally I’d quit the parish and shake the dust from my shoes. Life is too short to waste it raising the next generation of heretics.

    • echarles1

      This comment reminds me of the end of the Caine Mutiny. All the mutineers get off, but while celebrating their own lawyer turns on them. Had they bothered to remember the hard and noble service their captain had given his country? Could they not have supported him more? It would be better to tie your shoes on a little tighter and let the priest make decisions like this. Heresy is above the pay grade of a catechist teaching 7 year olds.

      • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

        ?? If you’re a catechist, you have a responsibility not to reach heresy, even to 7 year olds.

        In fact, in my diocese, catechists are required to be working towards a Masters. Our educational materials are excellent, the kid’s materials will hopefully improve after this year, but our technique leaves a lot to be desired. And technique is where CotGS really shines.

        • echarles1

          I really admire good catechists. I did not have one. But good or bad their job is not to condemn a priest for creating heretics if the priest decides a child shall receive communion as against the advice of the catechist. Let the shepherd shepherd.

  • echarles1

    I went to catechism in the 70s (think wandering around the athletic field pretending to be Moses and the Israelites in the desert eating donuts as the manna from heaven) which is as bad as it gets. And yet, if I had had better it would not have made a bit of differerence. I was a 7 years old boy and my mind was elsewhere. Everything that didn’t involve Captain Marvel comic books was a perfunctory gesture. But somehow, and some when it wasn’t anymore. The gesture you condemn today can be the sacrement for a lifetime. So suffer them little children.

  • Kern

    I’m a catechist and taught second grade last year which is when we do first communion preparation. Our students are required to know how to make the sign of the Cross, say the Glory Be, the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mail and the Guardian Angel prayer before beginning preparation. Then we work with them to learn the Act of Contrition before they make their first confession. In learning these prayers we also teach them what they mean-it is not rote memorization. We take into consideration learning differences (and in my parish, language differences). If they do not know these prayers our DRE does not let them proceed. It is vital to faith development that children are properly catechized and not fed pablum. All you have to do is look around you to see the fruit of poor teaching. If a child cannot approach the Eucharist with the right preparation and understanding then they should wait until they are ready. The Eucharist is too important to treat casually.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    As a catechist I don’t expect parents to contribute to their kids Sunday School education more than they contribute to their elementary school education. That is, little to none.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    You would of course be a good catechist. Go on, be a helper next year, and year after that run ya own class.

  • Chris

    The second grade practice comes from the fact that mos US second graders are about age 7. Preparing 7-year-olds for First Communion comes from the decree of Pope Pius X entitled Quam Singulari. The pertinent section is “The age of discretion, both for Confession and for Holy Communion, is the time when a child begins to reason, that is about the seventh year, more or less. From that time on begins the obligation of fulfilling the precept of both Confession and Communion.”

    There are other interesting tidbits, especially “The obligation of the precept of Confession and Communion which binds the child particularly affects those who have him in charge, namely, parents, confessor, teachers and the pastor. It belongs to the father, or the person taking his place, and to the confessor, according to the Roman Catechism, to admit a child to his First Communion.”

    This does not negate the idea of postponing First Communion for kids who are not deemed ready, but the pastor is supposed to consider this alongside the child’s father. So certainly a blanket decree against fIling anyone does not fit the bill, either.