Church Life, Catechesis

Connecting Dots: Content, Audience and Goal of Sacramental Preparation

As a full-time parish employee for the past 10 years, I know how maddening it can be to encounter people who do not care at all about their faith, but are putting themselves or their kids through a sacramental preparation process. I’ve seen (and done) it all: sign-in sheets for Mass, bringing in bulletins, or else just ignoring it altogether. These extremes miss the problem entirely.

In this post I want to briefly introduce three keys that can unlock the potential of living faith within your parish and show how the opposite is more common. These are not easy, and I certainly am not perfect in implementing them, but they are absolutely essential. These keys are the content, the audience and the goal. The content is the centrality of proclamation over catechesis. Next, we need to invest more in the adults than in the children as our prime audience. And finally, the goal of our work is not class attendance or even the actual reception of the sacrament itself, but conversion of one’s life to Christ.

In short: the Gospel is preached to the adults of the parish for the sake of conversion.

Though we have a widespread culture of hostility to faith and secularism in our country, parishes often offer coloring-book catechesis on the sacraments, which is light-weight and forgettable. Adults and children coming for sacraments carry with them this cultural baggage, yet we rarely address it, assuming an active Catholic identity instead. Programs may explain the symbols and liturgical colors, but rarely connect the dots from the death and resurrection of Jesus to the sacrament itself. Directly addressing these cultural assumptions is the cornerstone to effective evangelization in our parish.

Why do so many adults stop going to Mass? Most adults say it is irrelevant to their lives. It did not impart purpose or support. The answer also lies in their childish faith, in that the last time they formally studied Catholicism was probably in Confirmation class. Now they have adult problems, adult careers, and adult relationships, but a child’s notion of Christianity and it simply does not fit. Our parish offers courses, retreats, and workshops that fit a wide range of adult formation needs, from around 12 bible studies, church history classes, small groups, Financial Peace University classes, and a whole host of marriage/parenting enrichment. This way their faith education is at an adult level.

There is also widespread short-sightedness. Everything we do in the Church should be to “Go and make disciples”. Instead it is more like, “Come and get the sacrament.” We structure our ministries for such narrow ends (getting the sacrament) without connecting the reception of the Sacrament to lifelong discipleship. Homilies are the same in that we rarely preach for repentance and conversion. We now offer classes on infant baptism for the parents that is taught for their conversion? Our Engaged couples preparation classes evangelize using teaching and testimony to connect couples to their faith. Lifelong discipleship is our goal and we are overhauling many of our offerings to fit this view.

These three keys form the backbone of my ministry work in the parish. I attend every Elementary Faith Formation parent meeting and First Sacrament parent meeting, as well as work alongside the marriage preparation team for those Engaged Couples classes (more on this in a later post). I assess where they are in their faith and then preach Christ to them. I pray with them and offer my time to them if they want to take this journey further one-on-one. And they take me up on it.

In the next few posts I want to offer some suggestions and examples on connecting the dots of the Paschal Mystery to the Sacraments and to their daily lives.

God love you!