The Initiation of Children

We receive a lot of the calls The Liturgical Commission from parents (and grandparents) asking about what is required for children who were baptised as infants to complete their initiation through confirmation and first communion.

Callers sometimes ask why the children are no longer ‘done’ in year 3 at the Catholic School, “like it was in my day”. Most people would be well aware that Catholic Schools, like society in general, have changed a great deal since this was the practice. Because not all students are Catholic, or even Christian, and because students of the same age will have varying levels of faith understanding and practice, it is totally inappropriate for students in a particular school grade to celebrate confirmation and first communion as a group.

In any case, children are not initiated into the school but into the Church, made manifest in the local eucharistic community. The parish which the family belongs to and where they attend Mass is where children celebrate confirmation and first communion because the parish is their local community of faith.

The archdiocesan policy on the initiation of children makes it clear that preparation for and celebration of the sacraments is parish based and related to readiness, not year level. Children who are baptised as infants may be considered eligible for confirmation and first reception of Eucharist from about the age of seven years.

While the Catholic school has a vital role to play in the on-going faith formation of the child, it is the duty of parents and the parish to offer children prayerful and practical help to celebrate the sacraments with proper devotion. Parishes conduct sacramental preparation programs that involve at least child and parents and assist parents to do their part in preparing their children.

Parents sometimes complain because the parish where their child attends school did not “tell them about the sacramental program” or refused to accept their child into the process because they live outside the parish boundaries. Almost invariably, the child and his/her family do not attend Mass at the parish where they expected to be initiated.

Of course parish priests are reluctant to initiate somebody from another parish. It would be like the local football club signing up someone who intends to play elsewhere. It simply does not make sense.

If school families live outside the parish boundaries, they are asked to prepare in their own faith community. If the family worships regularly in the parish of the school they attend, the family would register there because it is their faith community.

Sacraments are not some sort of “commodity” to which everyone has some sort of rightful entitlement. The practice of the Church in regard to the initiation of children is influenced by our view of sacraments as effective celebrations of a faith community, a community which responds to Christ’s call through the power-filled presence of the Holy Spirit.When parents stand around in freezing weather early on a Saturday morning for their child’s soccer match, they are showing their willingness to “take up a cross” for what they see as really important for their child. Presumably, the Sacraments are so important that it is reasonable to expect that a similar energy and commitment will be expended on living them and sharing them with their children.

Elizabeth Harrington