Don't judge this book by its cover: Despite changes, catechesis remains the same as children prepare for First Holy Communion and First Penance

Originally Appeared in : 9718-8/31/17

It was simple enough in the old days: “Why did God make you?”


"He made me to know him and love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next.”


Basic and easy to remember, the answer from the Baltimore Catechism was a neat fit in the minds of children preparing for important Catholic experiences: notably, reception of the sacraments of First Penance and First Holy Communion and, later on, Confirmation. Like everything else, preparing children for the reception of these sacraments has undergone some change. The process of engaging both children and their parents in this preparation has evolved further, making it more vital and family inclusive.


Even as far back as 1941, Stephen Aylward of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, was writing about the need to make the instruction of young children in their faith more appealing. A story Aylward wrote at that time, “Taking the Boredom Out of Catechism,” concerned the instruction of young Catholics that could be made more interesting. “When we were very young,” he wrote, “the process of learning the truths of our religion was apt to be pretty dull business. Young minds are not open for business of that sort.”


Children still like to learn, but piquing their interest has become still more challenging. Wooing children away from television and the internet and similar distractions has even impacted their preparation for reception of First Holy Communion and First Penance. Because of this, active involvement of parents and family members in preparing children for these sacraments is more necessary than ever. Now — usually through their parish — parents are themselves studying books or online or using communications from their church. They attend preliminary meetings with their parish priests that prepare them, as well as their offspring, for the reception of sacraments – an involvement that begins with the Sacrament of Baptism.


Parents may now be even more aware of what their children are learning before receiving sacraments through helpful websites such as FaithFirst.com (Roman Missal, 3rd Edition), available online for use by parents in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The Savannah Diocese also provides religious education classes to children learning about the sacraments.


For example, like other churches in the diocese, Savannah’s Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic Church involves both parents and children with preparation for the reception of sacraments through information available on that church’s website. Under the main heading, “First Communion” are sub-headings labeled “First Penance and First Communion Preparations” and “Dear First Communion Parents” which stress the importance of the sacraments in the communicants’ lives. 


Mandatory events and requirements are listed as well as reminders to parents to turn in filled-out forms required for their children receiving these sacraments or preparing for their reception.


Saint Peter’s website notes various plans, including a First Communion Retreat to be held at Saint Peter’s parish center before the children’s reception of First Penance and First Holy Communion in 2018.


Much more is involved today than simple instruction or memorization of tenets of the Catholic faith as children move on in their knowledge and practice of their religion. The preparation they receive now is, in its way, more comprehensive and more inclusive of the Catholic community itself in the sacramental formation of these newest receivers of First Holy Communion and First Penance.    


Columnist Rita H. DeLorme is a volunteer in the Diocesan Archives.

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