This is Matt: We here at CMR have been huge fans of Erin Manning who blogs over at And Sometimes Tea. And so we wanted to have Erin write over here once a week for the next month as a guest blogger. I think CMR could use some female perspective – other than Patrick’s. So enjoy Erin’s post. Heeeeeeerrrre’s Erin!!!!!!!
Last week, I read that the Diocese of Phoenix had decided to strengthen their marriage preparation requirements. Instead of six months of mostly lay led marriage preparation classes, the diocese now requires nine, to include mandatory NFP classes and some basics about Catholic teaching regarding marriage, including Catholic opposition to divorce, contraception, and homosexual “marriage.”
Yesterday I read about (and wrote about) the Polish priest who installed a fingerprint reader to make it easier to track confirmation candidates’ Mass attendance. If the children attend 200 Masses in three years, they can skip an otherwise mandatory exam.
What do these two very different stories, from two very different places in the world, have in common? One specific problem, a problem I like to call “Sacramental Gatekeeping.”
In one sense, I can understand the actions of both the Phoenix Diocese and the Polish priest. In the first instance, it can’t be denied that a scandalously large number of people get married in the Catholic Church in America without being regular practitioners of the Catholic faith, without truly understanding what the Church believes about marriage or requires of those who enter this vocation, without being in any sense ready to take on this new way of living, this sacramental union with another person and, with God’s blessing, with the children they should be hoping to have together. In the second instance, I think the priest is trying in an ingenious way to remove an onerous requirement for confirmation–an exam–and giving those children who are serious enough about their faith to come to Mass a way to avoid having to take a test on their way to this sacrament.
But unfortunately, both solutions to the problems are quite likely to end up being anything but. A couple wishing to marry in the Phoenix Diocese isn’t going to undo what might be a couple of decades of religious indifference or bad catechesis with a whopping total of three extra months of preparation, especially when a lot of that preparation is likely to involve being in a classroom with dozens of other couples who are all filling out worksheets with titles like “Relationship tools–what are your expectations of marriage?” or “Money–who is in charge?” A simple Google search of the Pre-Cana program (a standard marriage preparation class for Catholics) shows glowing reviews by couples who attended–and who lived together before marriage and had no idea of separating before the wedding, and who weren’t asked to, or who lied and said they had separate addresses, etc.
And though I’m sympathetic to the Polish priest, it’s true that a savvy child could easily scan his or her fingerprints and then simply leave the church building or hang out in the back. I have no idea how likely a Polish Catholic child is to try such a thing, but it’s only too likely that some American children, faced with a similar system, would learn how to game it.
So what ends up happening is this: the philosophy of Sacramental Gatekeeping keeps thinking that less-serious Catholics can be brought to a greater understanding and appreciation for the sacraments they seek if they have to attend more classes (and pay more class fees), take more tests, prove more attendance, add more “service hours,” and otherwise do more and more things that really have very little to do with the sacraments at all as “minimum requirements” for receiving these sacraments. And the less-serious Catholics keep figuring out ways to get around the increasingly burdensome requirements–while those Catholics who do take their faith seriously, who are at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day (and sometimes quite a few weekdays as well), who have been active in their parishes since their Baptisms (or at least since they left the Cry Room) end up being told “You wish to receive a sacrament, or have your child receive one? Great! Here are six more hoops through which you must jump…”
And the hoops are getting to be insane.
Take baptism, for instance. How many dioceses or parishes now require that both parents must take a class for each child, that they may not attend the class until after the baby is born, and that they cannot bring the baby to the class with them? This is almost like saying, “Hey, if you are the practicing Catholic parents of four or five young children and you breastfeed your baby, we’re going to make it really really hard for you to get baby number six baptized until he or she is weaned–but then again, we don’t allow baptisms during Lent, so you’re going to have to wait at least that long anyway. Aren’t you excited?”
Or take first penance and first Holy Communion. How many dioceses or parishes are now requiring several years of parish-based religious education plus special sacramental preparation classes in addition to some special sessions like all-day retreats which both parents and the child must attend? If your child is paying tuition at a diocesan school, some of these requirements sometimes (but not always) evaporate–but if you are homeschooling your child using the exact same religious education textbooks your diocese uses, chances are you’re still going to be required to enroll your children in the parish program. Here, the Powers That Be are saying, “We know you consider yourself a Catholic school-at-home. We think the education you are giving your children is the exact equivalent of the religious education of a child whose parents never attend Mass and who is not receiving any school-based religious instruction at all. Isn’t that nice of us?”
Or take confirmation. I could write a whole post on this one; isn’t it crazy that one of the Sacraments of Initiation has been postponed to the age of sixteen in so many dioceses around the country? Why do we wait so long before our children receive the Holy Spirit? The most honest reason I’ve heard comes from weary parish religious-ed teachers who say sadly, “If we confirmed kids any earlier, they’d stop coming to church much younger than they already do.”
But because confirmation has become a kind of “Rite of Telling Our Kids They’re Now Spiritually Mature Adults Whether They Are Or Not,” the requirements have spun out of control. I’ve heard from lots of people whose children were required to take at least two years of special classes above and beyond normal religious education, to log huge numbers of “service hours” doing projects in the parish and in the community–but only so many hours in each of several specific categories, because the child who has been volunteering at the parish for years has to branch out and go feed the homeless or it doesn’t “count,” so to speak–and even, perhaps most disturbingly, to go on overnight co-ed confirmation retreats, where various topics are discussed, but not, certainly, the imprudence of spending the night in close proximity to dozens of teenage members of the opposite sex.
And now marriage will be the latest sacrament to be adorned with extra hoops for the good Catholic young adults to jump through. Setting aside the fact that many excellent Catholic teachers over the years have warned against lengthy engagements, there is the problem that the young man and woman from strong Catholic backgrounds who have been going to Mass and frequenting confession throughout their youths and young adulthoods, who could practically teach a class themselves on what the Church teaches about marriage, who are eager to begin their lives together and to have children with God’s blessing, and who take seriously all that the Church expects and requires of them as mature adults, will have to agree to a nine-months’ engagement, dozens of classes at least some of which may be of dubious value, and whatever else in the way of hoops may be laid out in front of them during the nine-months’ “marriage preparation process.”
Some who are reading this will no doubt object: “But there are no such young couples! The vast majority of the Catholic couples getting married in the Church are weak in their faith, irregular in their attendance, indifferent to the Church’s teachings, and untrustworthy! It’s unrealistic to expect young Catholics to know their faith and actually plan to live it!”
To the extent that this is true, it is not too much of an exaggeration to call it the central problem facing the Church today. Unfortunately, it is a problem likely to be exacerbated, rather than helped, by Sacramental Gatekeeping.
February 4, 2010 at 2:01 am
Charlotte– your parish CHARGES for the Baptism classes?????!!! That's RIDICULOUS! I've never heard of that before!!!!! You might want to write your bishop—charging for sacraments is a big no-no.
I'm opposed to required NFP classes before marriage– some of us are Providentialists, and there's nothing ANYWHERE in the Catechism that says you HAVE to practice NFP– It's totally acceptable to leave the planning up to God! (Though I have met some NFP zealots who insist it's so great that you MUST use it, even if you're pretty much indifferent to whether you get pregnant in a given month (as in… babies are good, but no baby this month is fine too…).
So I'd say 'no' to mandatory NFP– the people who want/need it will take the classes.,…those of us who are satisfied with providentialism shouldn't have to. 🙂
I'm not sure how much precana can even really prepare a couple– I think it's too late to start discussing these issues once you've already set a wedding date.
Ideally, to prepare for marriage, couples should hash things like kids and finances out while they're dating– and if they prove to be incompatible, they SHOULDN"T GET ENGAGED.
So,really, a lot of the precana discussion should happen in high school. We should give kids a list of things that a couple should agree on, and encourage them to use reason, not just emotion, when dating.
As in, "Maximus the Biker" may look really good in his leather jacket–and he's awfully exciting, but he doesn't want to have kids! So I shouldn't get serious with him!
Gee, maybe I should try to date guys who share my values……..
Precana is either superfluous or too little too late. We need to start younger.
February 4, 2010 at 2:05 am
Father again: having written the above, I would point out that I always exempt those families who I know personally as having the faith. When my goddaughters at the age of 7 and 8 went up to a visiting priest and correctly and courageously questioned his heterodox homily on the Eucharist, I saw no reason to require anything more of them for First Holy Communion. had I been a Bishop, I would have given them Confirmation as well as given them the veil on the spot! 🙂
February 4, 2010 at 2:31 am
I agree that $25 per family for a required baptism class is bad. But what about having to pay for the engaged weekend encounter? We had to pay for that, too, and I believe the cost was more than the cost of the provided lunch. Or what about church rental for the wedding? I suppose there are pros and cons to each side – pay or not pay. But it does seem ridiculous to start the money flowing in at baptism.
Father – I like your phrase "baptised pagans."
February 4, 2010 at 5:24 am
I've lived and worked in quite a few parishes over the last few decades. I've never heard of charging for baptism classes. That just seems wrong. I have no problem with parishes charging for CCD/FHC materials as long as there's a way that less-affluent families can pay a reduced materials charge or have it waived. We don't use the parish materials (we homeschool) but I pay anyway so that someone else can have a free ride.
During my years as a DRE and CCD teacher, I saw many of the same things…parents dropping kids off for Mass and CCD while they had coffee at the golf course nearby, that kind of thing. But I also saw something else – the Holy Spirit at work. I saw parents who were doing the check-the-boxes thing see needs in our parish while they were at the mandatory events, volunteer to help out and end up as regulars at weekly Mass. I saw parents who didn't understand what Reconciliation was all about go with their children to First Reconciliation classes and end up following their children into the confessional. I saw so much…enough to convince me that you have to get children and parents to these classes and events together and then step back and pray really, really, really hard for Mom and Dad to be open to grace.
I've also seen homeschooling families like mine get very discouraged by the hoop-jumping requirements. We're at church every week and then some. We all volunteer and help out as needed. My children are faith-filled kids. And yet we are put through the same processes as the families who never, ever come to Mass. It is frustrating, like we have to prove ourselves all over again.
My husband's wise words helped me through this kind of frustration. He told me to remember that in a big parish like ours, there have to be procedures just to keep folks from slipping through the cracks. He reminded me that paperwork and rules are part of life and that our kids were watching me (closely!) to see what I would do when handed a new sheaf of forms. And, over time, I got to know our parish DRE, and she grew to trust that I am doing what I'm called to do.
DD (12) wants to be confirmed a year early. I'm sure she's ready. We'll see how well this goes over with Father…
February 4, 2010 at 6:11 am
Our family is one of the 'known faithful' and we are still required to jump through all the hoops mentioned above. With 5 kids, it's started to get really old. We'd still be happy to do it, to be 'part of the community', except for one thing. There's no real catechesis going on.
Our 15 yr old son believes that the teachings of the Church make perfect sense. What he wants to talk about are things like "Why did God give us free will when he could have made us happy robots and eliminated any chance of sin?" We talk about deep issues at home, and then he has to be driven to distraction by the feel-good kindergarden fluff he's supposed to endure weekly.
I feel for those who have to deal with 'baptised pagans'. Without a muscular catechesis, however, we will only make more of the same.
February 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm
I feel so sorry for all the devout parents who have to put up with all this garbage. Somehow we have slipped under the radar and never had to attend a baptism class (6 kids at 5 parishes) and have never been forced to enroll in CCD to receive the sacraments. Of course we attend Mass every Sunday, volunteer, my oldest son serves every Sunday… How? We have almost always attended very small TLM parishes. The kids have only attended CCD for a few years and there they were taught out of the Baltimore Catechism. Soon we are going to move and be going to a huge (to us) parish where I'm sure we will have to fight the establishment and I'm not looking forward to the experience.
February 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm
As a mother of four public school children and a veteran of both the parochial school system and the CCD program at my parish, here are my thoughts:
If the parish continues to use a "school model" for religious education, they should take a look at how the public school does it. There should be greater flexibility and more individualized focused education. For example, why not test children OUT of religious preparation? If a child knows that the Eucharist is the full presence of Jesus Christ himself, that should allow them to receive Jesus. Why have we made it so difficult? Confirmation should be lowered to age 12 & 13, to take one from our Jewish bretheren. All 12 and 13 year olds take an exam, those that score in the lower quadrant will have x amount of classes to bring them up to speed, etc. Forget about bringing the parents back to the faith. That's not our problem. The problem is how to effectively educate the children in the faith.
I homeschool my children in religious ed, I have an 8,6,4 & 2nd grader. Our books "Faith First", leaves much to be desired for. There is so much fluff and garbage in it. So I just concentrate on the basic facts: the Order of the Mass, the 7 sacraments, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Works of Mercy, the Apostle's Creed, the Rosary and why it's important, Mary, etc.
February 4, 2010 at 4:28 pm
It is my opinion that confirmation is the most important and should be the most guarded sacrament. If done properly, confirmation will propel proper understanding of all other sacraments and make the educational need for marriage less intensive. However, many times CCD gets hijacked by lay members who believe they know the catechism better than BXVI.
February 4, 2010 at 5:07 pm
Forget about bringing the parents back to the faith. That's not our problem. The problem is how to effectively educate the children in the faith.
Bringing the parents back to the faith is exactly our problem. You can teach a group of kids right out of the Baltimore Catechism, teach them the Rosary, drill basic facts of the faith and all of it but unless you are sending them back to a cloister, all of your work will be undone at home.
How many little kids have we prepared for First Confessions, who, when they are told that it is a mortal sin not to go to Mass for Sunday, say, "But my mom doesn't take me. Do I have to tell Father (ie: Is it my sin?)?"
Parents are the primary educators of the faith. It is absurd to think that you can rach a generation of children without doing anything to reach their parents. It's like planting a seed and telling it to water itself! All we do in RE Programs is plant seeds. The parents must water them!
That said, parent meetings ought to be more than simply "here's what your kids has to wear." When I do parent preparation for Eucharist, we spend the bulk of the time discussing the Bread of Life Discourse and why Catholics believe what we do about the Eucharist. You cannot assume that these parents know about the Real Presence. You cannot assume that they know anything.
And I have seen many parents ACTUALLY return to practice the faith when their kids were going through preparation. Moms and dads who hadn't gone for confession in 20 years. Dads coming to Mass for the first time in 25 years (one who said to me: "I thoughtthe roof was going to fall down on my head when I walked in."). It's a blessing to witness that.
And I hate the whole money thing. It's ridiculous to charge for a Baptism class and it's ridiculous to require parents who have already participated in it/endured it to do it again. We're just trying to cover our costs. It is against canon law to sell sacraments.
February 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm
This is what I don't understand – if CCD is based on a school model that uses the DRE as principal, volunteers as teachers (not parents necessarily), separates children into classes based on school grade, and has children do "artifical" busy work to graduate, why be so upset that the parents aren't involved?
The model has preempted parent participation. The parish school has done the same thing. There are just as many parents who assume that their children will get a Catholic education at the school and will do no more or less to practice the faith at home.
It's a huge problem, no doubt. But if we are going to continue with a school based model, then let's focus on the students not the parents. That's all I'm saying.
February 4, 2010 at 6:13 pm
Erin, I agree with so much of what you said. However, if you look into the actual requirements of the Phoenix program, you might be impressed. It's light on worksheets and heavy on solid formation & conversion. The comments I've heard from poorly-formed couples after attending the main program have convinced me that it is doing a lot of good.
February 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm
As a homeschooling parent, I had the same frustrations: not only did I have to pay for unnecessary CCD classes, but I had to sit in on the classes so as to debrief my daughter on the way home (over the years she was taught, among other things, God wants us to tell on our friends; God wants us to lift our arms high at the Our Father; if you don't chew the Host, it isn't really Jesus and you won't have received Communion; and, my personal favorite, they used unleavened bread at the Last Supper because yeast hadn't been invented yet). I pulled her out when the catechist taught the kids a false and slanderous thing about Protestants, I called her on it, and the DRE admitted I was right but that it was fine to teach the kids such things and the catechist should continue to do so.
After years of unhappiness, I decided to stop complaining and volunteer to teach CCD. Over the last five years, other orthodox parishioners have done the same thing. We sit with our mouths shut through training sessions that tell us about using Native American spirituality to enrich our classes, and the like; and then we go into the classrooms and teach the kids the Faith.
You quickly figure out which kids have practicing parents who are teaching them at home, which kids are dropped off and seldom taken to Mass, and which are in the middle, and accommodate accordingly. You can always throw in something more advanced for the child ready for it, and have the co-catechist take aside the child without a mastery of the basics for some tutoring.
Maybe we can't do away with the CCD requirement, but we can make sure the parents haven't thrown away their money at least. And this year we have a fantastic and very orthodox DRE, backing us up all the way.
February 4, 2010 at 11:25 pm
I had a priest friend of the family come and baptize all of my kids except the last one.( I have nine.) He came to whatever parish we were at at the moment. Once we had a home baptism, but that was back in the 80's when home everything was all the vogue. He registered the baptism at his parish in a neighboring city, the one where I was received into the church. We had a home first communion, too.
I did attend some of these classes for first communions and first confessions for my younger children; they weren't very content filled, but going through the books with my kids did give me an occasion to talk about the faith with them. My husband was not Catholic or religious at all at that point, so it was always a contested and contentious issue at my house. In that environment, all of my kids but the last lost interest in church before it was time for confirmation. One has since returned to the Church, and one has become Orthodox; the rest are not practicing, which is sad. Very sad. I feel that the Church certainly did not help me, with an alienating home situation, did not show my children that there was any power or beauty or intellectual interest in Catholicism or Christianity.
With my youngest daughter I didn't feel she was ready at the time for first confession, and then there was a period when I was not very enthusiastic about my faith, although I continued to attend mass and bring her with me.
Around the time I returned to confession myself, I realized she had never gone. I talked to her about it and said that I wanted her to go once and after that it would be up to her, but she needed to go once so it would be available to her. I called the church and asked who would be hearing confessions that Saturday, asked to speak to that priest, and explained that my teenaged daughter had never been to confession and that I would be bringing her that Saturday. And that is what we did. She went several more times until she went away to college and stopped practicing her faith. I hope of course, that that is temporary. I had thought that she was real and serious about it and couldn't believe it dropped away so easily.
I am no one to tell anyone how to do these things, as I was a failure myself. I knew my faith well, but I was what Protestants sometimes call a "babe in the Lord" when I started having children myself, and not having a Catholic husband or parents or anyone in the family, it became "Mother's thing about religion". I don't know if having good teaching in CCD,religious ed, whatever you want to call it, or in those pre sacramental classes, could have made the difference in the circumstances. I certainly would have gladly gone if it would have.
I guess I support any kind of requirement if the attendance requirements are not absurd (ie don't bring your newborn), if the expense is not a finanacial strain, and most of all if the content is solid and orthodox.
May 26, 2010 at 1:22 pm
I have been struggling with the Catholic marriage prep processing, and I don't really know what to do. I felt like my faith was so much more solid before the processing than it is now. I was SO looking forward to formation with my husband-to-be, something that would help us establish deeper ties with our Savior, with our Church, with each other, and with our families and friends in Christ. What has happened has been a nightmare of bureaucracy. I am so sad… so sad… I want to go back to the Orthodox Church, where people treat me like family, but my fiance says it's a grave sin to leave the Catholic Church. I don't want to go to hell.
I am so sad… so lonely…