Restored order of sacraments works best with whole family faith formation

My youngest child, who is nine, was recently confirmed, and then she received her First Holy Communion at the same Mass. She is the first kid in our family who has participated both in the “restored order of sacraments,” and in whole-family faith formation.

Most of my children received their sacraments in the same order as I did: First baptism as babies, then first confession and first Communion at age eight or nine, and then confirmation at about age 15. And my kids have been through possibly every style and program of catechesis available. The best combination I have seen is restored order of sacraments in conjunction with whole-family catechesis.

I understand why there is often resistance to the restored order of sacraments. One of the reasons parishes began to push confirmation back, uncoupled from First Communion and baptism, and made it into a sort of coming-of-age sacrament for teens, is because families would show up when there was a big ceremony, and then disappear again, and never set foot inside a church again until it was time to get married with a pretty backdrop.

And so confirmation turned into a second chance to give some catechesis to kids before they turned 18. It was an opportunity to teach them something beyond a young child’s level of catechesis.

What predictably happened was that some kids would show up for their First Communion, and then disappear for eight years and expect to be confirmed, even though they had been AWOL the whole time. Some parishes began piling on requirements before a person could be confirmed: They had to attend a certain number of classes or years of classes, write letters to the bishop, write essays or design projects, log community service hours, go on overnight retreats, and so on.

The intention was to get the kids actually involved and educated, rather than just going through the motions; it created the impression that confirmation is something that one can earn, like a bonus for working overtime.

All sacraments are free gifts of the Holy Spirit, and not only should we not require people to earn them, there is no way we can earn them. Still, it didn’t seem right to confirm young adults who could barely tell you how many persons of the Trinity there are. A dilemma!

The restored order of sacraments… doesn’t solve this dilemma. But it provides an opportunity for parents to solve it, for their kids and sometimes for themselves…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

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5 thoughts on “Restored order of sacraments works best with whole family faith formation”

  1. In theory, I see the benefit to whole family faith formation. For context, I’m a homeschooling mom of four, age mid-elementary on down. I would wholeheartedly support restoring the order of the sacraments, too.

    Right now, we don’t have faith formation at our parish as such. There is a small group run by a superhero volunteer that does much of what you’re describing except that parents must accompany the students every Sunday night. To the considerable credit of this group, they successfully fought what was to me the most infuriating requirement of whole family faith formation at our parish: that each child must have a parent attend with the child in a 1-to-1 parent/child ratio to ensure parent/child participation, no excuses. Participation is good, but not at the cost of literally banning any family of three or more children (and of course, any two-child, single-parent family, any two-child family with one parent working a nontraditional schedule, etc, etc) from all parish-based faith education activities for two years. And yes, I realize this isn’t what you’re describing! Just…pardon my rant for a moment, if you will.

    To be honest, I am exhausted. When they took away our parish-based faith formation classes, it left this homeschooling mom trying to prepare one kid for Reconciliation/Eucharist via a series of well-meant, but poorly-designed, videos and typo-ridden worksheets while also homeschooling two other kids and trying to keep the toddler alive. (Two years ago, I respectfully submitted corrections for the typos; they were ignored.) Faith formation was the one thing I used to have help with as a homeschooling mom. Now I don’t. I’ll keep chugging along and doing what we need to on our own to get our kids the sacraments, but any faith formation director out there, take note: what Simcha describes sure sounds like it works. What I’ve experienced doesn’t. Implement with care, is I guess what I’m saying.

    The one other aspect is it really does require that both/any parents buy into the model. My husband is determined to raise the kids Catholic, but refuses to participate in the whole family model, and I’m not willing to take away three hours of our Sunday from Daddy/kid time if he won’t come, especially since that will lead to issues and resentment on both sides. It’s rough. And have I mentioned I’m tired? 😉

  2. I don’t have a strong opinion (but I do have a preference) regarding the sacrament age. Philadelphia recently changed Confirmation from sixth to eighth grade, so the opposite of what happened in NH. As a long time homeroom mom, I preferred sixth grade Confirmation because there’s always soooo much going on in eighth grade in the parish schools. Spreading things out was better not only for me and other organizers and teachers, but also for the kids, I think.

    A little aside: As someone on our parish’s Pre-Cana team, I just want to say please use caution before accusing non-church attending couples of having a church wedding “for a pretty background.” In my experience, it’s simply not true. In fact, it’s almost always easier, cheaper, and logistically preferable to have the wedding ceremony at the reception area. And whether you have a church that resembles Mike Brady’s living room (like we do) or Church of the Gesu in Philadelphia, a church wedding is not prettier than many outdoor venues (God’s cathedrals). Probably, if one of the couple wants to have a Catholic ceremony, there IS some spiritual calling to it. And acting like they’re only doing it for nice pictures is unwelcoming and could potentially be off putting to them. And the last thing we as Catholics should want to be doing is to scare away couples from the actual graces bestowed in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

    1. Not to mention that without the Church wedding, many parishes in many dioceses will decline to welcome the children of those marriages to participate in the sacraments, using the rationale that the faith life is begun and nutured in the home, as if this were impossible without the sacrament of matrimony. Sacramental grace is beautiful and life giving and free, but the Holy Spirit breathes where He will, often in ways which disrupt our careful schedules and timing and understanding.Sometimes I am sure that Spirit breath is actually a laugh!

  3. I’m a retired Religious Ed Director and will honestly say that whole family formation was both the most physically exhausting and the most worthwhile part of my job. Different parts appeal to different people. The social aspect pushes some outside their comfort zones, but for others, it ends up being the first time they felt like a real part of the Church family.
    Our diocese does not have restored order sacraments but I wish we did!

  4. I yearn for restored order of sacraments. And also the ability for my children, who regularly attend mass, to receive communion early if they express the strong desire (some of them REALLY have). I feel like all the personal, individual approach has been drained from the sacraments because boxes need to be checked. As you said, they are pure gift, and we’ve turned them into rewards for checking boxes. Anyway. I’m all for restored order, too! Who wouldn’t want the amazing gift of confirmation as early as possible???

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