Parents and parishes, and not schools, are to take responsibility for preparing children for the sacraments under a “significant change” in policy announced by the Archbishop of Dublin.

Driving the news

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said in a statement December 3 that he had written to priests and parishes to announce “a new approach to the sacraments” in the diocese.

That approach will be “centred on supporting parents in sharing faith with their children”, the diocese said.

It added that in time the new approach will see parishes “assume responsibility for the preparation and celebration of all four sacraments” – Baptism, First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation.

“At the heart of the proposal is to stress the primary role of families in sacramental preparation”, Martin explained.

The archbishop clarified that the focus was also on “a renewed relationship with Catholic schools in promoting Catholic ethos” and in delivering the Grow in Love Religious Education curriculum.

The big picture

The Dublin diocese said the changes to sacramental preparation in the local Church, which takes in Dublin and Wicklow and parts of Kildare, Carlow, Laois and Wexford, were the fruit of a consultation process that began in September 2018.

1,800 online survey respondents and attendees at three diocesan assemblies – including non-regular churchgoers – recommended changes to sacramental preparation that were finally taken up in a resolution of the Diocesan Council of Priests.

The underlying conviction driving the change, the diocese said, is that “the family has the primary responsibility for leading children in faith”.

There is also among Dublin Catholics “a desire for shifting the primary responsibility for sacramental preparation from school to parish”, the local Church added.

Go deeper

As for the timeline for the delivery of the changes to diocesan practice, Martin was realistic.

“We must remember too that more and more Catholic children today attend other than Catholic schools.

“The proposal is not something that will be accomplished overnight; it cannot however be put forever on the long finger. We must begin now”, the archbishop insisted.

He added that “it will take some time to put in place an effective development of parish capacity to implement this initiative.

“We need however to begin immediately with the preparation and training of voluntary lay catechists and the development of resource materials”.

Why it matters

The Irish Times reported that, in practical terms, the changes announced by Martin will likely result in “opt-in” after-school classes for children preparing for Confession, First Communion and Confirmation.

The changes will not mean the end of religion classes in schools, but perhaps a decreased emphasis on instructions on the sacraments in that context.

Martin himself explained to RTÉ that the changes were being driven by a desire to achieve “a better allotment of religious education across primary school” away from “the peaks” of second and sixth class.

But the archbishop added that there was also a need to avoid “commercialism” and over-spending in communion and confirmation celebrations.

“Go out around some parts of Dublin suburbs and you’ll see marquees and the whole thing is slipping away from what is fundamentally a religious event”, Martin said.

“And that’s what we want to try and enhance; working with parents, working with children and schools to ensure that people understand what this is about”.

What’s next

Martin stressed that any changes to confirmation and communion classes “must be achieved in line with the differing circumstances of each parish”.

By early 2020, the diocese said it will set up a special group to help with the implementation of the new sacramental preparation plan.

That’s to liaise with schools and with parents, recruit and train volunteers for the catechesis, and to provide other resources and financing.

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