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Beverly O’Grady is on staff with the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto and works as a lay pastoral associate. She has been running First Communion/First Reconciliation programs with children and parents together for 20 years at St. Dominic’s Parish in Mississauga. Very early in her parish career, she realized that parents needed to be catechized too. Having parents and children working together was very productive and supportive of the family model of catechesis. What follows are her suggestions on helping children prepare for these sacraments.
Seven year old children are a joy to prepare for First Reconciliation and First Communion. There are many ways to prepare children for the sacraments. Many parishes will provide children-only sacramental preparation classes. Other parishes offer preparation programs for the parents, so they can go home equipped to teach their children. Still others will offer a parent enrichment program that runs concurrently with the children’s classes.
All are good … but what if we put children and parents together in the same class?
If we think about what we learned at age seven (and what we’ve actually retained), we start to see there is great wisdom in covertly offering parents a refresher on the sacraments. Parents will begin to see the sacraments through the eyes of their child. Here are a few points to consider:
- Parents may lack the language of faith that allows them to speak to their children about the sacraments. While gearing the program to the children, we are also offering parents an opportunity to strengthen their understanding of our faith.
- Provide opportunities for story sharing between parent and child, such as retelling the day of their child’s baptism. Ask parents to tell their child the reason they chose their name (are they named after a special saint or perhaps a beloved family member?).
- Begin your sessions with quiet meditation to allow everyone to decompress. Children and parents have hectic schedules and need time to relax before becoming receptive to the preparation experience.
- Choose sacramental preparation activities that foster the child’s relationship with Jesus. Invite children to imagine sitting with Jesus and speaking to him from their hearts. This can begin a very rich prayer experience for both the child and the parent.
- Use Lectio Divina with the children — read a Gospel passage and invite them to imagine accompanying Jesus in that scene. What did they see, feel, hear, taste and touch? Have the children draw a picture of their imaginary scene and then ask them to share it with their parents. Parents will be offered a glimpse into their child’s faith experience, as well as soaking in the scripture story for themselves.
- Provide a sacramental preparation book for parents to bring home. Ask parents to work through the book with their child at his/her own pace. Rather than viewing this as homework, suggest they treat it as special one-on-one time with their child. This is a powerful way to strengthen the role of parents as their child’s first and best teacher.
Children model their parents’ actions and attitudes — attending the preparation program together demonstrates to the child that their parents value sacramental preparation.
- When everyone wears a name tag, families are encouraged to connect and form a community. Allow time for parents and children to linger after the session for informal conversation. This can all happen while your team is packing up the meeting space.
- If you have room, welcome other family members into the preparation class. Grandparents and younger/older siblings need not be excluded. While your class will be focused on preparing the child who is age seven or older, we can all learn more about our faith by attending the preparation time.
- Older children seeking the sacraments may feel self-conscious about preparing with Grade 2’s. Ask them to assist you with hospitality or distributing supplies and handouts. Make a point of thanking them publicly for assisting with the class.
And a few logistical advantages:
- Volunteer screening is simplified. There is no need to screen at the highest level, as needed when working with a vulnerable age group, because parents and children are always together.
- Parents are responsible for their child’s behavior, which frees you from dealing with discipline issues.
- Children and parents leave together — no need to wait for parents who arrive late when picking up their child after class.
For more information on catechesis and sacramental preparation, please visit the Office of Formation for Discipleship’s website.