Tuesday 2 November 2010

What about asking the Parents?

St Anne teaching the Scriptures to Mary

It took a lay perspective to ask one of the most fundamental questions about the plan in our Archdiocese to re-arrange the order of the Sacraments of Initiation. Alan Houghton (http://www.torchofthefaith.com/news.php) in the comments of my last blog says:

Some parents are very concerned because they would prefer their children to be Confirmed as young adults and think that - as primary educators - they should at least have some say in the matter.
Indeed, the "plan" makes a great deal of stressing parents as the primary educators but HAS ANYONE ASKED THEM HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT THESE PROPOSED CHANGES? I've seen no evidence of it. As usual, the "periti" tell us what everyone else really wants if only they were clever enough to realise it. This is, after all, the age of canvasing everyone's opinion. When I first arrived at St Catherine's it was very strongly suggested that I needed to consult with the laity about such dramatic innovations as placing a crucifix on the altar, as some of them didn't like it!

I have heard it said by many that it would be a good idea to make a survey of the success or otherwise of this innovation where it has already been tried - in the neighbouring diocese of Salford, for example. There is no such survey but a Priest of the Archdiocese asked as many Salford Priests as he could find and sent me the following from what they said to him:

Reflections on comments gathered from the diocese of Salford

Unfortunately there been no clear study published of the benefits/disadvantages of the Restored Order of Sacraments in the Manchester area after 24 years. This is the area geographically and socially most similar to the Liverpool Archdiocese. Comparisons with dioceses in the very different socio-political world of the USA are not always applicable.

In the absence of a published and publicly available scientific study, we have no choice but to rely upon personal contacts with priests, teachers and catechists who work or have worked in Salford.

The priests are still divided, roughly 50:50, in favour of or against the scheme.

Salford originally had an eighteen month scheme of First Confession, Confirmation, Holy Communion. Therefore a parish needed not just one, but two catechetical teams; or even three, to give the catechists a rest year every third year. It requires a massive input of time, energy and commitment from priests and catechists, if they can be recruited and properly trained.

It came in with a great deal of energy c.1985, and it did have positive benefits in the first couple of years, in bringing parents back to the faith. After five years the impact had diminished and things had become routine, back to normal. Such is life.

The Reconciliation Service, with in-depth preparation of both parents and children, was for some the highlight and the greatest benefit of the scheme. Reconciliation is hardly mentioned in the Liverpool variant.

Often parents had underlying issues of hurt, family break up, second unions etc. – a pastoral can of worms was uncovered. But becoming aware of and bringing healing to such situations, as far as possible, was a major benefit of the scheme.

The eighteen-month arrangement was found to be too onerous and it has now been shortened to the reception of all three Sacraments in 12 months. However, three Sacraments in one school year is too much for the lower ability children to take in. They get Confirmation and First Communion all mixed up. “Is this the one with the bread, Sir?”

Some schools tended to opt out of teaching about the Sacraments, feeling that they had been excluded from the Sacramental preparation process. Teachers felt that however well-intentioned catechists are, they are seldom professionals to the same degree at communicating with a range of children, and they were worried about the quality of input the children would receive.

Often by year 4, certainly by Year 6, the majority of children remember nothing of their Confirmation. The same workbooks were still being used ten years after introduction. They did not seem to have been properly evaluated, improved or updated. It is unlikely that they were perfect first time round.

Bishop Brain has begun administering Confirmations again, reportedly in about one-third of the parishes in each deanery each year. Several reports suggest that Rome has brought pressure upon him to do this, because Rome does not like the eclipse of the bishop as the ordinary minister of Confirmation. Canon Law (884) allows delegation to “one or more (several) priests” only “in case of necessity.”

The scheme leads to the disappearance of the idea of the bishop in many children’s minds. Literally, he never actually touches their lives, he becomes remote and irrelevant. In this way the understanding of the role of the bishop and the unity of the diocese is weakened.

One parent complained recently when it was announced that Bishop Brain was coming to do Confirmations: “Why do we have to have the bishop to confirm our children? Why can’t our parish priest do it as normal?”

It can be very difficult to catechise different ethnic groups of parents together, for example, devout Indians, who intend to save the First Communion celebration for a trip back home to India – and some of English or Irish extraction who are only interested in the party afterwards.

Some priests give Confirmation and First Holy Communion in the same Mass. The emphasis on Pentecost as the day for Confirmations has been gradually diluted.

The Salford scheme was ad experimentum and it required permission from Rome, especially in regard to the mass delegation of Confirmations to priests as extraordinary ministers of the Sacrament.

The picture is obviously very mixed. When some of the highest ranking and longest serving priests of Salford diocese can say simply: “It doesn’t work,” are we in Liverpool being rushed into a decision when many of the facts are not being made available to us? A full study of Salford should first be published, so that the advantages and disadvantages can be honestly compared, and pitfalls avoided.


GWAM said...

This smacks of Trojan Horsery at a gathering canter.

I have no issue at all with the lowering of the age of the Sacrament of Confirmation - in fact, I welcome it (though with a major, major caveat concerning the accompaniment of the correct catechesis) - and I regard it as error to suggest that it is in any way an initiation towards adulthood and that the conferral of such reflects a sort of "graduation ceremony" (my phrase).

To that extent the Archbishop is correct, I think, to visit this subject, especially in the light of Sacramentum Caritatis (SC).

That's where the Trojan Horse comes in. To what extent is this supposed observance of SC a front to usher in some dodgy liberal catechesis (masquerading as greater "family" involvement) and, softly-softly, remove the (normal) requirement for a bishop to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Moreover, the question of the Sacrament of Penance for children is conspicuously under-represented (I'm being kind) in the Archdiocesan materials accompanying this "restored order" initiative; which seems somewhat at odds with the whole exercise if the pastoral ambition is truly to educate children to fully revere The Eucharist as the sacramental summit.

One thing's sure, there may well be some very odd bedfellows opposing these plans. On the one hand, I can see some visceral liberal resistance to the quaint notion of responding to papal exhortations (SC). That's soooo 1961.

On the other, I can see all manner of traditional resistance - but, hang on, lowering the age of Confirmation was implicitly what His Holiness, Pope Benedict was driving at in SC. Wasn't it? And we're always complaining that the bishops ignore the Pope!


Also, what's the betting that Pope St Pius X - the poster boy of choice for those who love to disparage tradition - will get it in the neck as well for having caused all this confusion?

I can just hear it now: "First we get all this 'back to the future' caper and then next year they'll expect us to introduce the new archaic translation of the Mass".

His Grace may well have pulled off the hardest of all tricks: uniting both innovators and traditionalists but for diametrically opposing reasons.

Forgive the cynicism but I don't see any great desire to respond to other aspects of the New Benedictine Revolution. So why this?

* Bingo checklist: "Responding to Sacramentum Caritatis"; "it's what the Pope has asked for"; "ifithadn'thavebinfer Pius X"; "greater family involvement".


Simon Platt said...

What's this business about parish priests administering confirmation at Pentecost?

We had that nonsense in Lancaster for a few years under Bishop Brewer. A "sign of unity" apparently. Hardly! Didn't last long.

Forever Living said...
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