Sacramental Preparation

1 June 2017

Sharon Haughey, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education, attended the annual (Catherine) McAuley Conference series hosted by Mary Immaculate College, Limerick from 12-13 May 2017. The conference was celebrating its tenth year with the question, ‘Should we take Sacraments out of Schools? Reimagining Sacramental Preparation’.

Sacramental preparation of children and the role schools play in this process is a provocative issue for debate among parents, teachers and, indeed, wider Irish society. The conference debated the challenges, the assumptions and the realities from both a national and international perspective, with key speakers from England, Belgium and Ireland sharing their insights. The points made were stimulating, motivating, at times challenging, but, most importantly, they represented the reality. The audience applauded the honest pragmatism of many of the presenters, and the buzz of conversation among delegates over tea and coffee indicated a deep desire to reimagine sacramental preparation.

In response to Clare Watkins’ talk entitled ‘Re-visioning Parish, School and Family. A Whole Church Account of Sacramental Preparation’, I raised the point that in August 2018, Ireland will host the World Meeting of Families (WMF) in Dublin, celebrating and welcoming people from Ireland and from across the world. I asked, how can we encourage families, especially those who do not feel a connection to church or parish, to become a vibrant part of the celebrations? Will our schools have to play a part in bringing families on the periphery together for this international event?

She responded by saying that families can and do evangelise. Children, young people and adults show love through their strength of character and display great courage as they face the often difficult realities of life. In the midst of this ‘brokenness’, she urged everyone to see that Christ is fully present. Claire urged us to look at creative ways to bring all families together for the WMF. Catholic schools already welcome and engage families in their reality, continually working to build and nurture the relationship between the home and the school. Schools, she says, are often at the interface of church and society; they are both ecclesial and secular. Focusing on the parish and community, Fr Eugene Duffy and Dr Brendan
O’Keeffe explained that while the nature of parish is changing, as we live, work and socialise in different places, independent of one another, we continue to build communities.

Maeve Mahon in her presentation on ‘Sacraments in Schools’ commented that often we focus on the school when in reality our starting point should be the family. Perhaps as we prepare for WMF in 2018, we will put families first and be imaginative in our approach to celebrate family. On the eve of the family Synod 2015, Pope Francis talked about the challenges of family life and reminded us that ‘every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world’.

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