Address to Diocese of Paisley Association of Catholic Head Teachers (CHAPS)
27th November 2008
After pondering this matter since I became Bishop of Paisley, I recently took the decision to reinstate a model of sacramental initiation of sacraments for baptised children which, until some years ago, was the common practice in Scotland, which is still the practice of some other dioceses in Scotland and which remains the prevalent practice in the Latin Rite Catholic Church.
This practice envisages that baptised children will continue their sacramental initiation with the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of First Eucharist and finally Confirmation, which will conclude the process of sacramental initiation for baptised children. This is the model of sacramental initiation for baptised children and young people which we witnessed at the closing Mass of WYD in Sydney in July 2008, where young baptised and communicant Catholics were confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI as the conclusion of their sacramental initiation.
I communicated my decision on this matter on 15th August 2008, at the same time circulating throughout the diocese a document entitled Sacraments for Baptised Children: Doctrinal Pastoral and Practical Principles. The timing of my decision and of the release of the accompanying document was deliberate. It was to coincide with the beginning of the school year in recognition of the fact that, as is acknowledged in various places in the Principles document, the Catholic primary school has the principal role in the formal catechesis and preparation of the children for these sacraments. In this regard, it is my hope that the Principles document will provide a doctrinal, pastoral and practical framework within which Catholic primary schools may take forward the preparation of the children for these sacraments.
This brings me to what I hope to achieve by reinstating this process of sacramental initiation for baptised children. I hope to achieve 4 objectives by this decision:
- To free First Holy Communion and Confirmation to be themselves according to an approved and tested model of sacramental initiation for baptised children.
- To lengthen the period of sacramental initiation of children to give the children, their families and the community the best chance of deriving the greatest spiritual benefit from it.
- To express more fully the relationship between the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Bishop, who may thereby preside in person over the completion the sacramental initiation of children
- To allow for a more measured distribution of catechesis and preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation through the years of primary school.
In formulating these objectives, I wish also to build upon what has been achieved in recent years in the diocese. The introduction of the previous model of sacramental initiation of baptised children made the diocese re-focus on the sacramental initiation of children. This re-focusing has been important in producing a heightened sense of these sacraments as sacraments of initiation and on the partnership of family, school and parish which was required to prepare children for these sacraments and to support them in their Catholic life and practice. These are permanent doctrinal and spiritual values which must permeate our practice of sacramental initiation for children, whatever shape it has.
In the Principles document, I insist that these sacraments are sacraments of faith. “Each one, both in preparation and celebration, is an occasion for the evangelisation of the children themselves, their families and of the Catholic community as a whole. Each one is to be received with faith and lead to growth in faith” (Principles, General, no.7). Elements of the process such as Enrolment and Masses or Liturgies of Commitment and Preparation at the appropriate times can be significant moments of preparation for parents and children. You may wish to ask questions about the practicalities of the process. Father McMahon and the RE Advisors will be happy to answer any of these questions.
I would like to stress that in preparing the children for these sacraments, the most important thing is the witness of faith and practice by all those who are involved in their preparation. For parents, this means their faithful Catholic practice. For teachers this means their witness to the children that Jesus Christ is the centre of their lives and that going to Mass and Confession are essential dimensions of their lives of faith. All the clever catechetics and creative teaching or liturgy in the world will not compensate for the absence that core witness.
In his post-Synodal Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI wrote briefly about the variations of practice in the Latin Rite Catholic Church with regard to the sacramental initiation of children. He said this: Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character. Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation (SC 18).
In this connection, I draw your attention to what I wrote in the very last article of the Principles document: “It is especially to be borne in mind that the centre of the Sacraments of Initiation is the Eucharist. One of the marks and obligations of the fully-initiated Catholic is full, active and conscious participation at Sunday Mass. Young Catholics must fulfil the serious obligation to participate at Sunday Mass so that the Eucharist will be at the centre of a full Christian life” (Principles, Confirmation, 15).
With regard to the sacramental initiation of children, our practice needs to be guided above all by the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life. What we are doing in the sacramental initiation of children is helping them to be young Catholics and then adult Catholics who have the Lord at the centre of their lives and who go to Mass on a Sunday.
In conclusion, I wish to express my undying gratitude to you and your colleagues for the work you do in our Catholic Primary Schools in the Diocese of Paisley. You have my unqualified respect and esteem. In you and in your work, I hope and trust for the faith of our young Catholics in the present and into the future.
Bishop Philip Tartaglia
Paisley Diocesan Offices
27th November 2008