The role of parents
When parents have their children baptised, one of the promises they make – to the child as well as to the Church – is that the child will be brought up as a Catholic. Part of what that means is that the child will be taught what the Faith is about. In other words, primary responsibility for teaching the Faith to children belongs not to the catechists, but to the parents. The catechists are volunteers, fellow parishioners, who want to help and support the parents; they do so as an act of Christian love.
The catechists are in turn supported by professionally produced material, by the Parish Priest, by the Parish Catechetical Coordinator, and by the Diocesan Catechetical Service. All of these people want to help, but none of us can do so unless the parents play their part.
Before enrolling their children on the course for First Confession and First Holy Communion: please ensure you are willing and able to commit time to working with your children on the course. Roughly speaking, for every hour the catechists spend with the children, parents should be prepared to spend a matching hour working with the children at home.
When can a child join the course
In order to receive the Sacrament of Confession, a child must be able to understand the idea of sin and must be able to accept a personal responsibility for his/her actions. In order to receive Holy Communion, the child must be able to understand at least the basics of the Sacrament and this must include an understanding that the bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church has set a minimum age below which it is unlikely that these levels of understanding will have been reached. In our Diocese, a child must have started Year 3 in Primary School before entering the catechetical course for these Sacraments.
Parents have the responsibility of assessing whether or not their child is ready to receive these sacraments and it is absolutely fine to defer the sacrament for a year or so until it is right for the child.
Do consider carefully what your child’s attitude, particularly to Mass, is. Your child cannot simultaneously be ready for the Sacrament whilst unable to come regularly to Mass every week or to pay attention while he/she is there.
Helping a child to understand the Mass
Children tend to pick up their attitude to the Mass from their parents rather than from, for example, other children. They need to feel that the Mass is important to their parents, which is one of the reasons that the whole family should be there every Sunday. Even at seven or eight years old, children know whether the Mass is in practice more important in their home circle than going shopping or going on a picnic – whatever a parent may say to the contrary.
It helps very much if parents break the Mass down into its component pieces and explain what is going on as the Mass progresses. It helps if children have their own abbreviated Mass books with the essential prayers and can read them out at the appropriate moments.
If parents can build this practice in advance, it helps enormously when the child starts the First Holy Communion programme, because the parent can then relate each lesson to particular moments in the Mass.