Sacramental preparation standards set for archdiocese

Kathleen Nguyen presents new standards for preparing children for the sacraments April 23.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Kathleen Nguyen presents new standards for preparing children for the sacraments April 23.

May 2, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

After almost four years of consultation, the Edmonton Archdiocese is releasing new standards for preparing children and youth for the sacraments.

The 100-page binder effectively harmonizes sacramental education and preparation across parishes and schools in the archdiocese.

One aim of the standards is to ensure no child falls through the cracks when it is time to receive sacramental preparation, says Kathleen Nguyen, sacramental education coordinator for the Edmonton Archdiocese.

The standards also seek to ensure that sacraments are pivotal life-changing events for Catholic children and their families, to deepen their faith and to start them on the road to being missionary disciples.

"The archdiocese didn't have standards up to this point and people have been asking for support," Nguyen said. "We had policy, but it was just a little bit on Baptism and Confirmation. Now there is definite guidance."

The standards are the result of the Sacramental Education Initiative set forth by the Edmonton Archdiocese and Catholic school board chairs and superintendents.

They were developed through four years of consultations with priests, pastoral assistants, religious consultants, parents, principals and teachers. Most parishes and their associated schools have piloted the standards.

As a result, the standards have been updated constantly. "We are probably on draft 25 right now. They've just gotten better and better as we have added more resources," said Nguyen.

The standards will be promulgated June 2. During the ceremony, copies of the standards will be given to schools and parishes, likely two copies per school and parish. Later on, they will be released online to allow for easier access by the public.

"The standards aim to make the process of sacramental preparation clear," explained Nguyen. "They are written for parents in easy-to-read language that makes sense."

Before the standards, different practices existed throughout the archdiocese, and people generally didn't know who was responsible for sacramental preparation. As a result, many children in Catholic schools missed out on these sacraments.

Mark Guevarra, pastoral assistant, says new sacramental education standards have led to more children receiving the sacraments.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Mark Guevarra, pastoral assistant, says new sacramental education standards have led to more children receiving the sacraments.

"Parents don't know that the preparation takes place in the parish," Nguyen said.

"They think the schools do it and because of a lack of communication they don't discover that until their child comes home one day and says, 'All my friends received their First Eucharist. When am I going to receive my First Eucharist?'"

The sacraments are received and celebrated in the parish, "so that's where the responsibility for preparation lies."

Nguyen spoke about the standards with the WCR April 19 and then explained them to catechists from across the archdiocese April 23 at the Catholic Pastoral and Administration Offices.

"What we have accomplished is having something to support everyone in this life-long challenge of growing in faith," Nguyen said.

The standards make it clear that sacramental preparation is a shared responsibility among parents, parishes and schools, she said. The three need to collaborate and communicate regularly.

First Reconciliation and First Eucharist now take place when children are seven to eight years old and in Grade 2.

"That's a shift for some parishes because sometimes they were separating those sacraments. They would have Reconciliation in Grade 2 and then Eucharist in Grade 3," Nguyen noted.

Similarly, Confirmation is for children or youth who are 11 or 12, and in Grade 6. In some communities, especially rural communities, the practice has been to confirm children when they are in Grade 7, 8 or 9 as the archbishop used to come to their communities every two years.

PARENTS INVOLVED

Parents are now required to be part of the process of Baptism if they want their child under seven to receive Baptism.

Once a child is seven, the Church thinks they can learn and internalize their own faith. So together with their parents, they participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults adapted for children. They receive all three sacraments at the Easter Vigil: Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist.

"This is about how we involve entire families in sacramental preparation," Nguyen told catechists. "This isn't just about the kids that parents drop off, and we teach those kids."

The standards contain everything to do with the preparation of children and youth for the sacraments, including numerous resources, roles and responsibilities, a section on best practices and many tips that can be shared in bulletins and newsletters.

"How do I help my kid grow in faith? There are real-life examples here and that didn't exist before," Nguyen said.

But the standards, important as they are, don't stand alone. An ongoing process of collaboration between parishes and schools will continue. It involves pastors and principals meeting four times a year to discuss and plan how they will reach out to children.

PRIESTS VISIT SCHOOLS

Another area has to do with priests visiting the schools regularly. "That's key," said Nguyen.

"We realize some parents send their kids to Catholic schools expecting all that faith formation because they are not sending them to Church.

"So having pastors involved in the schools, not just for Masses but coming into the classrooms and talking about the sacraments and getting the kids excited about it, is very important."

Mark Guevarra, who became a pastoral assistant at St. Albert Parish last year after serving four years in the same position at St. Matthew Parish in Edmonton, said the standards have helped both parishes to improve their numbers.

NUMBERS INCREASING

"We simply have more (children) receiving the sacraments," he said. The number receiving First Communion and Reconciliation has increased from 40 to 70 at St. Matthew and from 70 to 120 at St. Albert.

"Sitting down with school principals has given us an opportunity to work together toward bringing families into the sacramental life of the Church," he said.

Guevarra describes the standards as an excellent guide for doing things.

Maury Maynard, pastoral assistant at St. Edmund Parish, said numbers there are also up since his parish began to pilot the standards last September.

Maynard said even if a parent came late with a child for sacramental preparation he would still take them and teach them on a different day to help them catch up.