Pope Benedict recently answered a priest’s question about the sacraments of first communion and conformation.
This question was part of a question-and-answer session Benedict XVI held Aug. 6 with the priests, deacons and seminarians of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone. The Holy Father was on vacation in the Dolomites, where he stayed at the major seminary of Bressanone.
The proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, must be this: to bring the flame of Jesus’ love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time.
Pope Benedict XVI
Father Paolo RizziParish priest and lecturer in theology at the Higher Institute for Religious Sciences
Holy Father, I am parish priest and lecturer in theology at the Higher Institute for Religious Sciences. We would like to hear your pastoral opinion about the situation concerning the sacraments of first Communion and confirmation.
Always more often the children, boys and girls, who receive these sacraments prepare themselves with commitment to the catechetical meetings but do not take part in the Sunday Eucharist, and then one wonders: What is the point of all this? At times we might feel like saying: “Then just stay at home.”
Instead, we continue as always to accept them, believing that in any case it is better not to extinguish the wick of the little flickering flame. We think, that is, that in any case, the gift of the Spirit can have an effect beyond what we can see, and that in an epoch of transition like this one it is more prudent not to make drastic decisions.
More generally, 35 years ago I thought that we were beginning to be a little flock, a minority community, more or less everywhere in Europe; that we should therefore administer the sacraments only to those who are truly committed to Christian life. Then, partly because of the style! of John Paul II’s pontificate, I thought things through again. If it is possible to make predictions for the future, what do you think? What pastoral approaches can you suggest to us? Thank you.
Pope Benedict XVI
Well, I cannot give an infallible answer here, I can only seek to respond according to what I see. I must say that I took a similar route to yours.
When I was younger I was rather severe. I said: The sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of faith does not exist, the sacrament cannot be conferred either.
And then I always used to talk to my parish priest when I was archbishop of Munich: Here too there were two factions, one severe and one broad-minded. Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open — according to many official authorities — with ! sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinners, drawing them to him in his communion.
Sacraments of faith
Therefore I would say substantially that the sacraments are naturally sacraments of faith: When there is no element of faith, when first Communion is no more than a great lunch with beautiful clothes and beautiful gifts, it can no longer be a sacrament of faith.
Yet, on the other hand, if we can still see a little flame of desire for communion in the faith, a desire even in these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, it seems to me that it is right to be rather broad-minded.
Naturally, of course, one purpose of our catechesis must be to make children understand that Communion, first Communion, is not a “fixed” event, but requires a continuity of friendship with Jesus, a journey with Jesus. I know that children often have the intention and desire to go to Sunday Mass but their parents do not make this desire possible.
If we see that children want it, that they have the desire to go, this seems to me almost a sacrament of desire, the “will” to participate in Sunday Mass. In this sense, we naturally must do our best in the context of preparation for the sacraments to reach the parents as well, and thus to — let us say — awaken in them too a sensitivity to the process in which their child is involved.
They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus, which is a form of life, of the future. If parents want their children to be able to make their first Communion, this somewhat social desire must be extended into a religious one, to make a journey with Jesus possible.
I would say, therefore, that in the context of the catechesis of children, that work with parents is very important. And this is precisely one of the opportunities to meet with parents, making the life of faith also present to the adults, because, it! seems to me, they themselves can relearn the faith from the children and understand that this great solemnity is only meaningful, true and authentic if it is celebrated in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith.
Thus, one should endeavor to convince parents, through their children, of the need for a preparatory journey that is expressed in participation in the mysteries and that begins to make these mysteries loved.
I would say that this is definitely an inadequate answer, but the pedagogy of faith is always a journey and we must accept today’s situations. Yet, we must also open them more to each person, so that the result is not only an external memory of things that endures but that their hearts that have truly been touched.
The moment when we are convinced the heart is touched — it has felt a little of Jesus’ love, it has felt a little the desire to move along these lines and in this direction — that is the moment when, it seems to me, we can say that we have made a true catechesis. The proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, must be this: to bring the flame of Jesus’ love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time.[Translation by L’Osservatore Romano] BRESSANONE, Italy, AUG. 22, 2008 (Zenit.org).