Rituals do not make sense when we do not understand, or do not engage, what they invite us to celebrate.

Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Carlow Nationalist.
This column appeared on 9th April 2008

Most Irish people like to have the opportunity to celebrate. It is important that we have occasions to come together as family and friends, sharing friendship, love and indeed our faith with those whom we love. During the months of April and May many such occasions will present themselves particularly in the context of first communion, confirmation, and indeed weddings. Despite the dwindling numbers of people publically practicing faith, still the vast majority within our Catholic tradition celebrate such sacraments, at these key moments in our life journey.

I often wonder, is there a contradiction, that on one particular Sunday in the case of all our first communions and confirmations our Church’s are full, and the following Sunday so few return to worship and celebrate. In this regard I believe that a radical approach is necessary to create a more authentic sacramental experience for our young people. Confirmation and first communion is much more than bouncy castles and adults having an occasion to over indulge in cheese and wine for the day.

Rituals do not make sense when we do not understand, or do not engage, what they invite us to celebrate. Confirmation is now unfortunately for the vast majority, the sacrament of exodus. A rite of passage at a moment of transition, perhaps a graduation from primary to secondary education, in many cases it is a foreign language, in a culture where so many have made a clear choice not to practice faith. Faith and its many values are most necessary in the present day reality we find ourselves living. Faith and faith practice are learnt in the home, and celebrated in the context of family life. Where no mention of faith issues or any practice takes place in family life, no wonder so many of our young confirmation candidates will not return to Church until its time to say “I DO? on their wedding day.

Other Countries within the Catholic tradition, have worked hard breaking the mentality that a sacrament is something I get because I have reached a certain time in my life. For example in Poland Confirmation is celebrated largely with transitional year students after a long period of catechesis including young people taking ownership of their faith and celebrating a choice to becoming a full member of their faith community. Similar formation takes place in the Unitied States where a great emphasizes is placed upon those who choose to be confirmed then sharing their gifts through various ministries in their parishes which they belong too.

Early in his pontificate Pope Benedict highlighted that while the Church may be smaller he believed it also will become more dynamic. This is true I believe in relation to the future of our Irish Church, yes it will be much smaller, in terms of its numbers and its members, but for those who choose to participate I am sure that the experience will be much richer and life giving.

Perhaps as a parent, of such children, now is the time to reflect and encourage a decision that a young person cannot make on their own. The promises they make can only be lived out in the context of support and example that they receive from you their loved ones.