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Why give the Sacraments to those who don’t believe?

A conversation with my parish priest reminds me of the difficulties the Church faces with baptisms, weddings and Holy Communion

By on Monday, 28 May 2012

During Mass the other morning our parish priest asked the congregation to pray for a “Day for Priests” that will be held in our diocese in July. He told us that several areas of concern would be discussed at this meeting, such as: when should the sacrament of Confirmation be administered? When should Holy Communion first be given? What should be said to cohabiting couples wanting a church wedding?

After Mass I cornered him and asked him to expand. He told me that in the early Church Confirmation was given at baptism, as the seal of faith; it seems this is still the case in the Eastern churches. Now the question arises whether it should be given to children when their faith is still immature or whether to wait until it has matured.

The pp told me that in his experience modern children were simply not ready to make their First Holy Communion at the age of seven. I mentioned St Pius X who had first ruled that children were ready by the age of seven to do so. “Ah yes” said our priest, “but in Pius X’s day the atmosphere in homes was much more pious than is generally the case today. Today children might be extremely knowledgeable in certain areas by the age of seven, such as knowing how to operate any number of technological gadgets and watching all sorts of programme on TV, but they are woefully immature when it comes to their faith. He added with emphasis, “They simply don’t have the spiritual maturity today to receive Christ with proper devotion at that age.”

He told me that once, as a school chaplain, he had been informed later that eight Hosts had been found discarded in the school hall when Mass was over. “I have called children back when I see them walking away with the Host in their hand” he added. Personally, he believes that First Holy Communion should be delayed until the Sacrament of Confirmation.

On the question of marriage, the pp told me occasionally he sees couples who, although nominally Catholic, never practise their Faith, yet tell him they want a “proper church wedding”. After a conversation with him, in which he points out what a Catholic wedding means and the responsibility of raising any children as Catholic, they usually walk away.

Over the question of baptism, he says he would have a “pleasant but frank conversation to elicit the couple’s intentions and to discover if there is a spark of faith left”. If they have no faith, he says, they also “usually go away”. For those who are cohabiting, he reminds them that if they want to receive Holy Communion they must do so in a state of grace – so need to go to Confession before the wedding.

Our pp feels embattled. He is in his late-50s and tells me that as a young man he could never have imagined the secularism he sees everywhere today. He remarks to me he thinks that “God is purifying our faith. He is telling us that we must either re-Christianise the surrounding culture or live a more spiritual Christianity ourselves.” In his view, in the past many people were cultural Catholics rather than truly pious: “This didn’t matter so much when the surrounding culture was a Christian one – but when this changed the faith of many people was weak so it collapsed likewise.” He adds, “When people tell me that everything was so much better before Vatican II, I point out to them that if this was the case, why did the faith fall away so quickly?”

Our conversation reminds me to pray harder for priests. They have an uphill battle in our society today. Yet there are also fewer of them and we need them more than ever. In this connection it was good to read Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury’s address to seminarians and staff at Oscott for the Ascension, in which he said that “Celibate chastity is a Christian sign for our times… The challenge today is to offer priests all the support they need to sustain this generous response to the call of Christ. Celibacy is not just a discipline or a practical requirement. Evangelical celibacy is a vocation.”

  • nytor

    The south of the Netherlands is, in fact, Catholic. There is a clear divide between north and south.

  • nytor

    Although it would also be helpful if the sacrament of confession was made more readily available, for more than half an hour on a Saturday morning and that the priest was actually there at the advertised times. I’m lucky – I’ve got an oratory and a cathedral here with daily confessions. This is not the case in most other places.

  • nytor

    “why would you want to make such a point of teaching children that the Catholic Church thinks that same-sex couples shouldn’t be able to get legally married and won’t recognise those marriages as religiously valid?”

    Because this is the teaching of the Church, and that is what they are there to learn, in lessons concerning religious education.

  • rjt1

    You assert “And you would be wrong.”

    I can only reply: “….in your opinion”

    “you don’t have a right to teach factual inaccuracies in school.”

    They are “factual inaccuracies” in your opinion.

    Where we are disagreeing is that Catholics hold marriage to be something more than a legal arrangement: it is a union of a man and a woman, a reality which predates the state and therefore cannot be redefined by it at will.

    We are not forbidding gays to marry, as though this were merely a matter of imposing arbitrary rules. We are merely saying that gay marriage is not marriage, whatever the state chooses to call it.

    “How would it “disadvantage” you?”
    If the state forbids us to say what we believe in a polite, reasoned way, then we are living in a totalitarian state. Something of a disadvantage.

  • Lewis P Buckingham

     dear EE,can we talk at the top

  • Lewis P Buckingham

    Before discussing teaching of truth,I wonder what is your definition of marriage? I think after your post I at least understand what some of its limits may be.A lot of those points you make have already been covered even on this page and ad nauseum previously.
    The gist of what has been said by those arguing against you is that marriage is more than an institution that is deemed by some fiat, it has characteristics that make it an objective reality independent of ones wants, needs or desires.
    Just talking generally about this, if this is not recognised as a general principal then there will always be debate about it.So Parliaments may try and resolve this,but by that very process, without cross sectional support , the debate will become difficult, offensive, divisive and ultimately hurtful to the GLTG, communities, many members of which are, or have been, my friends.If you troll through my posts on this site I have covered some of this.
    But to give a practical example, the Queensland Government, which had a strong Green Gay marriage platform went to the polls recently and were reduced to fitting into a small minibus.The then opposition opposed Gay marriage.
    The situation in the US I feel is potentially worse now that Obama has declared for Gay marriage.This is because it is a state issue not in his fiat.So people keep on rolling up with their 10,000 signatures and going for the overturn of Gay marriage legislation.Its a Republican/Democrat split.
    So you may appreciate what the members of the local Gay community that consider themselves married may be feeling today.
    As far as the schools are concerned  legislative change to change the definition of marriage at best would be a footnote in a curriculum about social studies concerning the law in that particular juristiction. Thanks for reading this,what is your definition and do you think all gay lesbian and transgender people are called to marriage?

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    I can only reply: “….in your opinion”

    Nope. As a matter of fact.

    Where we are disagreeing is that Catholics hold marriage to be something more than a legal arrangement: it is a union of a man and a woman, a reality which predates the state and therefore cannot be redefined by it at will.

    …in your opinion.

    We are not forbidding gays to marry, as though this were merely a matter of imposing arbitrary rules. We are merely saying that gay marriage is not marriage, whatever the state chooses to call it.

    …in your opinion.

    If the state forbids us to say what we believe in a polite, reasoned way, then we are living in a totalitarian state. Something of a disadvantage.

    The state does not forbid you to say what you think, even when what you think is flagrantly untrue.

    For the general good of society, we all have a right to expect that schools will teach to the facts, not to the religious doctrine.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

     Because this is the teaching of the Church, and that is what they are
    there to learn, in lessons concerning religious education.

    Fair point. In RE lessons in a Catholic school, parents can fairly expect their children to be instructed in what Catholics believe.

    In other lessons, parents can fairly expect their children will be taught factual information, not Catholic doctrrine.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

     Good plan.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

      what is your definition of marriage?

    Two people pledge to love, honour, and cherish each other lifelong.

    Where this pledge is recognised as legally binding by the state, it
    carries with it legal rights, responsibilities, and obligations, equally
    and mutually binding on each partner.

    (That is, in a country where marriage is now feminist – that is, a
    mutual and equal partnership, without privileging the man above the
    woman. In many countries and historically in this country, marriage was
    unequal: the man had rights over the woman, and the woman had
    obligations to the man, that were not equal and mutual.)

    As an atheist, my definition of religious marriage is one which is recognised by a religious faith or organisation.

    The gist of what has been said by those arguing against you is that
    marriage is more than an institution that is deemed by some fiat, it has
    characteristics that make it an objective reality independent of ones
    wants, needs or desires.

    True. I would agree to that. People who argue against gay marriage have wants, needs, and desires that make them wish to make “marriage” an institution which exists to exclude same-sex couples.The independent, objective reality of marriage is that which is defined by legislation.

    The situation in the US I feel is potentially worse now that Obama has
    declared for Gay marriage.This is because it is a state issue not in his
    fiat.So people keep on rolling up with their 10,000 signatures and
    going for the overturn of Gay marriage legislation.Its a
    Republican/Democrat split.

    I disagree. For most people, once legislation lifts the ban on same-sex marriage, it is not a big issue. I’m not exactly a fan of Barack Obama, but he is a consumnate campaigner: he would never have come out in favour of gay marriage if he had not calculated that this will help, not hurt him at the polls. (More about this here, if you’re interested.)

    As far as the schools are concerned  legislative change to change the
    definition of marriage at best would be a footnote in a curriculum about
    social studies concerning the law in that particular juristiction.

    Well, that same-sex couples can marry will doubtless come up naturally in various classes and subjects. But I agree that “who can and can’t marry” is not really a class topic in itself for primary and secondary school children.

  • WSquared

     …what the heck does “Big it Up for Jesus” even mean?!

  • Fr.Thomas Poovathinkal

    QUOTE: “Evangelical celibacy is a vocation.”

    TRUE. TO BE PRECISE, IT IS A PERSONAL CALL OF CHRIST THE LORD.

    BUT THEN IN ORGANISED CHRISTIANITY PRIESTHOOD HAS ENDED UP AS A PROFESSION.
    AND IT IS FOUND AS A PROFESSION  WHICH PAYS WELL IN TERMS OF THIS WORLDLY
    CURRENCY, COMFORTS AND STATUS AND IT PROVIDES  EVEN THE FACILITY TO MAKE
    THE BEST OF BOTH THE WORLDS! BECAUSE OF ALL THESE PRIESTS MAY BE GOOD AT
    PERFORMING THE RITUALS OF “THE DEAD” BUT NOT SO GOOD AT PROCLAIMING
    GOD’S WORD. AS A CONSEQUENCE FAITH OF THE PEOPLE DOES NOT GROW UP TO MATURITY
    AND FRUITFULNESS. THEY EASILY FALL AWAY.

    SACRAMENTAL RITUALS ARE SECONDARY IN THE SENSE THESE ARE ALL DERIVED FROM THE
    WORD OF GOD. EVEN THE EUCHARIST IS EUCHARIST BECAUSE OF THE WORD OF GOD. THE
    WORD OF GOD IS FOUNDATIONAL.IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR FROM WHERE FAITH IN
    GOD COMES TO A PERSON.

    CHURCHES WHICH DO NOT PROCLAIM GOD’S WORD IN THE SPIRIT OF THE APOSTLES
    GRADUALLY DIE OUT. WHEREVER THE WORD OF GOD IS PROCLAIMED IN THE SPIRIT OF THE
    APOSTLES, PEOPLE FLOCK; THE SPIRIT OF JESUS DRAWS THEM TO THE PROCLAIMING
    APOSTLE. SEE WHAT HAPPENED WHEN PETER THE APOSTLE OPENED HIS MOUTH!

    THE TWELVE SPECIAL ONES OF THE LORD WERE NOT MERE PRIESTS. THEY WERE MORE
    IMPORTANTLY APOSTLES.

    ORGANISED CHRISTIANITY RULES BY DIVIDING PRIESTHOOD FROM APOSTLESHIP.

    A RITUALISED PRIEST EVEN WHEN HE GIVES THE WORD OF GOD THERE IS NO VIBRATION;
    THERE IS NO UNCTION. IT DOES NOT TICKLE OR INFLAME THE HEARTS OF THE HEARERS.
    WHEN THERE IS NO UNCTION OF THE SPIRIT, IT IS WHAT HAPPENS. SO PEOPLE GO AWAY;
    THEY LEAVE THE CHURCH.

  • theroadmaster

    The state of marriage involving many wives i.e polygamy, is an exceptional variant to to the norm of one man and one woman.  It was and still is only to be found in certain regional cultures in Africa and Asia, but has disappeared from the rest of the globe.  Marriage has been intrinsically linked in the natural order of things, in both religious and non-religious societies over thousands of years to the sacred union of one man and one woman.  Even the reality of polygamy does not change this arrangement.
    Parliaments can legislate as they like, according to the latest opinion poll of the moment, but the long accepted definition of marriage has outlasted fads and fashions over many centuries.  Social experimentation in relation to extending legal “marriage” rights to same-sex couples, threatens to undermine marriage as it is properly understood i.e union of one man and woman and open to procreation.  “Same-sex” unions can never fulfill these necessary ingredients and thus do not constitute a marriage.
    Your assertion that Catholic teachings on the nature of marriage only entered schools in recent times, is very wide of the mark.  In fact, the Christian view of marriage, has been taught in Catholic schools for many years.

  • rjt1

    “Nope” -  well that’s settled then (not)

    “in my opinion”, which I think would correspond to the teaching of the Church (which is not just my opinion, though I fully expect you to assert the opposite).

    “teach to the facts”: yes: the trouble is that you and I are disagreeing about what those facts are, but you are suggesting that we should not have the right to communicate what we believe to be the facts.

    The Church’s teaching would draw on a natural law tradition which is not dependent on revelation. It appeals to the facts of human nature.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

     “in my opinion”, which I think would correspond to the teaching of the Church

    As I noted elsewhere on this thread, in RE classes in a Catholic school, it’s reasonable for children to be instructed in what Catholics believe.

    But in all other classes, the children should be taught facts, not Catholic doctrine.

    “teach to the facts”: yes: the trouble is that you and I are disagreeing about what those facts are,

    True, but this is because I’m pointing at verifable facts, and you are pointing at doctrine. When it is a fact that two men can marry, and doctrine says this isn’t true, the school should teach to the facts (everywhere except RE classes….)

    but you are suggesting that we should not have the right to communicate what we believe to be the facts.

    Well, yes. You should not expect to have a right to mislead schoolchildren in class. Facts are facts: when two women can get married, it is misleading to claim that they can’t.

    The Church’s teaching would draw on a natural law tradition which is not
    dependent on revelation. It appeals to the facts of human nature.

    In your opinion.

    In fact, since natural law and the facts of human nature are that normal human sexual orientation can be gay, straight, or bisexual, the Church’s teaching goes flat contrary to natural law and is markedly unappealling to human nature….

  • Parasum

    “What about the influence of secular society?”

    ## That didn’t stop the Apostles. For the Church today to be so foolish as to plead its secular environment as an excuse for its Godawful performance, implies that it is not the Church of the Apostles.

    Evangelicals can flourish in an unwelcome climate, so why can’t the CC ?  Structure & size are part of the problem, & an unceasing flow of paperwork. The Top should shut up, and let the rest of us find the solutions that suit the problems the different Churches have, instead of imposing this asinine & moronic one-size-fits-all policy from the top. This is not the Roman  Empire – it is *supposed* to be a Church. If the Apostles had had to deal with the flow of ephemeral blather from Rome now swamping the Church, they would never have left Jerusalem. Rome is aborting all possibility of growth & renewal & reform. It really needs to stop thinking that Christianity revolves around the Papacy.

  • Parasum

    Of course there was an increase – because Catholics did not stop producing offspring. But the stats for conversion, & for so many other indices of Catholic practice, have gone through the floor. If the Church is really Divine, it should not be only as large as natural increase allows it to be. It doesn’t evangelise, its preaching is abysmally bad, & Catholics are not well-formed:quite apart from being throttled by the apron-strings of the clergy. If the d*** thing were a mummy, it would be less scandal-ridden, & no more ineffective. 

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

     The state of marriage involving many wives i.e polygamy, is an exceptional variant to to the norm of one man and one woman.

    It is certainly exceptional: a man would have to be above-average wealthy to be able to support two or more wives. But it is a constant in cultures with unequal marriage laws.

    Parliaments can legislate as they like, according to the latest opinion
    poll of the moment, but the long accepted definition of marriage has
    outlasted fads and fashions over many centuries.

    *raises eyebrow*

    Well.

    One, if you genuinely believe that, what’s the big deal? Why make a fuss over the Westminister and the Scottish Parliament legislating to lift the ban on same-sex marriage, if you’re really, sincerely certain that it will make no difference?

    Two, No one has been able to show any difference that would be made to mixed-sex married couples if same-sex couples can also marry.

     Your assertion that Catholic teachings on the nature of marriage only
    entered schools in recent times, is very wide of the mark.  In fact, the
    Christian view of marriage, has been taught in Catholic schools for
    many years.

    Interesting. How many years? In 1950, when gay men could be (and sometimes were) chemically castrated or put in prison for having sex with another man, Catholic schools would teach students formally and specifically that two men could not marry?

    I ask because I know people my age who went to Catholic schools in Glasgow and in Edinburgh in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of them remember various degrees of homophobic abuse from the teachers and the other pupils, but none of them report gay marriage being mentioned as part of the curriculum.

    Yet you’re claiming that, for “many years” Catholic schools have been teaching this…?

  • LizDymphna

    God bless you, Father. You have my prayers.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     
    1.YOU COULD LEARN SOMETHING FROM GOOD MISSIONARIES WHO ALWAYS AIMED AT THE CHILDREN AND ACTED POSITIVELY.

    2.WHY NOT PLACE YOUR HAND OVER SUCH PEOPLE AND PRAY USING THE WORD OF GOD FOR AN INCREASE OF FAITH IN THEM (THE FACT THAT THEY HAVE COME TO YOU COUNTS FOR SOME DEGREE OF FAITH ALREADY)?
    USE THE TEXTS: A) MK.2:1-12; JN.11:1-54; JN.4:4-42

    3.RECOMMENDING REGULAR MEDITATION ON GOD’S WORD IS WORTH (TO START WITH: 1.GENESIS AND EXODUS 2. GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN 3. ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 4. ROMANS 5.BOOKS OF THE PROPHETS) IT INCREASES FAITH IN PEOPLE.

    4.WHERE RITUALISM DOMINATES, FAITH DIES OUT.
    WHAT ENLIVENS ONE’S LIFE AND BRINGS SALVATION TO PEOPLE IS GOD’S WORD.SACRAMENTS ADD TO IT.
    PRIESTS WHO HAVE NOT TASTED THE SWEETNESS OF THE LORD IN HIS WORD CAN PERFORM ONLY DRY, RITUALS OF THE DEAD. WHEREVER SUCH PRIESTS ABOUND FAITH DIES OUT.

    5.RECOMMEND PEOPLE FOR FEW RETREATS IN THE DIVINE RETREAT CENTRE, MURINGOOR, CHALAKUDY, KERALA – 680 316, INDIA.
    6.ME YOUR WELL-WISHER: poovamfuture@yahoo.com

  • Jae

    While I agree with you in some extent about some catholics are poorly catechized, anyways it’s a different subject. The Church took almost 2,000 years from the time of the Pentacost, circa 33 A.D. to pre-Vatican II era, circa 1960 A.D. (1,960 years) to spread the Good News and evangelize the world to the tune of 435 million Catholics as of 1960′s. Today in just 50 years after the promulgation of Council of Vatican II, catholic population is 1.2 BILLION, that is almost triple the size before VII..IN JUST 50 YEARS!!! Including some conversions of very brilliant biblical and historical scholars that are on fire catholics defending the Faith against their former congregations!

    I don’t know what is happening, but one thing is for sure the Spirit of God is on the move and the numbers don’t deny this! Amen.

  • Patrickhowes

    Agreed,but are they really devout Catholics?I am aware that Holland used to produce very good nuns but I have always thought of Holland being a Protestant country

  • Aussie Seminarian

     Well done Father if I am Ordained, God willing, I shall practice the same policy. God Bless and be safe.

  • Susan

    I can understand how the priest feels, but can’t help thinking that he’s been unconsciously influenced by the prevalent attitude towards the sacraments seen as rewards for established virtue, rather than necessary helps to holiness. Baptism begins the life of God in the soul, confession is medicine for the soul, Holy Communion is food for the soul, confirmation strengthens and matures faith.
    For years in any parish I’ve come across, baptism seems to be treated as a diploma given to parents if they can prove that they are involved in parish activities and no mention is made of baptism as a work of God in the child’s soul. ‘Instruction’ for first Communion seems to be a morass of sociological froth, ditties about ‘the bread and wine’, and little or nothing about Communion being Christ himself coming to each child. Waiting for confirmation until ‘faith has matured’ is putting things back to front, when maturing faith is the work of the sacrament,not something to be achieved first and then the sacrament given as a sort of reward.
    Pius X was quite right about the time for first Communion being when the child can distinguish between the Sacrament and ordinary bread.It’s easy enough to teach that to very young children if only the schools would leave behind their post-Vat II RE materials and use the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the basis for teaching the facts of the Faith.
    As for Hosts found on the floor – that has been a recurring problem ever since permission was given for Communion in the hand, and is not a problem confined to school Masses.It is something of a red herring when considering at what age children are ready for first Communion.

  • maryclare

    Vatican 2 did not give us false doctrines disciplines and sacraments. Misinterpreting the Concil is what caused this. How many of the Documents have you actually read, studied and understood. 

  • Prmackin

    Superb

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    Looking forward to your post supporting the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, by the way. Sounds like they’re being given a hard time, too.