A Dispatch from the Field: Presenting the Sacraments at Confirmation Class (Guest Post)

In this guest post, Tom Palanza offers part one of a two-part guest post: Presenting the Sacramental Life to Fourteen Year Old Catechumen

Confirmation Class: Lambs Making Peace with Lions
Confirmation Class: Lambs Making Peace with Lions

Each Sunday in the basement of St. Brigid church in South Boston, sixty teenage catechumens gather together in prayer and the love of Christ to be guided by ten spiritually mature members of the parish through a series of presentations and discussions that will deepen and expand their understanding of the faith that they will claim as their own and enter into full participation in by receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation at the end of this April.

In this ideal, discussing the sacraments with fourteen year old catechumens would be a great experience, and easy too.  But that’s obviously not the situation we find ourselves in week after week (if it is your situation, then please leave your parish’s address in the comments section below).  Instead of a room full of faces growing in awe and amazement during presentations like “The History of Baptism” or “The Ritual of Baptism,” presenters are probably more used to seeing a room full of heads bobbing and nodding in boredom during such talks.  The question – the challenge – then becomes, “How do you present baptism (or any sacrament) to fourteen year old catechumens in a language they can understand so that they can see for themselves the power and beauty that is an innate part of the sacrament and enables them to chew on the meaning of the sacrament on their own and participate in them with all their heart, all their soul, all their strength, and all their mind?”

With this as our starting point (what do the students need?) two basic concepts stand out as vital for the catechumens to internalize in order to grow in a sacramental life: what a sacrament is and why we do sacraments.  It is fair to ask here, “Don’t the catechumens already know enough about these two concepts?”  It is also fair to wonder if a presentation on those concepts is any less boring than a history lesson!  As for the first concern, ask yourself this, “Do YOU know what a sacrament is and why Christians do them?  What would you tell someone who asked you to explain to them what a sacrament is and why Christians do them?”  Many “professional” theology students would find these questions hard to answer, it seems safe to assume that it would be a challenge for fourteen year old catechumens too.  As for the second concern, we would emphatically answer, “Yes, a presentation on sacraments can be much better than a history lesson!” and hope to show one way this can be done by outlining the presentation on baptism given to the St. Brigid catechumens.

Senior Photo

Thomas Palanza Jr. is a student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry in the Master of Theological Studies program.  He earned his undergraduate degree in theology from the Catholic University of America.  While he loves all areas of theology, it is St. Paul and St. Augustine who most frequently soften his hardness of heart and his family, friends, and professors who open it up even more.

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3 thoughts on “A Dispatch from the Field: Presenting the Sacraments at Confirmation Class (Guest Post)”

  1. Thanks for all the post on Confirmation! They are quite timely. I teach sacraments to HS sophomores, though more often than not they teach me!

    I like Tom’s two basic concepts. In my class, my students have almost gotten sick of it, but over and over they are reminded “God uses stuff.” If Jesus uses spit and mud to heal and have people be touched by grace; we can use water and oil and touch, and bread etc. It can be simplistic I know. I think one of the best things we can is to try to trigger their sacramental imagination, by finding and using what is good in culture, art, movies and literature.

  2. We take a somewhat different approach. By and large our candidates are well-catechized at this stage of their formation, so to spend an evening discussing “Baptism” (for instance) seems redundant. And yes, if we did that the youth would be bored out of their skulls. Our 90 minute sessions feature strong focus on community-building… not just “Getting to know you” but the importance of community, particularly in a faith context. And while we talk about sacraments, it’s not “This is what a sacrament is according to Catholic Church teaching” but “This is how we live out the sacraments according to Christ.” Our expectation is they understand what it means to live the life of a disciple, not how many questions they get correct on the “Everything you should know about Sacraments” quiz. As Friar Matt Foley noted, helping them understand their faith in the context of cultural reference points – music, film, art, literature, etc. – is essential to the concepts we link to the Confirmation formation process taking hold in their being.

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