Church moves on Communion frills

 

STRETCH LIMOS, fake tan, long flowing designer dresses and enormous parties could become a thing of the past at First Communions in the Republic if plans by the Catholic Church to curb the worst excesses of the day come to pass.

While many of the more lavish expenses, including gilded carriages depositing children at the church gates carrying pearl-encrusted parasols as professional photographers record their every move may either be apocryphal or have gone the way of the Celtic Tiger, the reality is that Irish families still spend an awful lot on First Communions.

In fact, the Republic’s families collectively spent about €45 million celebrating First Communions this year, with a further €26 million collected by children in the form of cash gifts from friends and family.

The church wants to see that spending dramatically reduced and yesterday the Archdiocese of Dublin published a policy document aimed at addressing the issue. “I believe there is something wrong with extravagance,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said.

“First Communion has to be something simple. I think we have to keep to that. It’s up to every parish then to decide what way they go about that to ensure there isn’t extraordinary expense.”

Parishes may have their work cut out for them, however.

According to one survey published this summer, Irish families spent an average of €744 on the day out this year, down from €1,000 spent in 2011.

The poll of more than 1,000 parents of children who made their First Communion, which was carried out by a leading financial institution, found families spent an average of €179 on Communion outfits and accessories, with €176 going on clothes for the rest of the family.

A further €303 was spent on food and drink at post-Communion parties, while the cost of entertainment was put at €86.

Then there was the money that ended up in the pockets of the children. The average amount collected by communicants – who numbered about 60,000 this year – fell from €468 in 2011 to €432 this year. While the amount fell, it was still close to €26 million.

The archbishop said that people “should be very clearly looking at the amount of money spent on outfits, sometimes transport and partying as well”.

He said memories of First Communions tended to be “very simple memories, memories of a nice day. And I think you can have a nice day without the exaggerations. Some places they wear an alb [white tunic], sometimes they wear a school uniform.”

A move towards uniforms would most likely have the support of many parents, if not their children. Earlier this year, the Ray D’Arcy Show on Today FM carried out a poll asking listeners whether there should be a directive from the Department of Education that uniforms should be worn for Communion rather than dresses and suits.

Nearly 1,700 listeners voted, with three-quarters, or 1,262, favouring a ban on dresses and 25 per cent saying the frills should stay.

Archbishop Martin described the First Communion as “a very special day” and said there were “ways of ensuring people don’t get into debt because of First Communion. That’s wrong.” He said a much greater involvement of parishes and the parents was needed in accompanying them in the preparatory period.

He also said there would be changes in how children were prepared for First Communion in Dublin and there would be a shift from the school to the parents and parish.

NEW GUIDELINES SHIFT TO PARENTS

There was a broad welcome yesterday from parents to the new guidelines from the Catholic Church on preparing Dublin children for their First Communion.

The guidelines, published by the Archdiocese of Dublin, are designed to see a shift from the classroom back to parents and the parish.

One of the aims is to ensure more regular Mass attendance by the child and parents in the year leading up to the First Communion. Áine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents’ Council, Primary, said the guidelines were in line with the recommendations of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, published by the Department of Education in April.

It recommended that less class time be taken up with preparation of children for First Communion.

“We haven’t read the details of what’s involved in the new guidelines but we would welcome moving the responsibility for holy communion more to the parents and the parishes.”

Among the comments on Twitter in response to a question asking if the new guidelines were a good idea, were:

“Yes! If people want their kids baptised/educated/Communion in RCC they should be part of said church! Its not pick n mix religion.”;

“Yes shouldnt they be doing this already? If not, why do they want their kids to pretend to be religious when theyre not?”;

“Certainly! It will demonstrate true level of parents interest and faith when greater effort and input is needed.”;

“Yes. Would love to see how it will be enforced though”; and,

“Of course, also dont think Communion prep should be done in core class time but post school day.”

KITTY HOLLAND