Parents not schools to lead communion preparations, says Archbishop of Dublin

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin says new approach, centred on parents and parishes, should begin immediately

The Archbishop of Dublin has announced “significant” reforms aimed at moving the focus of sacramental preparation away from schools and towards the family and to parishes.

This will include preparations that take place outside school hours as the church seeks to move the emphasis off schools. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said training for the reform campaign, which will be implemented on a phased basis, should begin immediately.

A consultation has been taking place throughout the Archdiocese in an effort, he said, “to strengthen the bond between family, parish and schools in preparing children for sacraments”. It is thought this process was a response to a sense that sacramental preparation, such as for first communion and confirmation, had become too school-focused.

Dr Martin wrote to priests and parishes this week informing them that the Priests Council had endorsed a new approach to the sacraments which would be centred on “supporting parents in sharing faith with their children and that in time will see parishes assume responsibility for the preparation and celebration of all four sacraments”.

In his letter he reminded priests that “more and more Catholic children today attend other than Catholic schools. The proposal is not something that will be accomplished overnight; it cannot however be put forever on the long finger. We must begin now.”

“It will take some time to put in place an effective development of parish capacity to implement this initiative,” he wrote. “We need however to begin immediately with the preparation and training of voluntary lay catechists and the development of resource materials.”

The changes will also raise the possibility of schools spending less time on sacramental preparation during school hours. Catholic schools are entitled to set aside up to 30 minutes of the day for faith formation, although teachers have said these preparations can take longer.

Pilot programmes are planned to enable the preparations to be done outside of school hours, and the programme will be rolled out on a phased basis, depending on the resources available to each parish. The decision is the culmination of a process that began in September 2018 with the establishment of a sacraments review team, which led a consultation process that included an online survey which received 1800 responses.

The review group was partially established in response to concerns that sacraments were running the risk of being turned in to social occasions rather than moments of faith.

An implementation group is to be set up to examine a range of issues, including communicating with schools and parents, recruiting and training volunteers, as well as providing resources and finance for the transition.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times