Just recently, my Master of Divinity students and I were discussing the topic of teaching Confirmation in a parish. Many of them expressed frustration at their experience, saying things like:

  • “They are not interested at all.”
  • “I just can’t seem to engage them.”
  • “Why are they here?!?!”

All of them were sharing their experience working with middle school and high school teens. The reality that they named was that many of these young people had no desire to be there and that they were being forced to attend the program.

The conversation quickly turned to why we teach Confirmation at all.

Aha! Now that’s a great question!

All of my students were focused on the idea of “teaching” Confirmation. Why do we “teach” a sacrament? Isn’t faith about community and relationships, as well as knowledge? I began to watch my students minds ponder something they had never pondered before. They quickly began to re-construct their image of sacramental preparation.

I reminded them that we have inherited our view of sacramental preparation and faith formation.

But from where?

I think it is important to understand the history of faith formation in the United States and how it effects the way we minister today.

The 19th and early 20th century was hugely defining for the Church in the United States as most Catholics were immigrants that were not fondly looked upon by a Protestant nation. We know that many Catholics were clearly discriminated against, being seen as poor, dirty, and lazy.  One of the responses of the Church was to provide Catholic schools where Catholic students could get an excellent education AND receive an understanding of the teachings of the Church.

At this time, there was no parish faith faith formation or parish sacramental preparation. Because all Catholics sent their kids to Catholic schools, they received their formation in school. (Granted, the parish and the school were very much intertwined.)

Fast forward to the mid-20th century, Catholics achieved more upward mobility, which caused Catholics to be more integrated into the wider society in which students of Catholic families had less of a need to go to Catholic schools and began to attend public school.

In response, the Church developed parish faith formation and sacramental preparation because Catholic’s were no longer getting faith formation at school. But because we were used to doing it in a school setting, we kept the classroom model going in the parish.

Fast forward to today, there is still a strong mentality that “teaching” the faith in a classroom setting is the best approach.

Granted, this is a simplified history, but it does reveal one reason why we do faith formation the way we do.

My students started to discuss how faith formation might be adjusted to move away from the idea of “teaching” and move more towards focusing in relationships. There is certainly still a need to “teach” faith, but as one student suggested, it is relationships with each other that leads people to Christ.

Question: How do you think this history has shaped your view of sacramental preparation?