I have already mentioned the Holy Father’s most recent Q&A session, and having now read the whole thing, I think it is one of his best. I will, over the next few days, put up a few bits and pieces from this discussion. Above all, he here reveals how truly pastoral his vision and care for the flock of Christ.
In the last Question, Fr Paolo Rizzi wants to hear the Pope’s opinion “regarding the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation [when] more and more the children and young people who receive these sacraments prepare themselves well during catechetical sessions, but then don’t come to Sunday Mass. It’s natural to ask what sense this makes.” Here is part of Benedict’s response:
Well, I can’t give an infallible answer right now [Chuckle! Good one, Holy Father!], I can only try to respond based on what I see. I have to say that I’ve followed a path similar to yours. When I was young I was rather more severe [Something of an admission there]. I said: the sacraments are the sacraments of the faith, and when the faith isn’t there, where there’s not practice of the faith, the sacraments can’t be conferred. When I was Archbishop of Munich I always discussed this with my pastors, and there too there were too factions, one severe and one more generous. I too in the course of time have realized that we have to follow instead the example of the Lord, who was very open also with the people who were at the margins of Israel at that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open – according to many of the official authorities – with sinners, welcoming them or allowing himself to be welcomed by them at their dinners, drawing them to himself in his communion.
Thus I would say in essence that the sacraments are naturally sacraments of the faith [That’s straight from the Catholic Catechism folks, p. 1122 – in the light of our traditional “ex opere operato” doctrine, it still sounds very Lutheran doesn’t it? ]. Where there is no element of faith, where First Communion would just be a party with a big lunch, nice clothes and nice gifts, then it can’t be a sacrament of the faith [We had first communions in our parish on Sunday, and believe me, the impression that this is all it is about was very strong]. But, on the other hand, if we can see even a tiny flame of desire for communion in the church, a desire also from these children who want to enter into communion with Jesus, it seems right to me to be rather generous. Naturally, for sure, it must be part of our catechesis to make clear that Communion, First Communion, is not automatic, but it demands a continuity of friendship with Jesus, a path with Jesus. I know that children often have the intention and desire to go to Sunday Mass, but their parents don’t make it possible [ie. Don’t blame the kids!]. If we see that the children want it, that they have the desire to go, it seems to me almost a sacrament of desire, the ‘vow’ of participation at Sunday Mass. In this sense we naturally should do everything possible in the context of sacramental preparation to also reach the parents [every pastor who has stopped to think about this question ultimately realises that this is the only answer: don’t just catechise the kids – use the sacramental program to evangelise the parents!]and – let’s say – also awaken in them a sensibility for the path that their children are taking. They should help their children to follow their own desire to enter into friendship with Jesus, which is the form of life, of the future. If the parents have the desire that their children should make the First Communion, this somewhat social desire should be expanded into a religious desire to make possible a journey with Jesus.
I would say, therefore, that in the context of catechism with children, the work with parents is always very important [and yet so many parishes still fail to put their resources into this area]. It’s an occasion for meeting the parents, making the life of faith present also to the adults, so that they themselves can learn anew from the children – it seems to me – and to understand that this great solemnity makes sense only, and it’s true and authentic only if, it’s realized in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith. The challenge is to convince the parents a bit, through the children, of the necessity of a preparatory path, which reveals itself in participation in the mysteries and begins to foster love for those mysteries. [Those of us who are (or have been) pastors know that this is what we have to do – it takes planning and a lot of work – and yet it happens. Thus the parish school becomes a brige for the new evangelisation of the home.]