Opening Statement. The Sacraments of the Church

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1 Opening Statement The celebration of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is considered the normative experience of initiation into the faith community of the Church. 1 The norm, as stated in the new Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, is for a person to receive all three Sacraments of Initiation during the annual celebration of the Easter Vigil, this taking place after a suitable period of formation known as the catechumenate. This norm must be adapted when used for children. The General Introduction found in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, as well as the introductions to rites of Baptism of Children and Confirmation by bishops, make clear that the premier rite is that of full initiation of adults, and that all other rites of initiation are to be understood in this context. 2 In recognising that the processes of initiation of children are indeed different to that of adults, it can be seen that certain features will be common to both. 3 The Sacraments of the Church The sacraments of the New Testament were instituted by Christ the Lord and entrusted to the Church. As actions of Christ and of the Church, they are signs and means by which faith is expressed and strengthened, worship is offered to God and our sanctification is brought about. Thus they contribute in the most effective manner to establishing, strengthening and manifesting ecclesiastical communion. 4 From the time of the apostles, becoming a Christian has been accomplished by a journey and initiation in several stages. This journey can be covered rapidly or slowly, but certain essential elements will always have to be present: proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith, Baptism itself, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and admission to Eucharistic communion. 5 In the Church today, all the sacraments are seen as sacred links that unite the faithful to each other and bind them to Christ. 6 The seven sacraments of the Church include the three sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist), the two sacraments of healing (Penance and Anointing of the Sick) and the two sacraments at the service of communion and the mission of the faithful (Marriage and Holy Orders). 7 It is the communion that is achieved through our sacramental life, our communion with God and each other, that is the aim of our journey of faith. It is our Eucharistic life that is seen primarily as the means to achieve this communion. 8 1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Homebush: St Paul s, 1994), Par 1229; cf Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, (Sydney: E.J. Dwyer, 1987), General Introduction, #1 & 2; Second Vatican Council, Ad Gentes, 1965, #14. 2 Diocese of Parramatta, Sacraments of Initiation for Children (Parramatta, NSW: Diocese of Parramatta, 1999), p RCIA,# Codes Iuris Canonici: (The Code of Canon Law), J. Coriden, T.J Green, D. E. Heintschel (eds) The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, Study Edition, (New York, Paulist Press, 1985) # Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Homebush: St Paul s, 1994), # CCC, # CCC, # CCC, #950. 1

2 Theological Perspective The Sacraments of Christian Initiation The sacraments of Christian initiation Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist lay the foundations of every Christian life: The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development and nourishing of natural life 9 Baptism is the first of the Sacraments of Initiation. It flows and leads to Confirmation and Eucharist. 10 The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity. 11 In Baptism we are incorporated into Christ and formed into God s people. This first sacrament pardons our sins and rescues us from the power of darkness, bringing us to the dignity of adopted children, a new creation through water and the Holy Spirit. Therefore we are called and are indeed the children of God. 12 Through Confirmation we are filled with the Holy Spirit and made more completely in the image of the Lord, so that we bear witness to him in the world and work to bring the Body of Christ to its fullness. 13 Finally, at the table of the Eucharist, we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man so that we may have eternal life and demonstrate the unity of God s people. By offering ourselves with Christ, we share in the universal sacrifice, that is, the entire community of the redeemed offered to God by their High Priest, and we pray for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the whole human race may be brought into the unity of God s family. 14 Therefore, the three sacraments of Christian initiation closely combine to bring us, the faithful of Christ, to his full stature and to enable us to carry out the mission of the entire people of God in the Church and the world. 15 Parishes working with families who desire their children to participate in the sacramental life of the Church need to develop processes that encourage parents to understand and accept their role in these processes and assist them in the undertaking of this role. These processes commence with the baptism of children within the parish and continue through to adulthood. Key groups within the parish have specific roles in support of parents and the wider parish in the processes that welcome children into the sacramental life of the Church. In response to these issues, the has adopted an approach to sacramental preparation processes that is centred on the family, based within the parish, and supported by the parish primary school and catechetical team. 9 CCC # Elio Capra SDB, Important Statements About Infant Baptism, (Unpublished document) CCC, RCIA, General Introduction #2. 13 RCIA, General Introduction # RCIA, General Introduction #2. 15 RCIA, General Introduction # 2 2

3 The Role of the Family It is through the grace of the sacrament of Marriage that parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelising their children. 16 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. 17 Education in faith by the parents should begin in the child s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family Catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. 18 The family unit, understood as the domestic church, 19 has the primary responsibility to form and gradually increase the spirit of faith in children. 20 The Christian family is called to announce the Gospel to children and to bring them through a progressive education and catechesis to the fullness of human and Christian maturity. 21 In undertaking this sharing of faith, parents are able to lead their children to an understanding of and desire for the sacraments. A family centred and parish based sacramental process can create particular opportunities for parents to continue sharing their faith with their children at appropriate times. 22 As part of fulfilling this responsibility and in preparing their children for the sacraments, parents along with other parish members need to be intimately involved. Parents are an essential part of the discerning process which needs to precede the presentation of their children for sacramental celebrations. 23 With the child s first experience of community being their family, and with their journey of faith heavily dependent upon and influenced by their family, the process of initiation into the Church community needs to be centred on the family. 24 Here, the wider parish can assist parents through the development of sacramental processes that are based in the parish and centred on the family, creating opportunities for parents to share the journey of faith with their children in an atmosphere that is supportive and encouraging CCC #2225; John Paul II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (1982), # CCC # CCC # CCC #2204.cf Lumen Gentium #11, FC #21 20 Rite of Confirmation (Sydney: E.J. Dwyer, 1973), #3. 21 FC #2. 22 Diocese of Parramatta, Sacraments of Initiation for Children, p Diocese of Parramatta, Sacraments of Initiation for Children, cf RCIA # Rita Burns Senseman, A Child s Journey: The Christian Initiation of Children (Cincinnati: St Anthony Messenger Press, 1998) p Burns Senseman, A Child s Journey p. 6. 3

4 Theological Perspective The Role of the Parish Community It is in the parish that new members are able to learn about their religion and how to live it out. 26 Hence all parishioners have the duty of handing on the faith and the whole community is responsible for the initiation of new members. Within this support network, the celebration of the sacraments is an important way that the community integrates the faith formation of new members into its own lifestyle and worship. In doing this, the parish community is passing on faith and religious values to, praying for, and setting the example of Christian living to be followed by the newly initiated. 27 The parish is called to support the Christian family by providing a broader community where the child can experience the Christian way of life. This support role to families is vital as families today can face an array of values that are not always in harmony with their own. In all of this, the child s initiation into the faith community can be a journey of conversion for both the child and the child s family. Initiation into the life of the Church is a gradual process, one that takes place within the community of the faithful. The whole community is responsible for passing on its faith, its story, its values and its traditions to the next generation. It is also responsible for introducing its children into the sacramental life of the Church. The participation of the faith community is required prior to, during and after the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation. 28 The people of God as represented by the local Church, should understand and show their concern that initiation of new members into the community is the responsibility of all who are baptised. Therefore, the community must always be fully prepared in the pursuit of its apostolic vocation to give help to those who are searching for Christ. 29 The parish is the place where the Christian community is formed and expressed. It is called to be a fraternal and welcoming family where Christians become aware of being the people of God. The parish is also the usual place in which the faith is born and in which it grows. It is therefore the ideal place for the realisation of the ministry of the Word as teaching, education and life experience. 30 In the various circumstances of daily life all the followers of Christ have the obligation of spreading their faith according to their abilities. 31 The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at baptism. 32 When initiating children, the sacramental preparation process is best situated in the evangelising parish community, as this is the community into which the candidate is being initiated. 33 Before and after the celebration of the sacrament, the child has a right to the love and help of the community. 34 This community is called to celebrate the welcome of the newly initiated and, through its involvement in sacramental preparation, is able to live out the implications of that welcome RCIA #4. 27 RCIA #9. 28 Diocese of Parramatta, Sacraments p. 1-4; cf RCIA #4 & RCIA#9. 30 Diocese of Parramatta, p.1-6. cf Congregation for the Clergy, General Directory for Catechesis, (Vatican: Libreria Editrice, 1997) # RCIA,9. 32 CCC # Diocese of Parramatta,, p The Rite of Baptism for Children, Introduction (Sydney: E.J. Dwyer,1971) #4. 35 Diocese of Parramatta,, p.1-7, cf RBC, 79. 4

5 The Role of the School and Catechists By their very natures, the Catholic school and the parish catechetical program have important relationships with the family and the wider parish. They are called to support what is happening in family and parish life. With religious education intrinsic to the ethos of the Catholic school and the parish catechetical program, education in faith, with and in support of parents, is a priority. 36 Both can also assist the parish in its role of adult faith education. This can be achieved through inclusion of material in newsletters and bulletins, providing family activities and offering parent information sessions in conjunction with the parish for a number of different purposes. In this supportive role, the Catholic school and parish catechetical program are important means for human and Christian formation. In recognising this, they should endeavour to develop an atmosphere oriented toward the message of salvation proclaimed in the Gospels and by the Church, and animated by a spirit of liberty and charity. 37 Children s experiences in school and catechetical programs can be enhanced through the ongoing celebration of liturgy in its various forms, for example, Eucharistic celebrations, prayer, ministry of the Word, catechesis, homilies, reconciliation services, instruction in utilising symbol in liturgical ceremonies. 36 GDC # GDC #259. 5

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