Post 241

The Talk: Reflections on Giving up Your Cloak

So on Sunday at the Basilica, we got The Talk.

You know. “The Talk.”

It’s the one where the priest tells you to donate more money, either by pre-authorized payments directly from your bank account or “at least” by envelope. (The alternative to envelopes is dropping money directly into the collection basket that circulates during Mass.)

It doesn’t happen everywhere like this, but it happens far too often, and almost every Catholic has heard a variation of it.

On Sunday it was Fr. Martin Carroll who tried, unsuccessfully, to deliver a homily which connected the readings of the day with The Talk.

Then he split.


He didn’t stay to concelebrate the Mass. He was outta there, having said what he wanted to say.

I see.

Yeah, it was one of the lamer variations on this whole thing, not only because he high-tailed it out of there immediately after, but because the homily got all mangled after being warped into a demand for cash. I was going to say that it was a plea for cash, but it wasn’t. Donating money was very much connected with personal sanctity, and the take-home message was that You Need to Examine Whether You Have Listened to Fr. Martin Carroll’s ‘Suggestion’ of Donating Your First Hour of Pay for the Week to the Church. We were told to consider this in particular when we received our tax receipt in the near future.

Hmm. My first hour of income for the week?

How about if I just send you a Facebook friend request instead? Not on Facebook? That’s good.

Priests should NOT be on Facebook.


But back to the Mass, the main celebrant was dignified throughout, and his closing blessing was not marred by any chit-chat-hey-howya-doin’-folks. Less is more. And wow, it is so good when the priest does the Consecration with utmost care and reverence.

I like reverence. I like priests who deliver the Mass without all these “personal touches.” I was just reeling when I came out of a Mass over at St. Theresa’s Parish. Whoa, what just happened in there? Fr. Jim Corrigan began the Mass and promptly started joking about the ‘need’ for his recent excursion to Arizona. Yikes. If you must mention that to your congregation (many can’t afford to travel), incorporate it into the homily the way some priests try to begin with A Humorous Story. Then he walked all through the congregation, down one aisle, up the next, behind these pews and around the others during the Mass. I was watching him mosey around. What on earth? Where is he now? Oh, he’s way at the back. Meanwhile, the congregation, apparently used to this, was reciting something or other. Weird. But it got weirder. For some unknown reason, the parish has a ‘tradition’ of having the children come up to the priest during the collection of donations. The priest sits in his chair and the children line up with their parents. Then when the child reaches the front, the priest hugs the child. Huh? Weird. Where am I? Is this a visit to Santa Claus at the mall? It just looks beyond dorky. Looking towards the altar you see a line of children spanning from one side to the next.

I’m not opposed to children. I’m opposed to this ritual of making them greet the priest every week in front of everybody. The kids didn’t look particularly enthusiastic. They probably just think it’s something you do at church. It’s not cute and why is he hugging them? Aren’t we kind of through with this whole touchy-touchy stuff? Why do we say that it’s okay to hug someone you never otherwise interact with as long as he’s a priest? Doesn’t that set a bad precedent?

But speaking of touchy-touchy, please don’t put your hand on my shoulder when you give me Communion, Father Jim Corrigan. It’s just, well, ick.

So much of the Mass at St. Theresa’s was highly problematic. The music was done in the rock style which is so prevalent at these ‘youth’ Masses and the words for the songs (and many prayers) were projected onto two large screens. Those screens backfire, you know. In theory, they make it easier for the congregation to participate, but in reality, it lowers the bar of participation. People go into passive mode. They don’t even have to crack open a hymnal. Picking up the book and finding the page is important, because it’s that bit of exertion, that bit of commitment, which will help give you the drive to actually sing along. Ya got the book open to the right page; you’re halfway there, hey?

But the screens got worse. At the end of the Mass, in addition to the overly long announcements by the priest (including a description of how purchasing the grocery-store gift cards is really great because the parish purchases them in bulk at a discount of such-and-such and then when parishioners purchase them, it’s a win-win for everyone, since of course everyone needs to eat), the screens flashed various announcements. Whoever did the graphics decided to be ‘creative,’ and each graphic announcement arrived and disappeared in a flashy way. Sometimes the message whirled away, and sometimes it dissolved. You know what I mean. Special effects. At Mass.

The most exciting thing at Mass is supposed to be the Eucharist. Everything else should support that. The priest is not a stand-up comic and the musicians aren’t entertainers. It’s not a movie theatre, so put away the screens, and it’s not a play, so please don’t clap at the end.


But anyway, back to the Mass at the Basilica, the first reading from Leviticus 19 went like this:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

So it was nice.

What struck me, however, upon hearing it, was that little phrase in there. It says, “you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.”

It does not say, “Do not reprove your neighbour.”

It says, “Reprove your neighbour.”

In other words, if you see something being done that is wrong, speak up.

Speak up and denounce what is wrong. That’s part of being good. It will cost you, but it’s part of being holy. If a friend lies to you, confront him. If a friend insults you, confront him.

The arrival of Jesus does not undo this. Even though the Gospel was all about turning the other cheek, the obligation to denounce wrongdoing continues. There is no contradiction, and I have been heartened by the words of Pope Francis, who says that we must denounce evil.

I have become very brave about denouncing wrongdoing, but this shocks many. It most unsettles those who have done me wrong or who are friends with those who hypocritically enjoy(ed) a good reputation while doing wrong.

And on this note, I have wondered about the nature of loyalty.

Is it good to be loyal to someone regardless of any wrong that they have done? I would say that it is good, provided that the loyalty does not blind you to reality. I would not shun the Shawn Beavers of the world who haven’t done me wrong (he hasn’t). I would however, be willing to tell him that he did wrong if he were to suggest that he has not. And if he ever showed up wearing pointy shoes, I would tell him that men shouldn’t wear pointy shoes if at all possible.

The problem with “loyalty” is that those who are loyal sometimes deny guilt when there is guilt, and instead malign those who speak the truth, saying that there is guilt in denouncing. These ‘loyal friends’ enjoy their good relations with Mr. Holy & Connected. The relationship is valuable to them, and when that Catholic school gets named after Mr. Holy & Connected (Catholic schools should not be named after uncanonized saints, obviously), they plan to be right there casually mentioning, “I was good friends with so-and-so.” Are we surprised when they ferociously defend the character and the actions (even hidden ones) of Mr. Holy & Connected, no matter what is discovered? That’s loyalty for all the wrong reasons, and one wonders whether it deserves the name.

And it can work in reverse. I remember the time, not too long ago, when Barbara Duteau (real names used for the sake of reality) cheerfully said to me something along these lines: “I really disliked you at first. It’s because my friend from another school met and liked that guy named Jason, but then he started dating you. Out of loyalty to her, I refused to get to know you.” When it was said, I was taken aback on some level, but it was not in me to respond with anything other than laughter. Now I have the courage to denounce such conduct and the flippant admission of it as if it were a humorous anecdote; now I can present it to my readers as a very clear example of misguided loyalty. I hope you’ll see that there’s nothing trivial or humorous about that manifestation of “loyalty.” As a matter of fact, it’s something worth apologizing for if it’s going to be raised. It is wrong to intentionally choose to dislike someone on the basis of “loyalty” to another.

Loyalty must always be grounded in truth. This means that in some cases, you are doing two things at once: denouncing wrong behaviour on the one hand and loving the person on the other. Jesus was very much charged with the task of saying what was true, painful though it might be. This also means that if I denounce the actions of someone, I am not necessarily lacking in love for that person, though it may appear that way.

Hmm, I wonder why prophets aren’t popular.

The second reading was from Chapter 3 of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It goes like this:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again,“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Well, that’s a nice section too, isn’t it? It’s a pleasant surprise to me to see how this dovetails nicely with what I was saying about Mr. Holy & Connected. It’s so typical to be ‘wise’ in terms of social interaction. Facebook is one example. People spend hours on it, cleverly maintaining their network of connections, and they use their wits to say just the right things at the right moment. Has someone posted a photo of herself after getting a new haircut? Make sure you say “You look AMAZING!!!” Has someone updated their profile page with a photo of themselves from 1991? Say, “Wow, just gorgeous xoxo!” Has someone posted a photo of the wedding where the groom is wearing jeans and a leather vest? Say, “Oh, how beautiful!” We all know the lines. We know the lines that you use to stay connected and to please the people in your life who might come in handy for you at a later date. At the very least, they’ll send some “Likes” your way. It’s what you do; these are the angles you play.


Angles. Angles and corners and the Roundabout. Let’s go around that topic. Let’s not confront it. Let’s change the topic. Let’s play Avoid and I Didn’t See. Yeah yeah and yeah.

It’s the name of the game but it’s not right. Let’s get it right. Let’s avoid the angles and be simple and straight.

In other words, let’s be fools.
Blurt it out, spit it out and throw it out there.
Say what you think.
Say what you really think.
Write a blog and send me your link.

What have you got to lose?

Party on.
God’s in control.

This is from Matthew 5 and it was the Gospel for Sunday:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

That’s a heavy-duty reading. It’s all about what to do in the face of evil and the message here underpins almost all of western civilization, whether it is acknowledged or not. It informs our idea of “Nice.”

The message is: “Do not resist an evildoer” and “Love your enemy.”

Alright. Does it mean, then, that we are never to say, “You have done wrong”? It does not. If it did, then Christ and the Church would be as silent as a corpse. Instead, we see the Church is very alive, and this Bride of Christ is outspoken in condemning the wrongs of the day, in the same way that Christ condemned the hypocritical behaviour of those who pretended to be holier than others. The humorous thing, of course, is that people like John-Henry Weston and Cardinal Burke find that the Church doesn’t condemn what they want her to condemn.

Does it mean that we are to accept every suffering? No it does not. Does it mean that it is wrong to try to avoid suffering? No, it does not. It is normal and good to take steps to reduce suffering, provided that those steps are morally acceptable. Consider how St. Paul avoided being tortured by reminding his captors that he was a Roman citizen.

So what does this mean? The primary message is that we must not harbour resentment in our hearts and plot vengeance. God, in his providence, will guard our interests in the end, and this means that we have the freedom to be foolish.

These readings all tie together. Be foolish! Give away your cloak (a symbol of protection and status)! Walk the extra mile (a symbol of time and energy)! Let yourself be struck on your face (a symbol of reputation and worth)!

The message is that you can give up all of these things with total freedom and trust that God will make everything right. In a way, it is not very dissimilar to the passages about not worrying about your clothing and your food. It is less of a command (you MUST give away your cloak) than an invitation. Jesus here shows us another way, far from the scheming and calculating “wisdom” of the world. Jesus is saying, “Go ahead; don’t worry about righting the balance on your own. You can be utterly ‘foolish’ in your self-sacrifice and your tolerance for wrongs done to you; no longer must you attempt to measure everything and weigh everything. No longer must you calculate who has done more for whom, and who has lost an eye and who has lost a tooth.”

It is not a prohibition on trying to avoid suffering, and it is not a prohibition on speaking against wrongs, whether these are done against you or another.

The primary message is that we do not need to carry the burden of final vindication or punishment. We can be like children, not judges or accountants. We can finally empty our hearts of “keeping track” and “getting even.” That’s the main message. It’s about being free to love because we’re not keeping track.

And we should love. We are not called to like everyone, but we are called to love everyone. What is meant by love? Love means wishing the other well, and part of that means telling them the truth.

You see, when Jesus came, he came to relieve burdens. He came to bring a greater freedom of interaction and thinking. This section is meant to liberate, but — oh my — how it is used! Instead of genuinely loving each other, people want, very much, to APPEAR to be loving each other. You wind up with a Christian “style” which is as artificial and superficial as nail-polish. You wind up with an entirely new and fake approach where everyone is smiley and silent, yet internally seething. You wind up with scores of people playing the role of a martyr while being filled with bitterness. They play the part of someone who has taken these Gospel lines to heart, but the truth is, it’s all an act.

Enough of that! Let’s be foolish! Let’s be like little children!

Oh wait.

Did you hear that?

I think I heard a knock on the door.

Someone is there.

Hang on.

I’ll go get it.

It’s Father Martin Carroll.

He’s wondering whether you’ve adequately reflected on what you’re doing for the church. He wants to know if you’re volunteering enough, and he’s wondering if you’re donating your first hour’s pay. He said it costs $2,500 each day to run the Basilica.

It supposedly ties in with the readings on Sundays.

So what should we do? Does this Gospel reading require us to give to whomever asks? Am I obliged, from a Christian point of view, to donate to the Church? How much? And how about the rockathon (whatever that is) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation? Is it time to load up on Girl Guide cookies? Must I purchase a pink teddy-bear when I buy groceries?

Yeah. I don’t know. I think it’s tricky, and there’s no blanket rule. Give what you want to give. Give what you can give cheerfully. Don’t give $20 per week if you’ll feel resentment, and don’t choose your amount because you feel pressure or because you think it will show that you’re holy.

That’s why I really dislike it when The Talk dominates the homily. It’s just icky.

Look: if you need money, a sincere single sentence at the end of the Mass (short announcements are liturgically okay) or before it begins, will be far more effective. Just say, “Our expenses this year put us over budget – if you’d be willing to increase your donation to help us cover the shortfall, we would be very grateful.” Do it like that. Short and sweet and sincere, from a priest — well, who could resist?

A lecture that goes on and on about how expensive things are? Well, that just wears thin lickity-split.

And what’s worse: we are taken entirely away from the Gospel so that we can hear about BUCKS.


But okay. Have it your way. Let’s talk about bucks.

Tell me please, why $618,647.00 is spent on “Human Resources” at the Basilica over one year. That’s a lot of money, and makes up the lion’s share of this million dollar budget. I don’t believe it’s necessary.

For one thing, the administration of the sacraments could be significantly streamlined. I agree wholeheartedly with this section written by a doctor of Canon law, Dr. Edward Peters. He wrote it in 1996. I know it’s long but you already know how to scroll when your eyes glaze over. I’ve put my favorite bits into bold.

Preparing Children for the Sacraments: Some Controversies and Suggestions


Most Catholics receive Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist while they are still children under parental authority. Usually, of course, the process of preparing young people to receive these three sacraments of initiation (Canon 842 § 2) proceeds smoothly. At times, however, misunderstandings and even conflicts can occur between parents and pastors or catechists over a child’s sacramental preparation. This article will address some of the controversies which can arise and will suggest some resolutions of those issues based on the objective requirements of canon law.

Before addressing specific questions on children’s reception of the sacraments, it is necessary to understand the Church’s general attitude toward the reception of sacraments by the faithful. Briefly, Church law prizes and protects the right of Catholics to participate in its sacramental life. While recognizing the minister’s obligation to prevent unworthy participation in the sacraments, the canons firmly foster the reception of the sacraments wherever possible.

Evidence for this is found as early as Book II of the 1983 Code, entitled “The People of God,” which opens with a remarkable series of canons outlining the fundamental rights and duties of the faithful in general and of the laity in particular. Prominent among those provisions are Canon 213 which asserts the faithful’s “right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the Word of God and the sacraments” and Canon 212 § 2 which recognizes the faithful’s “right to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires to the pastors of the Church.”

Even standing alone, these two canons are clear affirmations of the faithful’s rights in regard to accessing the sacraments. But when these same provisions are read in the light of Canon 18 (which calls for the narrow interpretation of any Church rules restricting the faithful’s exercise of their rights) it is easy to see that a significant presumption in favor of the faithful’s rights to sacramental participation is being established very early in Church law.

Turning next to Book IV of the Code, where most of the canons specifically regulating sacramental issues are found, though still before discussing specific norms on particular sacraments, Church law restates that “sacred ministers cannot refuse the sacraments to those who ask for them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them” (Canon 843 § 1). Once more, the obvious implication is that Church ministers are supposed to be at the service of the faithful seeking sacraments. Not at their beck-and-call, certainly, but at their service, surely.

Finally, it is important to realize that the supreme authority of the Church (i.e., Rome) reserves to itself the right to determine what is required for valid and licit celebration of the sacraments (see Canon 841, as well as Canons 837-838). This does not mean that there is no place for flexibility and local adaptation in sacramental matters, for there most certainly is. But it does mean that the fundamental rules on sacramental participation are determined by universal canon law and not by local diocesan or parish policy-makers, however well-intentioned they might be. With these points as background, we are now ready to examine some of the issues raised regarding reception of the sacraments by children.


Parents are bound to see to the baptism of their children within “the first weeks after birth” (Canon 867 § 1), while pastors, for their part, are to provide parents and sponsors with “proper instruction on the meaning of the sacrament” (Canon 851, n. 2). In general, parishes correctly tend to be stricter in requiring baptismal preparation for parents who are presenting their first child for Baptism or when the parents are not otherwise known to be active in parish life (e.g., Sunday Mass attendance).

Understandably, canon law does not specify exactly what material needs to be mastered by parents and sponsors prior to presenting their child for Baptism. But a clue as to how much (or how little?) might be required is found, I think, in Canon 868 § 1, n. 2, which states that for the licit baptism of a child there is required (beyond parental consent) a “founded hope that the child will be raised Catholic.” Most observers would agree, that it is not much of a juridic requirement, especially when the canon goes on to state that only if such a hope is “altogether lacking” can the baptism be, not denied, but delayed for a time according to diocesan policy.

On the other hand, the “founded hope” requirement is generally considered to be more than sufficient grounds for a pastor to delay a child’s baptism because of, say, the parents’ irregular marriage situation. Although the child’s right to baptism will eventually outweigh the parents’ duty to rectify their marital status, resulting in conferral of the sacrament, pastoral evidence is clear that many couples do correctly address their own status in the Church as part of the preparation for their child’s baptism. Touching another matter, canon law does not require baptismal sponsors, known popularly as “godparents”, but the practice is strongly encouraged (Canon 872). A sponsor may be of either sex, or there may be two sponsors of opposite sexes, but not two sponsors of the same sex (Canon 873). Sponsors must be practicing Catholics, generally over age 16, and cannot be the parents of the one to be baptized (Canon 874 § 1). Non-Catholics cannot serve as baptismal sponsors, although they may be admitted as official witnesses to the Baptism (Canons 874 § 2).

Most of the other common baptismal questions (e.g., acceptable baptismal names, Sunday Baptisms, or ordinary minister of baptism) are concisely addressed in the Code, especially in canons 850-860, and so need not be addressed here.


For the valid reception of confirmation, it is only required that the confirmand be baptized (Canon 889 § 1). For the licit reception of Confirmation, however, a confirmand must also be “suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew one’s baptismal promises” (Canon 889 § 2). As was true in the case of baptism, the Code does not attempt a catalogue of facts which, however usefully, should be mastered by confirmands. Certainly, however, more than was required for baptism should be required for Confirmation. But this very fact can lead to a problem, especially for pastors and catechists.

Parish staffers know that for most of the young people, the reception of Confirmation will be the last time those children will have any formal contact with their parish until, perhaps, it’s time for them to marry. There are temptations, therefore, to try to stretch out the preparation periods for as long as possible and to involve the confirmands as much as possible in other aspects of Church life and mission. Notwithstanding the potential benefits which can be obtained with extended preparation, however, such an approach walks, and occasionally crosses, the line between offering challenges to faith growth and erecting obstacles to same.

For example, some parishes require over 100 classes (weekly classes for two years) before the reception of Confirmation. But that same parish, often entirely in accord with diocesan policy, might require only four classes for Marriage preparation. Clearly, something is far out of balance here.

Other Confirmation preparation programs require young people to participate in a “social awareness” service project designed by parish or diocesan staff. While many such projects are completely innocuous and of real benefit to participants and recipients, others entail specific risks to participants, (risks based on, say, travel required, locale of service, materials used, and so on), which risks confirmands and their parents may prudently elect not to assume.

A few parishes require parents, as a condition to their children’s reception of Confirmation, to consent to their children’s participation in over-night, mixed-sex retreats, at parental expense, and with a prior parental waiver of liability in favor of the parish or diocese. Obviously, parents and children might object to such activities on any number of reasonable grounds.

In the end, however, nothing in Canon 889 § 2 requires service projects or week-end retreats prior to receiving Confirmation. For that matter, as many diocesan administrators have learned, those so-called waivers of liability for service projects and retreats are not always what they used to be. Parishes making use of them should consult with diocesan legal counsel before assuming the effectiveness of such waivers in case of trouble.

It is, of course, wholly within the authority of dioceses and parishes to offer opportunities for things like Christian service and retreat experiences to those preparing for various sacraments. That does not change the fact, however, that the primary requirements for valid and licit sacramental participation are set forth in the Code of Canon Law, whose provisions control in case of conflict. As long as the voluntary nature of any additional activities is made clear, and there is recognition that young people’s eligibility to participate in the sacramental life of the Church is not based on their decision to take part or to refrain from taking part in such activities, things can progress very well.

Determining the proper age for Confirmation presents yet another type of problem. Most American dioceses delay Confirmation until late grade school or even high school. There is evidence that such delays result in the failure of many Catholics ever to receive Confirmation. Without trying to air fully all sides of this debate, it should be noted that at least some of the delays in the conferral of Confirmation are open to canonical objections.

Canon 891 states that Confirmation is generally to be administered at about the age of discretion, which age is understood to be seven (see Canon 97 § 2). There are, however, three exceptions to this rule, two of which exceptions, “danger of death” and “grave cause,” are often understood to support administration of Confirmation earlier than the age of discretion. But the main exception to requiring administration of Confirmation at the age of discretion lies in Canon 891’s phrase “unless the conference of bishops determines another age” for reception of the sacrament.

In contrast to what is allowed under Canon 891, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) did not determine another age for the reception of Confirmation. Instead, it purported to authorize diocesan bishops to determine the age at which the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred in their dioceses. This would be fine, except that the 1983 Code did not authorize bishops to establish various ages for reception of Confirmation among their dioceses, although it would have been very easy to draft Canon 891 that way (see, for example, Canon 874 § 1, n. 2).

There is, however, almost no canonical way that concerned parents, pastors, or catechists can officially push for a clarification of this matter especially since (to make a long story short) the Holy See, after some hesitation, has basically approved the USCCB’s action until the summer of 1999. Therefore, the age for reception of Confirmation will basically depend on diocesan policy. With, I suggest, one important proviso: parents, pastors, and catechists should be open to and supportive of the rights of young people to petition for Confirmation at an earlier age than that observed in the diocese.

Recalling the Code’s many provisions defending the general right of the faithful to access the Church’s sacraments, and recalling that it is the child’s sacramental life that is in question here—not the pastor’s programs—reasonable accommodation (see Canons 843 § 1, 885 § 1 & 214) should be made to welcome younger children qualified for the Sacrament of Confirmation when they ask for it. Special note: if Baptism is conferred on a child above the age of reason, Canons 883 & 885 combine to require the conferral of Confirmation at the same time, regardless of diocesan policy perhaps calling for later conferral of the sacrament. As was true of Baptism, there is no strict requirement that Confirmation sponsors be used (see Canon 892), but the practice is a long-standing one and is to be encouraged. A confirmation sponsor may be of either sex, and it is hoped that one of the confirmand’s original baptismal sponsors will accept the role of Confirmation sponsor (Canon 893).

First Communion

Vatican II’s beautiful description of the Eucharist as the “summit and source of the Christian life” is repeated in Canon 897 which opens the 1983 Code’s regulation of this sacrament. But perhaps because of the unique importance of the Eucharist in the lives of the faithful, canon law was, it seems, not content to rest on its earlier assertions of the rights of the faithful to approach this sacrament, and instead it states quite specifically: “Any baptized person who is not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion” (Canon 912, my emphasis).

While two canons (cc. 915 & 916) address the sad question of who is prohibited by law from participating in the Eucharist, two other canons (cc. 913 & 914) consider issues related to the initiation of children into the Church’s Eucharistic life. The very fact that these two issues are treated separately suggests that pre-Eucharistic children are not considered among those “prohibited by law” from receiving the Eucharist (else they should have been listed in Canons 915-916), but rather that they too enjoy the right of Eucharistic access, a right to be honored by those in authority over them in such a way as to enhance their sacramental participation “as early as possible” (Canon 914).

Most parishes make a real effort to offer first Communion catechesis to young people. There is, nevertheless, no doubt that parents are, and are recognized as, the primary agents responsible for the education of their children for first Holy Communion. Canon 914 opens with the word “Parentum” and clearly declares them as having the primary place in the Eucharistic education of their children. If that were not enough, Canons 226 § 2, 793 § 1, 835 § 4, and 1136, each taken from very different sections of the 1983 Code, weigh in heavily on behalf of parental primacy in the education of children, almost as if the point cannot be stressed often enough in an age veering toward social collectivism and bureaucratic supremacies. Even parental negligence in this area, which obviously happens and which should be addressed by pastors and catechists in accord with Canon 529 § 1, cannot be used as an excuse to disregard the integrity of the family unit, the family which Pope Paul VI so insightfully called “the domestic Church.”

Does any of this, though, relegate pastors (or catechists) to being functionaries for First Communion?

Not at all. Canon 914, which recognizes parental primacy in the education of children for the Eucharist, also reminds pastors “to be vigilant lest any children come to the Holy Banquet who have not reached the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed.” Canon 913, I think, sheds some light on just how pastors should make that assessment.

Canon 913 states that children should be able “to understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and receive the Body of the Lord with faith and devotion.” Such a canon is much easier to apply in real life than it is to explain in the abstract, but a few points seem clear.

First, the content of children’s belief, not necessarily the process by which they acquired that content, is what is important. For example, there is no canonical requirement that children be enrolled in a parish religious education program in order to be admitted to the Eucharist, even though a good case can be made that parishes should, as most already do, offer such programs for parents who wish to use them on behalf of their children. On the other hand, mere completion of a parish catechetical program is not proof that a child has interiorized the information which the catechist tried to impart. A individual assessment of each child’s Eucharistic understanding needs to be made.

Second, there is no canonical requirement that children wait until a certain time of the year to make their first Holy Communion, even though they and their parents are free to wait for such a parochial “theme Sunday” if they wish. Moreover, if parents and children wish to be part of a special first Communion liturgy, they should attend those preparation sessions designed to make such liturgies run smoothly.

Third, children and their parents, regardless of the method of sacramental catechesis chosen, need to give pastors a reasonable opportunity to assess a young child’s readiness to receive the Eucharist in accord with their duties under Canon 914. Obviously, in making such arrangements, busy pastors and busy parents should be respectful of the demands on each other’s time. And if a pastor (though not a catechist in this regard) concludes that a certain child is not ready to be admitted to the Eucharist, the reasons for that denial should be clearly explained to the child and the parents. Pastors and parents can then consider what is the best way to proceed under the circumstances.


Sacramental preparations are times of special grace and expectation. No one wants to see them turned into an arena for a contest of wills between parents, pastors, or catechists, and in most cases, of course, this does not happen. When it does occur, however, it behooves all involved to step back from the situation and to reassess more precisely what is, and what is not, actually required in sacramental preparation. If that is done carefully and honestly, then, I suggest, most instances of disagreement can be resolved by recognizing that the Church’s expectations for sacramental participation have already been set out in canon law and are applicable without regard to the preferences of parental or parochial figures.

That was just awesome. One of my favorite parts is this:

If that were not enough, Canons 226 § 2, 793 § 1, 835 § 4, and 1136, each taken from very different sections of the 1983 Code, weigh in heavily on behalf of parental primacy in the education of children, almost as if the point cannot be stressed often enough in an age veering toward social collectivism and bureaucratic supremacies. Even parental negligence in this area, which obviously happens and which should be addressed by pastors and catechists in accord with Canon 529 § 1, cannot be used as an excuse to disregard the integrity of the family unit, the family which Pope Paul VI so insightfully called “the domestic Church.”

And my favorite part within that favorite part is the phrase “in an age veering towards social collectivism and bureaucratic supremacies.”

Amen to that.

This phrase, “It takes a whole village to raise a child” has taken on a monstrous life of its own, and I detest it.

So yeah.

You tell ‘em, Dr. Edward Peters!

My point here is that the Basilica puts people through too much when they try to get their sacraments. The problem is that most of it is mandatory. Mandatory! If you want your child to receive Holy Communion, your child will be grouped with the others to learn this beauty:

I wanna say yes
Just like Mary said
Just like Mary said
Just like Mary said
Yes yes yes Lord
Yes yes yes Lord

That’s the refrain to this “Cat-Chat” song and I wanna say no. I mean, really, why waste precious time learning the “moves” for this? If the pastoral powers that be mandate that classes are compulsory, make them an efficient use of time. If it’s voluntary, then knock yourself out.  Let them teach the children to sing pseudo-rock songs in the basement while the Basilica pays people to sing in Latin.  (Or . . . how about teaching the children to sing in Latin and disbanding the Schola?)

If budget is an issue, bloated things like this should be re-evaluated. Sacramental preparation can be simplified and streamlined while keeping the letter and the spirit of Canon Law. You don’t need a big budget and a small army of people earning who-knows-what in order to make sure people get what they need, liturgically and sacramentally. That’s not God’s plan and in my opinion, a big budget for “Human Resources” is embarrassing and calls for scrutiny.

And speaking of the liturgy, let’s keep the homily as a time of reflection on the readings. Don’t hijack it and tell us that from now on, we’re going to be saying the stewardship prayer after the intercessory prayers. The way it was put, it sounded like we, the naughty children, were being subjected to a punishment.

And who wrote that thing, by the way? It’s really lame and almost makes a person cringe at the word “stewardship.” It’s so, well, Protestant sounding, with no disrespect intended to my Protestant readers. How does it go? I think it’s something like, “I acknowledge that everything I’ve got isn’t really mine and I should make sure to GIVE BACK TO GOD VIA PRE-AUTHORIZED DEBIT.”

I’m joking, sort of.

If we are going to talk about stewardship, then why don’t we discuss how the Basilica is spending the money donated by parishioners and visitors? Is it being used wisely? Let’s discuss that, how about? Let’s break down this “Human Resources” and see if it’s really reasonable. Let’s chat. Let’s have a Cat Chat.

But please, for the sake of Christ and the liturgy of the Church, don’t use the Mass to ask for cash.