From apostolic times, becoming a Christian has been accomplished by a journey of initiation – the stages being marked by liturgical celebrations which we now call the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. At the request of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, the revised Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) restored or introduced other intermediate Rites – for example, Rite of Election, Presentation of the Creed and of the Lord’s Prayer.
Some ten years ago, the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh decided that children in primary schools should have the opportunity to be prepared for the reception of the Sacraments, as follows:
- first celebration of Penance in Primary 3, around Lent/Easter
- celebration of Confirmation in Primary 4, about May
- celebration of First Holy Communion in Primary 4, about June
After lengthy consultation with schools, parishes and catechists, the Archdiocese announced a new policy on Easter Sunday 2012 which reaffirmed these arrangements but also emphasised the need for parishes to become more involved, rather that leaving all the preparations to the schools. The policy statement also re-emphasised that “parents are their children’s primary educators into the life-long journey of faith”. Schools and parish communities are there to support parents in this.
The Archdiocese’s statement further emphasised the necessity for Sunday participation in the Eucharist: “….it is important that parents and their children are committed to gathering for the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist”. It is after all the source and summit of our Christian way of life. Again “It is especially important in our present culture where there can be a pick and choose approach to essential aspects of Christian living. The Sunday Eucharist is not one option among many but intrinsic to our way of life.”
Primary 3 children
First Penance, Primary 3 children now celebrate two Rites in their parish at Sunday Eucharist:
the Signing with the Cross, before Advent, recalls that these children were marked with the cross at their baptism; and reaffirms parents’ central role as first teachers in the ways of faith
the Rite of Illumination, around Candlemas, again connects with infant baptism in praying that the children continue to walk in the light of Christ.
Primary 4 children
Then, before Confirmation, Primary 4 children celebrate another four Rites with the parish community at Sunday Eucharist:
the Rite of Enrolment, when the children are called by name to take part in the preparations for the sacrament
Presentation of the Gospels, where the children are presented with a copy of the Gospel of the current liturgical year
Presentation of the Creed, when the children have the opportunity to confirm all that we believe
Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer, where the children receive the prayer as the model of all Christian prayer, said each time the community gathers.
These events are accompanied by a series of preparatory meetings with parents of the children throughout the Primary 3 and 4 years along with associated celebrations in church for parents and children. The Archdiocese also encouraged parishes to set up Sacramental Teams, including parents and catechists, to assist in accomplishing all this. In St Peter’s a team led by the parish priest developed the new programme and continues to support the school during the annual cycle of events.