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Abusing the sacraments.

Children are presented to the pastor for Baptism. What is he to do? If he knows the parents as faithful members of the parish, there is no problem. After a little preparation program for the parents, a joyful moment of liturgy will follow.

However, if the pastor does not know the parents, he must investigate. Are they, in fact, members of the parish in regular attendance at Sunday Mass? If no, what then does he do?

The simplest thing to do is baptize anybody who comes along. That is the way it was when I was ordained. It may have been simple, but it was not right. It was Sacramental abuse.

What is the point in baptizing a child who will not be brought up in a household of faith? The very rationale for infant Baptism is the presumption that the little one will be surrounded by a situation as he/she grows up in which Christ reigns.

The sacrament in such a case should be delayed until the pastor can be assured the child will be reared in a faith-filled atmosphere. If it has to be put off indefinitely, so be it.

The same has to go for the other sacraments that are customarily administered to children--first Confession, first Communion, and Confirmation. If the parents are in no way prepared to nurture the young ones' faith, postponement is in order.

If Catholic schools are in the picture, the pastor needs to be sure the preparation program for Sacraments is directed by the parish. If people associate sacraments with Catholic schools, when the school days are over, so will sacramental participation end. People need to have opportunities to contact and relate to the pastor.

In my early years, when I was in Catholic elementary school, we were taken once a month by our teachers to the church for Confession. Although it probably would have been better had our parents taken us, it nonetheless did make a bit of sense. After all, almost all my classmates and I came from faithful, church-going families.

Today the tradition persists to some extent. More commonly now, however, the pastor, with a few other priests to help, will go to the school two or three times a year. But the bulk of the children do not any more come from faith-filled families. Just the opposite.

So the same pastoral decision should hold as with Baptism. Since most of the children do not go to church and are not being brought up in the faith, the sacraments should be delayed.

Although the responsibility for this state of affairs lies mainly with the parents, there is no real motivation for true repentance on the part of the youngsters. To attempt to celebrate the sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation in this situation is pointless. It is an abuse of a marvellous sacrament. Let parents of children who are practising the faith bring them to church for Confession.

Maybe board trustees and administrators and school principals feel better when sacraments take place in the schools, but it is not our task to please officials. It is our duty to please God alone.

I have to confess that one of the lowest points in my Liturgical year is First Communion Sunday. To see the children all gussied up in their finery--beautiful white dresses for the girls, natty black suits for the boys--sets my heart to sinking. In a class of 30 or so, there might be 5 or 6 from church-going families. Most of the adults accompanying the children are complete strangers to me. Cameras are all over the place. Flash bulbs are popping all through the Mass. An important cultural event is taking place. But the sacraments are not meant to be settings for cultural events. This is sacramental abuse.

It is common practice to celebrate Mass in Catholic schools, either for the whole school or for individual classes. I am against it. What's the point of having non church-going children receiving Communion two or three times a year? Sacramental abuse, I say.

The same goes for high schools. It does something bad to me to celebrate the Eucharist for bored teenagers and dispense Holy Communion, knowing only a small percentage come with the necessary dispositions to receive the grace of the sacrament. What's the point? Abuse, again.

Matrimony is a sacrament. Like all the sacraments, it gives grace. And the grace given at the time of the exchange of vows continues to be available throughout the ensuing years when the couple calls upon it. Surveys tell us about 80% of young people coming to arrange weddings are already living together. What percentage really understand matrimony's sacramental character? I'm afraid it's very low.

What is a pastor to do? At the least, he must challenge the co-habitating duos to separate until marriage and have them enrolled in a marriage preparation program that will highlight its sacramental character and place an important emphasis on natural family planning. All contraceptive methods of birth-spacing should be thoroughly trashed. Surrender of their entire lives to Christ has to be emphasized, with a strong emphasis on becoming involved in a Holy Spirit seminar some time during the first year of marriage.

If the pastor (or his delegate) cannot come to a degree of certainty about the couple's readiness to celebrate the sacrament, he must postpone the wedding until he has such assurance. He has to know they will separate before the wedding and make every effort to abstain. He has to be sure, as well, that they are following the teachings of the marriage preparation program. He should see them in church on a regular basis.

Does it sound as though I am advocating making it difficult to get married? I hope so. Perhaps if we do we shall see a remarkably greater percentage of successful marriages.

The sacraments are external signs established by Christ to give grace. Grace is a share here on earth of the very life of God. Every time a sacrament is validly administered, grace is poured out upon the participant. That is called the "ex opere operato" principle. However, the degree of grace received depends entirely on the readiness of the recipient. That's the "ex opere operantis" principle. If serious sin is present or understanding is not there, no grace is received.

To celebrate Sacraments knowing the recipients are not disposed is sacramental abuse. What's the point? Let's stop playing games and letting on everything is OK when it isn't.


Fr. Bob Bedard founded the Companions of the Cross. This article is reprinted with permission from their newsletter.
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Author:Bedard, Bob
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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