Sacrament Factories?

So, I haven’t said anything about the recent story about the little girl in Indiana who wanted to make her First Holy Communion in a suit instead of a dress because…well, I have nothing new or productive to add to that discussion and frankly, neither do most of the people mentioning it or commenting on it. I have my opinion, same as anyone, but it is pretty well covered in what’s already out there. 

So I was pleasantly surprised to read this article by Brianna Heldt on The Federalist’s website. Unlike most of the other coverage, Brianna does have something to contribute to the discussion and namely it’s this passage that caught my eye: 

Speaking as a Catholic (who, incidentally, has had the joy of witnessing two daughters and two sons receive their first Holy Communion), I am admittedly most troubled by the perception and treatment of my church as little more than a sacrament factory. You should be, too. The notion that a priest is somehow required to offer the very body and blood of Jesus on demand–and, if not, potentially face a lawsuit–is both ludicrous and terrifying. That people would demand the Catholic Church capitulate to their every whim, and give them what they want on their terms, is absurd.

That term, “sacrament factory?” Let’s just say it hits a nerve. 

As many know I am a catechist. I teach third Grade Faith Formation and I can tell you right now that I have a class half the size of the one that made their First Holy Communion this past April and May at my parish.  

We have this issue in the Church currently called , “Milestone Catholicism.” It is this thing that happens when a parent never takes their kiddo to Mass and suddenly around second grade, show up to sign up for sacrament prep. It gets real fun in my diocese where all sacrament prep is a minimum of two years for Reconciliation, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. No exceptions. But we need that pic of the white dress and veil and it makes the grandparents happy and, well, it’s just what you do. 

These parents are outraged that not only will things not happen on their timeline but that they will have to meet various requirements like submitting a baptism certificate, bringing their child to weekly classes, and (the horror) attend Sunday Mass each week. And the child is required to sign in each week because there really is no other easier way to track Mass attendance. These parents feel that their faith and parenting is being attacked. They want the sacrament on demand with no “extras” as they see it. 

And you know who agrees with them? A lot of faithful Catholic parents. The parents who took those vows at Baptism seriously as well as the Catechism when it said parents are the primary educators of their children find themselves, ironically, siding with the “milestone Catholic” parents. The basis of their argument is that the sacrament is a gift freely given and should have “no strings” (i.e.: required sacrament prep meetings or classes for parents and/or the kids, meetings of the child and parents with the priest, or the priest even asking the child questions to ensure readiness). Take the mom I encountered in a Facebook group who recently moved and came to her new parish and requested her six-year-old son make his First Holy Communion. Although he was younger than the kids at her parish school and in Faith Formation who were in the sacrament prep classes, the priest was willing to meet with her to discuss the possibility because the child was homeschooled and the family attended daily Mass and their previous pastor sent him a letter in regards to the family’s history as being practicing Catholics. At the meeting, when the priest requested to ask the little guy some questions to ascertain his readiness to receive the sacrament, his mother refused to allow it. She said on Facebook that of course he knew the answers but that it was ridiculous to require, “an examination” in order to receive the sacrament. When pressed to see what the questions were she wS forced to admit she had no idea because she didn’t allow them to take place at all or even ask the priest what they were. 

See, here’s the thing, parents are the primary educators of their children. And the Church is tasked with ensuring that those candidates for any sacrament are truly ready and eligible to receive said sacrament. So some kind of assessment of knowledge and understanding HAS to happen. If it doesn’t than the Church risks being a sacrament factory. But parents, regardless of motivation, are fighting this tooth and nail. And I’ve seen priests I know personally slandered for insisting they determine if a child is ready to receive a sacrament that they will be administering to that child. In some cases the child appeared out of thin air into the sacrament prep classes and in others the child was from a well-known family but in both cases the priest was maligned for doing due diligence. 

So, what are we left with? Is the sacrament factory model the equitable way to allow kids to receive their sacraments. Is Eucharist on demand and Confirmation when requested the way of the future? Or do we simply Chrismate everyone and then ensure all infants are Chrismated going forward? 

We have to be very careful in our complaints to not make our parishes one visit places. That’s not what they’re designed to be. Most of us (myself included) probably should spend more time in prayer and less arguing every requirement because none of us have the answer ready when we issue our complaint.