By Anthony Barich
Archbishop Barry Hickey has mandated that the Sacrament of Confirmation is to be offered in the last year of primary school, whether it is Year 6 or 7, and is to be parish-based, family focused and school supported.
With 10 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Perth taking on Year 7s this year and more expected to do so in coming years, a new Policy on the Sacrament of Confirmation was drawn up and signed off by Archbishop Hickey on September 15 last year for initiation in 2009.
It is understood the decision to take on Year 7s followed the State Government considering it for public schools – though it did not go through with it – and Catholic high schools in other states have done the same due to changes in entry age.
This decision follows Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury stating last year that parishes are better off delaying confirmation until the child is properly formed in the faith.
The Broome and Bunbury dioceses have maintained their policy of confirming children in Year 7, while Geraldton has taken up Archbishop Hickey’s model.
Following extensive consultation with clergy and educators, Archbishop Hickey promulgated the Policy that states that parents have the obligation and right to present their children for the Sacrament of Confirmation. School started in most cases on February 2.
Confirmation is “generally” to be offered in the last year of primary school, be it Year 6 or 7, but in cases where Year 7 has been transferred to the secondary school level, Confirmation is still to be offered to students in year 7 at the secondary school if they were for some reason not confirmed in year 6 in primary school. The Policy says it is “strongly recommended” that parishes form a Sacramental Team representative of parish clergy, Catholic school RE teachers, parish catechists and parents under a Parish Sacramental Coordinator.
The Catechist Service Team, part of the Catholic Educaiton Office, assists parishes in forming these teams and trains volunteers to provide parish RE programs, and assists parents and parishes form Catholic children who do not attend Catholic schools.
It is understood that approximately 50 per cent of Catholic children in WA attend non-Catholic schools. Dr Pina Ford, the CST’s Team Leader, said that the idea of involving parents in the faith education of their children is “very basic” and based on Canon law, and while “we assume it’s going to be done, sometimes it isn’t unless it’s stated in policy. Above all, we need to support parents in fulfilling their right and obligation to be the prime faith formers”.
She said that the policy itself is “nothing new”, yet “these have to be clearly stated and the thinking about it explored and renewed”.
“It’s not just a matter of learning your lessons; it’s remembering the context for sacraments, which is the parish community. The school can’t do all of it. You’re baptised and confirmed into a parish community, in which we celebrate the Eucharist,” Dr Ford said, adding that this initiative so far has had overwhelmingly positive feedback. She said the sacraments are also a crucial opportunity to evangelise parents, “as it’s a time when they do have contact with their parish, and we need to ensure that contact nurtures their own faith”.
She said parents’ commitments include ensuring children are enrolled for sacraments in their parish community and that they attend a commitment Mass in the parish, “so everything links back to the parish community”, and that children celebrate their sacraments in their home parish where possible.
“They may be prepared where they go to school but that may not be their parish. They really need to celebrate it in their parish community,” she said, adding that in cases where the student has not been confirmed yet by Year 7 and he/she is already in high school, the school is obligated to contact the parents then the parish that the child is fully prepared for the sacrament in the parish.
“No matter how hard a school community tries and how well it suceeds in nurturing a child’s faith, it can’t take on all the responsibilities of parishes,” Dr Ford said.
Emmanuel College, Corpus Christi College, CBC Fremantle, Iona Presentation College, Mercy College, John XXIII College, Newman College, Kolbe College Rockingham, Trinity College and Chisolm College Bedford now have Year 7s in high school. Debra Sayce, the Catholic Education Office’s Director of RE, said the policy reinforces that the prime responsibility of knowing when their child is ready for the sacraments belongs to the parent.
“If the school can support that, then that’s fantastic, but having (the formation for the sacrament) based at the parish is ideal as they’re entering into a spiritual community.
“Schools contribute to that, but it’s not their exclusive role. The child needs to be nurtured in the parish, and that’s what youth ministry nurtures.”