We recently joined a new parish because we were looking for a parish home that would help us pass along the faith to our kids and give us a place where we would be fed the Gospel of Truth without apology. Our youngest two boys (ages 7 and 8) are preparing for their first confession and first communion and our 12 year-old daughter is also preparing for the sacrament of confirmation this year, so finding a good place was a big deal for us. We talked about it all summer and I looked into at least 7 nearby parishes.
We have such a busy family schedule that evening classes weren't going to work for our daughter for confirmation. Some of the parishes wouldn't allow a 7th grader to be confirmed. We also discounted two-year programs because of the time commitment and because it seemed most of them just filled the time with fluff programs that were designed to keep the kids coming rather than teach them the basics of their faith. My daughter was asking to be confirmed, so I thought it best to do it while she was eager to do it.
We could have prepared the youngest at home for first communion, since that's what I've done with all my others, but since our new parish offers CCD classes for all grades on Sunday mornings, right after Mass, we thought it would be easier (and more fun for the boys) if they were all in classes on Sunday. It is a sacrifice because it means we have to get everyone up early on Sunday for the 8:30 am Mass. But the sacrifice is worth it if it means our kids are getting solid teaching of the faith.
I'd forgotten some key items. First, the CCD teachers don't know us from Adam, so they have no idea if these kids come from a practicing Catholic home or a pagan home. Second, classes mean teachers talk, kids listen and write in their workbooks and kids have to read aloud.
Yesterday, my sons' first communion teacher told me they were struggling in her class. The comment surprised me because they have been asking to receive their first communion for well over a year. They weren't struggling with the material; they were struggling with the reading aloud and written assignments.
Reality check: these are two little boys who have only been in this country for 6 years. They are mostly average 7 and 8 year old boys, but they aren't independent readers yet. The younger one has some health issues (neurofibromatosis) which have been linked to learning delays and he has vision problems on top of that. He's also got some speech and language delays and has been receiving speech and cognitive therapy for over a year. On top of that, the parish is using the wonderful "Faith and Life" catechetical series. It's wonderful, and I've used it to prepare my older kids at home, but it most definitely isn't a second-grade reading level book! Additionally, some of the kids in their CCD class are in fifth grade.
The teacher told me, "It is the policy of our parish that a child must be able to read and write well in order to receive first confession and first communion, because they can't tell right from wrong if they can't read and write."
I repeated her words to her, "They can't tell right from wrong if they can't read and write?" I was astonished. I had never heard such a thing before.
This morning I called the parish religious education director to verify if this was the case, which indeed it is. Since we are newbies at the parish, (we joined the parish because of the excellent CCD classes), I gave the RE director some background on the boys. He seemed somewhat appeased by the fact that they have been asking to recieve communion for over a year, but he said he wouldn't make a final decision until he talked to the pastor and had a chance to meet with the boys.
I'm somewhat relieved, but also frustrated. I ended our conversation by saying that I had hoped we would be able to pass along the faith orally, rather than just by the written word, since that is how kids that age best learn. I can't help but wonder about kids who are more profoundly disabled or the many illiterate folks in the world who still need the sacraments.
I'm wondering if anyone else has experienced this? Have you ever been told your child can't recieve a sacrament because they can't read and write well enough?