Can Parents Really Prepare Their Children for the Sacraments?


With a Look at the Proper Use of Sacramentals

By Catherine Moran with Marianna Bartold

On this page: Quotes from the Pope

How-To's of Sacramental Preparation

The Saints as Inspiration

Quotes from Saints on the Sacraments

Approaching the Priest for Assistance  

The Pastor's Role

Sacraments and the Code of Canon Law

Confirmation - A Rite of Passage or a Sacrament?

Insights for Teaching About the Holy Ghost

CCD and the Interview


The Rosary - First Among the Sacramentals

Pope's Appeal to Parents

This article is based on the original from the Summer/Fall 1995 issue of

The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine

Copyright 1994. All Rights Reserved

One of the major hurdles that homeschooling parents must face is teaching and preparing their children for the sacraments. One may think that this subject is not too difficult but today, when our Catholic Faith is constantly being attacked, our children need to understand, explain, and defend their faith. As parents, it is our obligation to educate our children in these matters.


With regards to this right and duty of parents to educate their children thoroughly, Pope John Paul II recalled in his Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" what the Second Vatican Council stated:


"Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs."


As educators of our children, we are responsible for not only educating them in the temporal realm, but we are also responsible for preparing them spiritually for the reception of the Sacraments. The Holy Father continues in his Exhortation:


"The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others...In addition to these characteristics, it cannot be forgotten that the most basic element, so basic that it qualifies the educational role of parents, is parental love, which finds fulfillment in the task of education as it completes and perfects its service of life; as well as being a source, the parents' love is also the animating principle and therefore the norm, inspiring and guiding all concrete educational activity, (emphasis mine), enriching it with the values of kindness, constancy, goodness, service, disinterestedness and self-sacrifice that are most precious fruit of love."


When we prepare our children for the sacraments, we are fulfilling a great and splendid educational ministry that St. Thomas compared with the ministry of priests: "Some only propagate and guard the spiritual life by a spiritual ministry; this is the role of the Sacrament of Orders; others do this for both corporal and spiritual life; and this is brought about by the Sacrament of marriage, by which a man and a woman join in order to beget offspring and bring them up to worship God."


Again, to emphasize the serious responsibility that parents have in the total education of their children, especially preparation for the sacraments, Pope John Paul II writes:


"The mission to educate demands that Christian parents should present to their children all topics that are necessary for the gradual maturing of their personality from a Christian and ecclesial point of view...taking care to show their children the depths of significance to which the faith and love of Jesus Christ can lead...furthermore, their awareness that the Lord is entrusting to them the growth of a child of God, a brother or sister of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a member of the Church, will support Christian parents in their task of strengthening the gift of divine grace in their children's souls."


The Second Vatican Council emphasized this: "Such an education does not merely strive to foster the human person. Rather, its principal aims are these: that as baptized persons are gradually introduced into a knowledge of the mystery of salvation, they may daily grow more conscious of the gift of faith which they have received; that they may learn to adore God the Father in spirit and truth." This solemn responsibility is so great that Pope John Paul II said, "By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are, through the witness of their lives, the first heralds of the Gospel for their children."


The How-To's of Preparation


Although there are seven sacraments, we will discuss only three: Penance, Holy Eucharist, and Confirmation. We know that a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. As homeschooling parents, teaching about the sacraments is not the major concern. We can easily use the Baltimore Catechism for our younger ones, the New Catechism for reference and study ourselves, as well as any of the excellent Catholic resources available. It is preparing the children and approaching the local pastor that often presents a problem.


Penance and Contrition-First Teach by Example


To prepare children for the great Sacrament of Penance, various materials are available to teach the basics on how to approach and receive the sacrament worthily, what to say and do. But how do we go a step further and truly prepare our children? Again, we go back to teaching by example. If we want our children to realize the enormous value of Confession and to utilize the sacrament frequently, we must give them the example. Parents must instill this habit in their children while they are young and easy to mold and bend. We cannot expect our children to suddenly develop a love of frequent confession when they are teenagers.


We can turn to the saints for inspiration and guidance, especially the young St. Dominic Savio (18421857). Of confession, he said, "The confessor is the doctor of the soul." And it was St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591), Patron of Youth, who gave this excellent advice: "He who falls into sin, however light it may be, ought to rise immediately, have recourse to God, beg pardon of Him, and ask for the grace never to commit it again."


First, Avoid the Sin


We need to instill not only the importance of frequent Confession, but also to instill the avoidance of sin. St. John Bosco often told his boys, "Do not imitate those who deceive themselves by saying, 'I will sin and then go to confession.' How do you know that you will have time to make your confession? Is it not madness to wound oneself, in the hopes that a doctor will be found who will heal the wound?"

St. Gerard Majella (1726-1755) was so acutely aware how sin offended God that he said, "I would give my life a thousand times that God might not be offended." A great contemporary saint of this century, St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903), has told us, "I should willingly give every drop of my blood to please Him and to prevent sinners from offending Him. I shall be satisfied only when I am a victim, to make reparation for my innumerable sins and for the sins of the world."

And the most dramatic example of all - the mother of St. Louis, King of France, who told her son when he was a child that she would rather see him die than see him commit one mortal sin. These seemingly harsh words, when looked at closely, only revealed this mother's love for her child - she knew the horror of sin and the immense value of her child's immortal soul!


It is also important to stress that every time we go to Confession and receive absolution, not only are our sins forgiven, but Our Lord forgets them. The devil, the seeker and destroyer of souls, no longer knows our sins. This is why frequent confession is important. It is so much easier to keep our souls pure and spotless when we are in the state of grace.


St. John Vianney, Cure of Ars, (1786-1859) had this to say about penance, "We should perform our penance overwhelmed with joy at being able to satisfy God, whom we have offended, and at finding such an easy means of effacing our sins which should have earned eternal sufferings for us."


Approaching the Priest for Assistance


As home educators, we must stay visible and viable in our parish. Our pastors should see us every Sunday, as a family, attending the Divine Liturgy. We should introduce ourselves to our priest(s), greet him, talk to him. One or both parents might be as active as possible in one or two of the parish groups, i.e., Altar and Rosary Societies, Holy Name Society, Legion of Mary, or whatever pious or religious groups, the parish offers. Not only will these groups, hopefully, assist in our own spiritual growth, but they will help the pastor in recognizing us. The pastor will come to realize that we are responsible Catholics, committed to the Faith. The fact that we homeschool will become known after the pastor gets a chance to know us. If he does not know much about homeschooling, it will help him to know that homeschooling families are normal families - not isolationist reactionaries. Many of our good priests do not know enough about home education; therefore, we must educate them!


When the time comes to approach the pastor about a child's reception of Penance and First Communion, it is important to be kind yet firm in our requests for his assistance. Parents must remember that the entire education of their children is their duty, right, and obligation. Homeschooling is the way two spouses have decided to honor that obligation, and there is nothing illegal or immoral about it - on the contrary!


Many parents approach the pastor about 10-12 months before the time they expect their child to receive their first sacraments. It is also a good idea to outline for the pastor what we intend to teach during our home religious class for the upcoming year. We may ask him if there is anything else he feels would be beneficial for us to teach our children as we prepare them for the sacraments.


The pastor may request to see what religious textbooks we have used to prepare our child, or he may question the child briefly. He cannot insist that a parent use a particular catechism or textbook in favor of another legitimately approved catechism. If the priest interviews the child, it is best that a parent be present. Some children feel more comfortable when a parent is close. The priest should ask questions of the child that are commensurate with his/her age. That is, the priest would interview the child at the young elementary level, and he would not expect the child to know material covered in the higher grades.


It is interesting to note that shortly after Pope Pius X allowed the reception of First Communion to be moved from age 7 to the age of reason, he was approached by a young mother. This mother asked the Holy Father's permission for her five year old son to receive his First Communion. The saintly pope briefly asked the child if he knew whom he would be receiving. The child quickly answered, "Oh, yes, Holy Father. It is Jesus!" Pope Pius X quickly responded, "There is nothing to keep you from receiving Him in Holy Communion." The next day, the Holy Father personally gave the child his First Communion.


Sacraments and the Code of Canon Law


If a pastor is completely unresponsive and unapproachable, it would be a good idea to have a copy of the Code of Canon Law available. Canon Law #914 states: "It is primarily the duty of parents, or those who take their place, as it is the duty of the parish priest, to insure that children who have reached the use of reason are properly prepared and, having made their sacramental confession, are nourished by this Divine food as soon as possible. It is the duty of the parish priest to see that children who have not reached the age of reason or whom he has judged to be insufficiently disposed to come to Holy Communion."


Parents may need the permission of the priest for First Communion, but they and their children do not need to take part in the parish CCD. This does not mean the priest makes a unilateral decision when it comes to the child's reception of the Sacraments. The parental role is one of instruction, example and preparation; the pastor's role is one of assisting the parents. A child cannot be denied the sacraments simply because his parents teach him the faith (as all parents should).


Furthermore, permission is not needed for the Sacrament of Penance. The commentary to this Canon Law adds: "The parish priest has greater responsibility, but only with regard to negative functions of preventing the child from coming to First Communion without adequate preparation. He must accept the child, however, when the parents present the child as being sufficiently prepared."


In other words, if parents (who have the primary obligation and right; that of the parish priest being secondary) have properly prepared their child for the sacraments, the pastor must give permission for the child's First Communion. This is according to Canon Law and other documents of the Church.


Regarding Confirmation


The Sacrament of Confirmation presents more of a problem. In many dioceses, the age for Confirmation is 18 years. Because of this and other factors, many youth today are not confirmed. This sacrament makes one a soldier of Christ, enabling one to profess the faith - even to die for it. Today, however, the major problem is living in this godless, materialistic, secular and hedonistic society. To be constantly bombarded on all sides by the sin and filth of today's world and to still remain pure and Christ-like is truly a profession of one's faith!


Today, Confirmation is often treated more as a passage of age that a reception of a sacrament. Pope Benedict XIV teaches us that to neglect Confirmation binds us under the pain of grievous sin. In 1744, Clement XIV approved a decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda to the effect that "this sacrament cannot be refused or neglected without incurring the guilt of mortal sin." St. Peter Damien also insisted that the obligation to receive this sacrament is serious.


As homeschooling parents, we should realize, then, the importance of the Sacrament of Confirmation. We must prepare our children by making sure they know their faith and can defend it when necessary; that they are able to withstand peer pressure and refuse to follow the crowd when it is a matter of sin, even if this would mean bearing ridicule. Where our young teenagers are concerned, this is very difficult. I personally believe that our children need the graces of this sacrament before their teen years. The Evil One knows that without the indelible mark which Confirmation gives, young adults are easy prey.


What to Emphasize


Have your child study the faith, and read the Holy Bible with them, as well as the lives of the saints. Make them realize that studying and learning about their faith will not end with the reception of the sacrament. Rather, it is the beginning of a lifetime commitment. Teach children that we cannot love someone unless we know them. Therefore, to love God we must spend time in study and prayer. It is through these two means that their love for God, as well as ours, will grow and mature.


When preparing them be sure that the older children know and understand the infused virtues, the 12 fruits, the 4 Cardinal Virtues, and the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is also wise to emphasize the gift of fortitude, which best identifies the purpose of confirmation - to be prepared to do battle against the enemies of salvation and, if necessary, to suffer martyrdom for the Faith.


The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit -

How to Teach about Them


The seven gifts that the Holy Spirit brings at Confirmation are an inestimable treasure. The Gift of Understanding is a supernatural light that enables the soul to know God better first, in His perfections; second, in the riches of love enclosed in the mysteries; third, in His word contained in the Holy Bible; fourth, in our Catholic Faith, rich in wisdom, which God has revealed to us; and fifth, in the Divine Providence which governs all the events of our lives.


Without this gift, the lofty truths of our faith are dark and in the twilight. With this gift comes the broad daylight and we can see clearly into the depths of all things. Because of this gift, St. Augustine was able to penetrate deeply into the counsels and guidance of God in relation to the whole universe and to himself. St. Bernard complained of not having enough time for the abundance of thoughts and illuminations which filled his soul every time he meditated on the life and death of Jesus. It is important to remember that this gift is promised solely to perfect purity of heart. "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." (Matt. 5:8).


While the Gift of Understanding enables us to know God, the Gift of Knowledge teaches us to know creatures. First, this gift shows all created things in their true light, by pointing out that riches, honors, pleasures, and all earthly good are but fragile, vain, and of short duration. These latter things are incapable of making us happy, and can be hurtful and dangerous for our salvation. Second, it teaches us to use all visible beings as a means to raise us up to God, who created them for us; all of nature speaks of God, preaching His love. It enables us to see in all that exists a mirror, reflecting from all sides the goodness, the wisdom, the power and the providence of God. Third, by this gift, the Holy Spirit teaches preachers the great art of worthily announcing the word of God and enables directors of consciences the art of directing souls.


Counsel is given to the soul to direct it in its acts. It shows us what we must do or not do; say or not say; according to persons, times, and seasons. This gift is so important in today's world. It teaches us how to derive benefit from everything as a means toward our own salvation, the sanctification of others and the advancement of the work of God. It even teaches us to derive advantage from sin. Today it's very difficult to always do and say what is right. This is the secret given by this gift.


Before receiving this gift, the apostles called down fire from heaven upon Samaria, which refused to welcome the Savior; after receiving it, the apostles endured all kinds of rebuffs in patience and with meekness.


St. Bernard says the Gift of Wisdom imparts a disgust for the things of this world and gives us a taste for the things of God. With this gift, we find joy in thinking of God. Without it, we allow ourselves to be seduced by the folly of the world, which places its last end in creatures and not in God. We all have a taste for that which amuses, gives pleasure, flatters self-love and vanity, or attracts praise and esteem. Wisdom helps us acquire virtues more easily and makes us desire the ways of perfection.


The Gift of Piety teaches us to honor God as our Father and to regard Him with loving affection. We no longer see God as a severe Judge, but as a loving Father. We can no longer fear Him, but love Him instead. When we fall, we cast ourselves into His arms to ask pardon, with humble confidence, just as a child who has fallen and hurt himself casts himself into his mother's arms. We make amends for our faults by more love, better behavior and a renewal of our lives with more fervor. There is no anxiety or scruples. This gift also teaches us to see in our neighbor the image of God.


As to the Gift of Fear, it has nothing to do with the fear that seizes us when we are in the presence of danger, or with the apprehension of sin which torments the scrupulous soul, or even with the Christian fear of the torments of hell. The Gift of Fear is a gentle one, inspired by love and reverence for the eyes of God which are fixed upon us. It is solely because we love God that we are afraid of displeasing Him by our actions, words, or thoughts. This gift keeps our soul pure by giving it a supreme horror of committing the least offense against God. It fills our prayers with a profound piety and inspires us with a reverential attitude.


Fortitude is the supernatural energy which strengthens us against cowardice in the service of God, against our own weakness, and against the difficulties, dangers, and trials we may meet with in the accomplishment of our duties. Fortitude is an interior vigor, a divine courage, which enables us to do things which appear to be impossible. This gift must be added to virtue in order for us to fulfill our daily duties. Ordinary strength is not enough. Many times the great sacrifices demanded of us cause us to become fearful. Trying to live a good and holy life is not only difficult but impossible without this gift. Without fortitude, we become cowardly and condescending, allowing evil to be committed, neither reproving or acting against it. This is why the wicked triumph, evil reigns and all that is deplorable wages war against all that is good.


The apostles became strong, intrepid and magnanimous after receiving this gift. St. Peter, who trembled at the voice of a servant and denied Jesus, later denounced the whole nation on account of the Deicide it had committed. This he was able to do because he had received the Holy Spirit.


By means of the Gift of Fortitude, the saints suffered all things, exposed themselves to the greatest dangers, and overcame the most painful labors. We are not different from the saints for, with this gift, we too are capable of all virtue.


CCD and the Interview


Children do not have to attend CCD for Confirmation preparation. Consider the strong statement in the Code of Canon Law, regarding the "Right of Confirmation" which states: "The initiation of children into the sacramental life is for the most part the responsibility and concern of Christian parents." No one can take this right and responsibility away from the parents. Again, the priest may interview the child to ensure that the child is properly prepared. As with the First Communion interview, it is advisable for parents to be present during the questioning period.


When physically present, parents may assure themselves that the child is properly interviewed - that is, that the child is asked questions pertaining only to the sacrament for which he or she is preparing to receive. Therefore, answers or explanations to theological questions that would not be considered necessary for any other person of the child's age, preparing for the same sacrament, would be inappropriate.


If, for some reason, parents are facing serious obstacles which will not allow their child to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in their diocese, parents may look for a priest at a nearby parish who will accept Canon Law, the Charter of the Rights of the Family (found in Educational Guidance in Human Love) and encyclicals that teach parental rights and obligations in total education of the child. In a worst case scenario, parents may wish to seek out another bishop from another diocese. There is no Church law that says one must receive the sacraments in the local diocese.


The Purpose and Use of Sacramentals


Sacramentals are holy things or actions of which the Church makes use to obtain for us from God spiritual and temporal favors. It is important to remember that it is not the sacramentals themselves that obtain these favors from God, but the prayers of the Church offered for those who use the sacramentals and the devotions they inspire.


There are three categories of sacramentals: the blessings of priests and bishops, exorcisms against evil spirits, and blessed objects of devotion. It is important to remember to use sacramentals with faith and devotion and never to make them objects of superstition. For example, it is not the wearing of the Brown Scapular that will save us. It is the childlike trust and consecration of ourselves to God through our Heavenly Mother and the promise that will ultimately save us. Just as wearing our wedding rings are a sign of our commitment and love for our spouses (and are sacramentals themselves), so it is when we wear any sacramental - it is a sign of our love and faith in God.


Some of the most commonly known sacramentals are holy water, candles, ashes, palms, crucifixes, medals, rosaries, scapulars, and images of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the saints.


Among the scapulars, there are six different ones.


Many are familiar only with the aforementioned Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the wonderful promise attached to it, "Whosoever dies clothed in this [Scapular] shall not suffer eternal fire." The Brown Scapular has many indulgences attached to it. One in particular, issued by Pope Benedicts XIV, promises that a partial indulgence of 500 days is granted when the Brown Scapular is reverentially kissed. This indulgence is not extended to the Scapular medal.


The Red Scapular, properly called the Scapular of the Passion, was given to us by Our Lord to Sister Apolline in 1846 in response to the prayer of His Most Blessed Mother. On the scapular are the words, "Holy Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, protects us." The Green Scapular was given to Sister Justine in 1840 by Our Lady. The inscription on this scapular reads, "Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death." It is used especially for the conversion of sinners.


The Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception is a representation of the habit worn by the Theatine religious. One honors Our Lady under this title when this particular scapular is worn. The White Scapular was given to St. John de Matha, founder of the Trinitarians, and it is noted to foster devotion to the Holy Trinity. Finally, the Black Scapular of Our Lady of Sorrows traces its origins to the Servite Order. Those who wear this scapular do so as a remembrance and sign of Mary's humility and open proof of the sorrow she endured in the most bitter Passion of her Son.


The Rosary - First Among the Sacramentals


The Holy Rosary is to the sacramentals what the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to the sacraments. Highly indulgenced, the praying of it is always requested by Our Lady in her earthly apparitions.


"A plenary indulgence is granted to one of the faithful who recites the rosary of at least five decades with meditation on the respective mysteries in a church or a public oratory, or in a family, or in a religious community, or in some pious Association. The five decades are to be said in continuity and if said in public, the respective mystery is to be announced before each decade. An "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" or some other prayers of one's choice are to be said for the Pope's intention. In order to gain a plenary indulgence, four things are necessary: 1. The performance of the work to which the indulgence is attached. 2. Sacramental confession. 3. Eucharistic Communion. 4. Prayer for the intention of the Holy Pontiff. In addition to this, it is required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent." (From the New Regulations on Indulgences by Fr. Winfred Herbst.)


The rosary was given to St. Dominic as the means to defeat the Albigensian heresy and thereafter was used to crush any other heresy or evil confronting the Church. In this century alone, Our Lady ahs come several times asking us to pray the rosary every day. This beautiful yet simple prayer, which is often scorned by those who do not know any better, is the key to curing all the problems in the world today. It is the prayer that touches the Heart of Jesus because of the joy it give His Mother. The greatest gift we can give our children is to instill in them a love of praying the Rosary every day.


The Home as a Sacramental


When a priest blesses a home it becomes, by virtue of the act, a sacramental - a point of contact for grace. Our homes should be holy, prayerful places - sanctuaries from the outside world and a haven of peace and solitude. Our role as parents (especially the mother, who is the hear of the home) is to create and keep this peaceful spirit alive in our homes. Husbands can come home from the day-to-day grind of work to find the peace and rest they need to refresh their souls. Our children, too, need this sense of security and peace that only a blessed and holy home can give. We need to protect our homes from the onslaught of Satan and the evil influences he uses as means of entrance into this protective sanctuary.


In closing, I would like to quote Pope Paul VI's appeal to parents at a General Audience on August 11, 1976:


"Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? Do you prepare them in conjunction with the priests, for the sacraments that they receive when they are young: Confession, Communion and Confirmation? Do you encourage them when they are sick to think of Christ suffering to invoke the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the saints? Do you say the family rosary together?


And you, fathers, do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community - at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action, joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life, an act of worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your homes: Pax huic domui. Remember, it is thus that you build up the Church."


Catherine (Katie) Moran and her husband David have been homeschooling for almost 11 years. Catherine is a co-founder for her local group near Niles, OH, and is the editor of the homeschooling newsletter, Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom. She is involved with helping dyslexic children since discovering her youngest son was diagnosed as severe dyslexic. She is a certified screener for Scotopic Sensitivity, a syndrome that affects 50% of the learning disabled population. She is also the secretary-treasure of the World Apostolate of Fatima-Byzantine Chapter in Warrren, OH. Catherine holds a double major in Speech and Hearing Therapy and Medical Technology and she is currently working on her Pontifical Degree from the Catholic Home Study Institute in Virginia. Her book, "The Doorway To Heaven," is pending publication with Tan Books, and Publishers. Katie is now president of CHSNA (Catholic Home School Network of America).


Marianna Bartold is the founder of Keeping It Catholic; CHSNA; and the Michigan Catholic Home Educators; founding publisher of The Catholic Family's Magnificat Magazine, introduced the Magnificat homeschool section in Sursum Corda, and she served as homeschool forum moderator on EWTN Online (formerly CRNET). She assisted in writing parts of this original article and updated it for the Keeping It Catholic website.


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