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March 7, 2003
 
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Teaching Through Rituals
 
 

We know that catechesis is more than learning the faith by memory; it's learning the faith by heart. Head and heart learning are two different things. We can teach someone about the faith through explanations and discussions, but people's hearts are more often touched through personal experiences, prayer and ritual.

We are a Church of rituals. We communicate who we are and what we are about through our rites and symbols. Rituals teach; it's that simple. People, young and old, learn by observing and participating, breathing in the mystery that is faith. As catechetical leaders, we have an opportunity to facilitate this learning every time we preside at parish rituals; every time we gather youngsters or adults for prayer; every time we meet with catechists or small-group facilitators.

When presiding at parish rituals, consider the symbols and words you use. Follow the rite, using appropriate gestures. Prepare and practice beforehand, but remember the most important preparation is personal prayer.

In her book Called to Preside: A Handbook for Laypeople, Theresa Cotter talks about the importance of preparation and practice and reminds us that the foundation of presiding is the prayer life of the presider. She tells us that effective presiding is both a skill and an art. Through practice and study we can learn the skill, but the art of presiding comes from within. (For more on the art of presiding, click here.)

Use the same prayer ritual at the begining and/or the end of classes, sacramental preparation or commission meetings. Keep it simple; no need for wordy handouts or elaborate settings. Consider adapting the "Blessing Candles" idea offered in the "Every Family" column below. Use the same two candles for every catechetical gathering: one representing the past, the other the future. As you light each candle say a prayer appropriate to the gathering. If the candles are lit at the end of the meeting, the group itself can decide what to pray for (a catechetical moment).

Finally, make sure catechists and small-group facilitators know the importance of rituals. Help them understand how important it is to use appropriate symbols (such as candles or water) when they gather, and to begin and end each gathering with the same prayers and practice.

 
     
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Family Rituals
 
 

Every family has rituals. They often mark special occasions such as birthdays or holidays, but there are also rituals involving everyday events. Family rituals can use special symbols like Advent wreaths or blessing cups but also regular things like candles and cakes (in my family, it's chocolate pie). Rituals can be simple or quite elaborate. We know how easily young children can stretch a bedtime ritual into a thirty-minute extravaganza.

Sociologists tell us that rituals are important. Their familiarity makes us feel comfortable and safe. They are adhesive, and euphoric. They bring family members together and make them feel good about themselves. Often rituals evolve from repeated behavior. Sometimes they are handed down from the generation before. And sometimes parents can be very intentional in incorporating new rituals into the life of the family.

One such ritual could involve special blessing candles. Two special candles, one representing the past, the other the future, are lit for various occasions. Appropriate prayers honoring or recognizing what has been and what will be are said as the candles are lit. Gaynell Bordes Cronin and Jack Rathschmidt have written a book, The Blessing Candles, with family prayers for all occasions, but families can certainly develop their own prayers. The book suggests a different symbol to use with each prayer, but again families can come up with their own. (Click here for a family prayer service, from The Blessing Candles.)

Talk to parents about the importance of family rituals. Help them recognize and appreciate their own and invite them to be more intentional in planning new rituals. Throughout the year, send home practical ideas on how to celebrate the liturgical season through symbols and rituals.

 
     
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Video Updates on the Sacrament of Reconciliation
 
 

A small sign hangs above the kitchen door in our home. It reads: "God's peace be in this house." When our family prays, we add, "…and in our hearts and in our world." If ever there was a need for healing and reconciliation in our Church and world, that time is now. So many relationships—among our families, friends and coworkers, perhaps even our own—are in need of God's healing touch. Many of us don't even have to leave our homes to find unresolved hurt and conflict.

Despite the fact that the "new" Rite of Penance has been around for nearly 30 years, many adult Catholics are unfamiliar with it, or still uncomfortable with it. Some allow their unease to prevent them from participating in what could bring healing and peace to their troubled lives. Others, like the Elect and Candidates for Full Communion, need instruction to understand the why and how of this sacrament.

With the number of communal Penance services planned for parishes this Lent, now is an appropriate time for some adult formation on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The communal celebration of this rite has many lessons for us: 1) God's gift of peace is cause for celebration; 2) this rite is modeled on the Eucharist, as are all sacramental rites; and 3) the communal event highlights the social reality of sin.

The video program The Church Celebrates the Reconciling God will help lifelong Catholics, as well as those who will become members of our Church at Easter, to appreciate the way we celebrate God's reconciling love in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Click here to see a video clip from the teaching segment of The Church Celebrates the Reconciling God (Windows Media Player required).

Other video ideas for Lent  (click on the video title for more information)
• What is your community doing for the poor, the homeless and the hungry among us? Looking for a way to awaken a sense of compassion and responsibility for the world's hungry in your teens and adults this Lent? Use the deeply moving video When Did I See You Hungry? and its discussion guide to reveal the hidden humanity of the poor, their spirit of joy, and their will to survive. To see a sample, click here. (37 minutes )
• Use the story and music video segments from Preparing Your Child for First Reconciliation with children (grades 1-4) and their family members as they explore the ways our sins affect others. These segments might be used, as the program title suggests, in preparation for First Reconciliation or with any group of children who are learning about choices and God's forgiveness.
 
     
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More Lenten Resources
 
 
From small groups to the whole parish

Small group leaders are always looking for new materials to use, but never more diligently than as they prepare for the Lenten season. A new treatment of St. Bonaventure's writings, The Journey into God, can provide a wealth of content for this Lent. To add to its usefulness, the authors have provided a special section for those who want to use this resource with small groups. The authors outline six full meetings focusing on this work, complete with opening prayer, closing prayer, group reflections, discussion questions, and song and scripture suggestions. A great resource for group leaders looking for something a little more structured for use this Lent.

The Lord's Prayer is arguably the one prayer that unites Catholics and other Christians. Leonard Doohan, writing in the March issue of Scripture from Scratch, offers a wonderful, accessible explanation of the Scriptural roots and meaning of this most beloved prayer. This article would make a terrific handout to distribute to your whole parish during this Lenten season.

Catholic Update turns 30 this month! This newsletter is another excellent source for thought-provoking handouts for your whole parish during the Lenten season. Some helpful discussions of Lenten ritual and practice: Lenten Customs (C0302); Participating Fully at Sunday Mass (C0698); How to Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation Today (C0800); Ten Tips for Better Confessions (C0890); and Our Holiest Week: Holy Week Liturgies (C0492).

 
     
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Faith Formation Forum
 
 

What rituals does your parish use to teach the faith to your members? Our editors will screen and post your ideas on our online bulletin board at AmericanCatholic.org. You can check the board from time to time to see others' ideas. Submit your ideas by clicking here.

 
     
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