I recently asked my catholic high school religion class a question that I already knew the answer to. I asked for a show of hands of how many students did not meet their dominical obligation. Once I explained that dominical obligation meant going to Mass on Sunday, 16 of 20 hands went up to say they didn’t go to Mass regularly. After 16 years of teaching in publicly funded catholic schools, I wasn’t surprised; just saddened.
The problem that I’ve noticed over the years is that parents see the publicly funded catholic school system as a way of getting their kids to church without having to take an hour out of their precious weekend. In essence, our catholic schools have become the Catholic Church for the majority of Catholics. Keeping this in mind, Msgr. Denis Murphy has correctly written that catholic educators are expected to talk about God on a daily basis.
As sad as this situation is, it is not the conundrum facing catholic educators of good conscience. The catch 22 of catholic educators is that we are expected to provide the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist at school mass, to students who are no longer in communion with the Catholic Church. By bringing these children who are not practising their faith (often by no fault of their own) to the Eucharist, we are asking them to commit a far graver sin than the one they are already committing.
What can be done to avoid this conundrum?
Many archdioceses have taken sacramental formation out of the schools, making it once again the responsibility of the parish. It’s funny, in a sad sort of way, the number of parents who complain to the school that they didn’t know that First Communion catechism classes were coming up; yet these classes have been announced for months from the pulpit. This ensures that children who attend mass regularly will be better informed about sacrament preparation. Some pastors have also been known not to say a school Mass, preferring to have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament instead.
In the end, it is the parents’ responsibility to form their children in good faith habits. This is the promise they made at the child’s baptism. The catholic school system (public or private) is an important piece to that formation, but it should be in a supportive role of both church and home. Faced with such numbers of non-Mass attendance, however, it is the responsibility of the catholic educator to seize any teaching moment to help steer these children back into communion with the Church.