Parent as Catechist

Home Schooling and Religious Education

I.  The Place (locus) of Religious Education

The Home: The role of parents as religious educators

The General Directory for Catechesis clearly states:

Parents receive in the sacrament of Matrimony “the grace and the ministry of the Christian education of their children, to whom they transmit and bear witness to human and religious values.  [227]

Expanding on this, the GDC emphasizes that “Parents are the primary educators in the faith.”  As a “locus of catechesis”, the family “has a unique privilege: transmitting the Gospel by rooting it in the context of profound human values….”  Religious education in the home “… is, indeed, a Christian education more witnessed to than taught, more occasional than systematic, more ongoing and daily than structured into periods.” [255]

 The Code of Canon Law also calls attention to the rights and responsibilities of parents:

Because they have given life to their children, parents have a most serious obligation and enjoy the right to educate them; therefore Christian parents are especially to care for the Christian education of their children according to the teaching handed on by the Church.  [can. 226 2]    

The  Church unequivocally recognizes the parents’ role as primary educators of their children in the faith.  And the Church realizes her vital responsibility not only to support parents as they pass on the faith to their children but to assist them as well.

 

The Parish: The role of the community

The General Directory for Catechesis reminds us that education in the faith is carried out in different ways in different places.  The Church, catechetical leaders, catechists, and parents all realize that much if not most education in faith takes place outside a classroom setting: in the family, in the neigh-borhood, in the parish community.  It is in these settings that children see and experience the faith lived.   Liturgy in the parish community is where the proclamation of the Gospel begins and where we, regardless of age, are invited to conversion and to follow Christ.  The way the parish community responds to the Gospel, in worship, education, and service will impact all members of the parish – especially the children. Parish communities should make certain that families know that they are welcome members of the parish and are welcome with their children at liturgy.  Parishes should provide opportunities for children to participate, in special but appropriate ways, in liturgy and in parish service opportunities.  It has been said that the parish does not have an educational program, it is an educational program.  How true!

 

II.   The Content of Religious Education: What?

While the Church acknowledges the right and responsibility of parents to educate their children in the faith, she must also exercise her role as a vigilant mother in matters of faith. Religious education is both instruction in the truths of our faith and a guide to a way of life that leads to communion with the Triune God. To put it another way, genuine religious education informs, forms, and transforms.   The Church, through the local parish, must take care to ensure that catechesis of children and young people is carried out with attention to all dimensions and facets of religious education. Fostering Catholic doctrinal literacy in young people is one “intended outcome” of religious education.

 The Catholic faith is rich in tradition. Authentic religious education must be faithful to the Tradition (and traditions) and the teaching office of the Church.  When one professes the Catholic faith it must be with knowledge of what it means, in an age-appropriate manner, to be Catholic.  This is the information dimension of religious education.

 How?

The scope and sequence arrangement used by all major religious textbook publishers assures an orderly and thorough presentation of the faith, from year to year and age to age.  The field of religious education uses and benefits from studies and advances in the human sciences, pedagogy, and teaching methods.  These are part of the religion texts and teacher’s manuals today.  It is both foolhardy and potentially dangerous for any religion teacher to attempt to catechize without the help of a reputable religion text, judged by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to be in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.   While there is always room for enrichment, the text provides the basic source of information,  the content, in an organized and engaging fashion.The Office of Religious Education has  prepared Curriculum Guidelines for kindergarten through grade eight.  These Guidelines are a necessary reference for a parent/catechist.

Who?

The Code of Canon Law directs pastors “… to take special care for the Catholic education of children and young adults;”. [can 528, 1]
                       

The catechist entrusted with teaching and handing on the faith has an important task.  In the religious education of school age children, the roles of parent, parish, and catechist are complementary and ought not to be viewed as competing agents.  Each makes significant and unique contributions to the spiritual growth of the child.  

 When the  parent is also  the catechist,  the parent must be particularly attentive to her or his own grounding in the faith and ability to hand it on effectively.  The Archdiocese strongly encourages all catechists, regardless of their setting, to participate in catechist formation programs offered in the parish and through the Office of Religious Education.  The Archdiocesan Institute for Ministry (AIM) offers courses throughout the year and in different locations in the Archdiocese.  Because the pastor is responsible for the religious education of parishioners, it is imperative that he, or his designee, the parish catechetical leader, is in contact with the parent/catechist regarding catechist training and formation just as the catechetical leader is in contact with catechists in the parish program.

III. Home School Religious Education

The issue of home schooling, with parent as catechist, must be seen from two perspectives: parent and parish, again, not as competing influences but as complementary influences.  Good will is presumed and demanded from both parties.  Even when children are home schooled, religious education remains a joint venture of parent and parish.

In home schooling, a child misses out on the communal dimension of religious education and the opportunity to be in dialogue with peers as they learn.  This does not mean that children should never receive their formal instruction in religion privately from the parent in the home; it does mean that extra care is needed to make certain that the child and family remains connected with the parish community.    It is essential that the parent/catechist be in touch with the local parish, with the pastor or his representative, and the catechetical leader regarding the decision to home school.  The choice to home school should not be made lightly; it is a serious decision with serious implications.  The Religious Education Office strongly recommends that parents and the local pastor and/or the parish catechetical leader discuss the decision and this Office is ready and willing to assist all parties in this discernment.

IV.  Roles and Obligations of the Parish and Parent-Catechists

The General Directory for Catechesis makes clear the importance of catechist preparation and formation:  “…the adequate formation of catechists cannot be overlooked...”   The formation of catechists must be an “absolute priority”. [234] 

Catechist preparation includes training in doctrine and methodology as well as attention to the spiritual needs of the catechists.   Formation should be ongoing.   As the GDC states: “This activity [catechist formation] is principally and fundamentally the responsibility of the priests of the respective Christian communities;”. [233] The respective Christian community is the local parish.

What the local parish provides for catechists who teach in the parish program should be available to the parent-home catechist as well.  This includes but is not limited to:

        assistance in ordering texts and lesson planning if needed 
   
     access to supplemental material from the parish resource center 
      inclusion in spiritual and social gatherings of parish catechists 
    
    inclusion in discussions regarding catechetical texts and materials 
    
    invitation to diocesan sponsored catechetical opportunities 
    
    inclusion in In-Service presentations and faculty meetings.  

The lines of communication between parish and home need to be open and grounded in respect.

Parents have an obligation to provide the very best religious education possible for their children.  This obligation should prompt them to seek out and benefit from the expertise of the parish catechetical leader as well as the Archdiocesan Office of Religious Education. To this end, parent-catechists are expected to participate in catechist preparation and In-Service opportunities that the parish provides.

Because the Church entrusts the local pastor with the responsibility to tend to the religious education of his parishioners, he has the responsibility himself, or through the parish catechetical leader, to make certain that children who are home schooled in religion are using appropriate materials.  Although there are definite advantages to using the same text in the home program as is used in the parish program, that is not absolutely necessary.  Again, the Archdiocesan Curriculum Guidelines are most helpful in selecting effective material.   

The pastor and catechetical leader, together with the parents, must see to it that home schooled children feel part of the parish. The children should be included in parish prayer services, liturgies, and service opportunities that are available to their peers in the parish program.  An important part of any religious education program – in the parish or in the home – is the opportunity to participate in these worship and service activities.

V. Sacrament Preparation

Preparation for the Sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Confirmation offers additional opportunities and challenges to parishes and home school families.  The Code of Canon Law and the Pastoral Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments [PG] from the Archdiocese of Boston provide the blueprints for sacrament preparation. These should be the foundation for dialogue with home-schooling parents.

 Penance

 The Pastoral Guidelines, citing the National Catechetical Directory, charge that “Catechesis for the Sacrament of Penance is to precede First Communion and must be kept distinct by a clear and unhurried separation.” [PG, ch4, V., B]   This directive stands regardless of where the child receives formal instruction.   Home schooled children should be invited and encouraged to receive First Penance with their peer group at the parish celebration.


Eucharist

Preparation for First Eucharist is very much and very naturally a family affair.  An important part of this preparation stresses participation at Sunday Mass.  This is directed more to the parents than to the children since it is the parents who actually bring the children to church.   Again, the home schooled child should be invited and encouraged to receive First Eucharist with her or his peer group at the parish celebration. 

In order for the child to feel at home with the peer group at the parish celebration of the sacraments, the child should join the parish program for any prayer services, rehearsals, or even classes scheduled for the weeks prior to the celebration.

Confirmation  
   

Confirmation presents unique challenges to the home school family.  The Pastoral Guidelines clearly state that the Confirmation program for adolescents should encompass “…the catechetical elements of community, message, worship and service.” [PG ch.2, IV., A)   Working these elements into a home program is truly a daunting challenge!  The Guidelines further state that, “The parish is the ordinary place for Confirmation catechesis…” [PG ch.2, IV., D) 

Because of the community aspect of Confirmation, and the very nature of the sacrament, it behooves parents and parish to agree on what components of the parish program the student should participate in (Commitment Mass, Retreat, Interview, Service Opportunity).  

All three of these sacraments, Penance, Eucharist, and Confirmation, involve and impact the worshiping community.  For most home school families, this means the local parish. Preparation for and celebration of sacraments with minimal engagement of the parish does a disservice to everyone.  The child will not see or realize the importance of the parish as a community of faith.  The parents will not see and feel the support, the prayers, and the example of the parish. And the parishioners will miss the opportunity to have their own faith renewed by participating at the reception of the sacraments for all parish children.  

A parish is one expression of the Mystical Body of Christ.  To separate children from the life of the parish deprives them of rich spiritual benefits and wonderful faith experiences.  Most especially in the preparation of children for reception of sacraments, parents ought to give careful consideration as to where instruction takes place.  Preparation done in a parish program surely does not mean that parents are kept at bay.  In fact, arguably the most important part of sacrament preparation always occurs in the home – as children experience the faith, forgiveness, nurturing and service that occurs in the family.  Bringing children to the parish program of preparation further enriches their lives by bringing them into contact with other adults and with peers on the same faith journey.

As always, the Office of Religious Education is ready and willing to assist parents and parishes in the area of home schooling and religious education.  Please contact us at 617-779-3625. 

© 2000  Archdiocese of Boston Office of Religious Education

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