As school students get ready to return to a new school year in a couple of weeks, we look back at the joy that celebrating their Sacraments brought to the children and families in our Diocese following last year’s lockdowns.
After many months of disruptions and setbacks, thousands of children across Western Sydney and Blue Mountains have been able to continue their journeys of faith through their participation in the Sacramental process.
With the Greater Sydney lockdown earlier in the year, church doors had to close and public Masses were ceased. This also meant that parishes had to put their sacramental education on hold, which are held face-to-face over several weeks.
As lockdowns eased and parishes were able to reopen, it became full speed ahead for the Sacraments of Penance, First Holy Communion and Confirmation to be celebrated before the end of the year.
“We were determined to have [Confirmation] this year before many children moved on from the area,” Artelle Lenthall, Sacramental Coordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Seven Hills, told Catholic Outlook.
“It has been extremely interesting and hectic too, but mostly wonderful to return to the Sacramental process face-to-face.”
At the Parish of Baulkham Hills, lockdown meant that the parish celebrated a total of 15 Masses across both St Michael’s and Our Lady of Lourdes for First Holy Communion, Confirmation, and combined Communion-Confirmation throughout November.
“We were meant to celebrate Confirmation the very weekend we entered lockdown,” Monica O’Callaghan, Office Administrator, explained.
Bishop Vincent – “may you be transformative forces in the world”
In early November, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation for 16 children from the Baulkham Hills parish community.
Bishop Vincent enjoyed speaking with the candidates before Mass, and was heard asking the children why they chose their confirmation saints during the anointing.
In his homily, Bishop Vincent said that as disciples of Christ, we have a mission to use the gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on us to make a difference in the world.
“We have a mission to be a transformative force in the world. The world doesn’t have to be the way it is, where there is much suffering, injustice, where the poor and marginalised languish at the bottom of the social ladder.
“The way Jesus lived guides us. The way he engaged people on the margins guides us. The way He taught us to respect God’s world guides us.
“Receiving the Holy Spirit, you will produce the fruits of the Spirit – self-control, faithfulness, gentleness, generosity, kindness, patience, peace, love, joy. These are the Christian pillars upon which we build a better world.
“Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, living full the life God intents for you, may you produce those fruits. May you be the transformative force for the world,” Bishop Vincent said.
Fr Henry – “may the Holy Spirit be with you tonight and forever”
During the Confirmation ceremony at Seven Hills in December, parish priest Fr Henry Huu Duc Tran explained to the 26 Year Six children that in being confirmed, they receive the Holy Spirit to become God’s witnesses in their families, their school and the people around them.
“These gifts have been with you for so many years, though you have been unaware of them. They need to be activated, they need to be turned on, to be woken up, they need to be confirmed in your lives,” he said in his homily.
“These gifts of the Holy Spirit will inspire you, strengthen you, empower you to be the People of God that He has chosen you to be in the world, to be his disciples, to be his friends and his witnesses in the world, following the example of Jesus in the Gospel.
“The Holy Spirit will fill you with His gifts and send you out and support you so that you will be His witnesses to bring the Good News of love, kindness, compassion and support to people around you.”
Online lessons give parents chance to share their faith with kids
To keep the sacramental process running, both parishes adapted their lessons to an online model, which would be balanced by families alongside online school learning and working from home.
“It was a big ask for our families and we are thankful to our parents who took up this added task in a year that was already very different across all walks of life,” Monica explained.
Tamara Bowman, one of the mothers of a child who went through the online sacramental program at Baulkham Hills, explained how it allowed for deeper conversations between her and her daughter about faith.
“I think it made the experience a little bit deeper between my daughter and me.
“Because there was a lot more facilitation at home, we talked a lot about the journey together, what it meant, and giving my point of view and getting her point of view.”
Another parent, Bernadette Saville, said that despite the difficulties of lockdown, going through the process at home with her son was a “really special way to approach the sacrament”.
“We loved that we were just one-on-one with him and we had all the time in the world to keep discussing our thoughts, feelings and understandings and giving him the opportunity to talk about what he knew and to help him grow in his faith,” she said.
At Seven Hills, Artelle learnt new ways of presenting the First Holy Communion process to keep the children engaged after their long days of online learning.
“The families have been very resilient and adapted to a process which has had to be changed and moved a few times due to various COVID related circumstances,” she explained.
“The children completed far more hands-on activities while the parents were required to take on a lot more of the sharing of the faith.
“This worked to varying degrees and the children were certainly far more engaged than the more lecture-type sessions I’ve held previously.”
“Confirmation is being one with God”
Artelle hopes that the children who have gone through the Sacramental process take the time to reflect on what their faith is and what it means to them.
“I hope they remember it as very sacred and special, as they really did ‘earn’ their special moment/encounter with God after all that was thrown at them this year, before and during the Confirmation process.
“I hope they will remember it as the moment they felt God’s presence and decided that this is what they continue to want in their future,” she said.
Despite all the difficulties, the children remained positive and reverent during the ceremonies, and seemed to have understood the importance of this rite of passage.
“Confirmation is very special because you are getting confirmed into the Church and getting closer to Christ,” Patrick from Baulkham Hills said.
“Getting Confirmation is getting the blessing of being able to determine your rights and wrongs and being able to be one with God, I think that’s what makes it special to me,” Majerin from Seven Hills said.
“At baptism, we are spoken on the behalf of our parents and godparents, for this faith and at Confirmation, we speak on our own behalf that we want to continue this faith,” Dominic from Seven Hills said.