Friday, October 8, 2010

I Remember It Well...

It happens quite often that folks in the congregation will bring to me a large framed or rolled up item, printed on heavy paper, in full color. They unwrap the paper to show me the frame or slowly and carefully unroll the item.  Its edges may be soiled or worn and sometimes there are tears in the paper itself.  But they treat these as family treasures to be handled with love, with care, and with respect... because they are important.  What am I talking about?  The old baptismal, confirmation, and marriage certificates, of course.

I am sure you know the ones I mean.  They are beautiful, sacred, and a testament to the piety and faith of those who presented them and those who kept them down through the ages.  These certificates gave an idea of the value of these sacraments and rites in the lives of the people.  It is not just the certificates we may have lost, but the value of these sacraments and rites in the lives of people, the piety that treasures these certificates because it treasures these sacraments and rites, and the beauty seen in these sacraments and rites.

You can still find these certificates.  CPH has them and you can find them other places as well.  I particularly admire those from Agnus Dei Printing.  Although the certificates themselves are beautiful, going back to an heirloom or vintage style certificate is not my point.  We do not hold the sacraments and rites themselves in the high regard that befits them.  It would be nice to recover certificates that are more than just pre-printed forms to be filled in and forgotten.  It is far more important that we recover the esteem and wonder of the sacraments and rites of the Church themselves.

Baptisms are often hastily arranged and quickly done because folks are busy, things are going on in the Church, and we just don't have time to prepare the family or candidate or give the rite itself its due.  It is no wonder then that the folks themselves file away the baptism like they pack away the certificate -- both lie forgotten instead of central to the identity and life of the candidate baptized and his or her family.

Marriages have become the domain of bridezillas and their moms who are looking for a picture perfect event instead of the sacred promises made before the Lord and within His Church -- the conferral of the ancient gift and estate upon this man and this woman.  In other cases, people call the Church on 3 pm on Thursday to be married at 6 pm on Friday and the rite is simply a legalization of a living arrangement that has gone on for a long time, a means of regularizing the state of the man and woman who are soon to become parents, or, in a military town, something planned to fit a scheduled deployment.  I am not condemning the couple but the way marriage has come to be seen -- a utilitarian arrangement in which a man and woman (or whomever) choose to regularize their life together to satisfy legal requirements and obtain certain benefits.

Confirmation has gone through the mill -- from the semi-military style classes of memorization and a little explanation of my own youth to the touchy feely domain of a relationship with Jesus.  Somewhere in it all, we have forgotten that we kept confirmation and the catechetical study that precedes it in order to prepare the individual for his or her life within the Church -- not the end of anything but the passage into a state of more responsibility among those have also been baptized and made public confession of their faith (the members of the congregation).

I could go on... but it is sad that the great esteem once accorded to the certificates of old and was borne of a sacramental piety and churchly perspective on life itself have been lost to us or we are losing even now...  Recovering this sacramental perspective on life is not as easy as purchasing these heirloom style certificates.  We have more work to be done, for sure...


Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

some gravitas because pastors no
longer want to teach them. In Large
and small parishes this responsible
task is given to laity as a last
resort. Where pastors wholeheartedly
enjoy teaching the Christian faith
and prepare diligently to do it, our
youth are more apt to take Christ

Rev. Kevin Jennings said...

I'll concur with Anonymous here, though I don't know the guy or gal personally. What's amazing is that, as reluctant as some pastors are to teach the faith, many parents are even more reluctant! Our first lesson is always with families, and this the lesson: the chief teacher of the faith to children is the parents!

Anonymous said...

Why not try a family catechism class? If the parents are truly supportive, they should attend, along with their kids and get a refresher course while they're at it.