Rights and Obligations of Parents to Educate Their Children

Recently my wife and I attended a home schooling conference. To be honest, half the reason we went was because we had managed to talk my parents into staying with the kids so that we could get out of the house without the kids for the weekend. I think we have managed that twice since we have been married. Not that we don’t like taking the kids with us you understand, but sometimes you just need some adult time.

Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised by the conference. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking over the program before we went, and the first day we really just kind of wandered to whatever talk was going on at the moment, at random, still I learned a lot and was happy to be able to catch a talk by Patrick Madrid. I have enough other experiences to fill probably two other blog posts, but I mostly want to talk about the last talk that we attended. This talk was given by Mr. Phillip Gray a Canon Lawyer and member of the St. Joseph Foundation.

Much of this post is directly from the talk Mr. Gray gave on the last day of the conference. I did a good deal of digging once I got home, but without him, this post would not have been possible.

I really want to talk about this, because I think it is something a lot of parents, home schooling or not, face when dealing with sacramental preparation for their kids.

There are a lot of important documents here, most of which I will link in the text and at the bottom, but also two that I want to mention up front because they have special significance here and are very helpful, The Charter of the rights of the family (which is right on the Vatican’s website) and Responsibilities and rights of parents in religious education (which you can get from Seton for about $2)

So here are the basics:

It is the obligation of parents to educate their children. Not only in their faith, but also over all. You might remember saying so when your child was baptized. Something along the lines of:

You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

It is the obligation of society (that includes, but is not limited to The Church) to provide support, and not hinder in any way that education. (See the Charter of the rights of the family.)

And it is the right of the parents to determine what societal support (again including but not limited to The Church) is right for them and their family and their children.

So what does all of this mean? I am going to limit my discussion to sacramental prep because with general education there are country/ state / county / and other governmental laws and regulations that come into play. You can learn more about that on the HSLDA website, and that is a whole other can of worms that I don’t want to get into. Since Sacramental Preparation is only regulated by The Church we can talk about that here.

As the parent you have the obligation to train your children in preparation for the sacraments. You, as the parent, have the right (not the obligation) to use whatever sacramental preparation program that your parish, diocese or even archdiocese offers.
The wording of that is important. That means that it is not the director of religious Ed, the deacon, the priest, the pastor, the bishop or even the Arch Bishop who gets to determine what religious Ed program, or sacramental preparation program you use for your child(ren).
They cannot make it a requirement that you use their program, no matter how great it is, how much work they have put into it, or how much they really want you too. More than that, they cannot have higher standards for your child, because your child didn’t use the program they recommended, than they would for a child who did use their program.

It also means that the director of religious Ed, the deacon, the priest, the pastor, the bishop or even the Arch Bishop does not have the authority, again going back to the Charter of Rights of the Family, over how your child is to be catechized, and in no way may any of them usurp the primacy of the authority of the family.

I do want to make it clear. It is the job of the Priest or in the case of Confirmation the Bishop to make sure that your child is in fact, prepared for the sacrament, but that does not mean that they can make it mandatory that you use their program, or that they hold your child to a higher standard because you didn’t use their program.

Pope Saint Pius X said that in order for a child to be prepared for Holy Communion they must ONLY be above the age of reason, and be able to tell the difference between regular bread and the Body of Christ. This right to salvation, supersedes the knowledge we like to impart.

See theCongregation for Catholic Education where they talk about the parents as the primary educators and these programs the teachers in the schools the pastor or whoever else, are secondary to the parents. This is also backed up by Charter of the rights of the family and further backed up by Can. 793 §1 – §2
Having said that I want to repeat that it is the priest’s responsibility to make sure that a candidate is prepared for the sacrament. For example:

Can. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise.

“Or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise” Otherwise the candidate needs to meet the three other requirements. But note that one of those requirements is not that the candidate used the parishes program. Priests do need to be a filter to make sure that candidates are properly catechized, but they and as parents you also need to know what that means. Remember that it is the Church’s role is to assist parents in the education of their children. That is by divine law. Because the family is the primal unit of society, and it is The Church’s role support the family.

Alright, so that argument might get you past Reconciliation and First Holy Communion, but what about Confirmation. In the United states under the USCCB there is complimentary legislation that states that the bishop can determine an age for receiving confirmation.

USCCB: Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 891, hereby decrees that the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Rite shall be conferred between the age of discretion and about sixteen years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop and with regard for the legitimate exceptions given in canon 891.

It might surprise you to know, that the above arguments also apply to these age requirements.

The Congregation for Catholic Education in the 1998 case said, “Such complimentary legislation must be interpreted with respect to the general laws of The Church, (Reference 889 §2.) This making the Diocesan norm is subordinate to the general norms governing the reception of the sacraments.”

In this case, and according to Mr. Gray, and the majority of the others the Vatican sided with parents, and the Bishop was told he needed to confer the Sacrament on the child.

The Congregation for Catholic Education also said in the same 1998 case,

“Sacred ministers may not deny the Sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them are properly disposed and not prohibited from receiving them.
… Indeed, the longer the conferral of the sacrament is delayed after the age of reason, the greater will be the number of candidates who are prepared for it’s reception but deprived of its Grace for a considerable period of time.

and in the Council of Trent:

[Page 58]

ON CONFIRMATION
CANON I.-If any one saith, that the confirmation of those who have been baptized is an idle ceremony, and not rather a true and proper sacrament; or that of old it was nothing more than a kind of catechism, whereby they who were near adolescence gave an account of their faith in the face of the Church; let him be anathema.

It is clear from these two that if you present your child for confirmation and you have properly catechized them and they are above the age of reason then they should be able to receive the sacrament. But what does Canon Law say about this?

Can. 843 §1. Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.

Can. 889 §1. Every baptized person not yet confirmed and only such a person is capable of receiving confirmation.

§2. To receive confirmation licitly outside the danger of death requires that a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises.

You can clearly see that Canon Law confirms both what the Congregation for Catholic Education and what the Council of Trent has said.

Did you know that Confirmation is supposed to come before Communion? If you have ever been to a Easter Vigil Mass when they bring in RCIA candidates and they do the confirmation before the holy communion. Believe it or not, that is the way it is supposed to happen. The doctrine of The Church states that the order of the Sacraments should be Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Communion. That is because confirmation completes baptismal Grace. Take a look at The Council of Trent.

ON THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERAL
CANON I.-If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.

And again quoting the Congregation for Catholic Education said in the 1998 case,

“Sacred ministers may not deny the Sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them are properly disposed and not prohibited from receiving them.
… Indeed, the longer the conferral of the sacrament is delayed after the age of reason, the greater will be the number of candidates who are prepared for it’s reception but deprived of its Grace for a considerable period of time.”

In conclusion, If you have instructed your child in the sacraments and they are properly prepared, then they can receive the sacraments. But what do you do if the religious Ed director, the deacon, the priest, the pastor, the bishop or even the Arch Bishop says no? It is laid out in canon law and is based on Mathew 18. If you have a problem with your brother, go to him. If he does not listen, take witnesses, if he still does not listen take him to The Church. That last step is where the St. Joseph Foundation comes in and can help you appeal your case.

You can learn more about the St. Joseph Foundation and how to contact them through their website

Lest you think that I am just reading into this what I want, here are most of the references to the original documents I have referenced above. I have linked to most of them in the text but in case you missed them or just want to get to them faster, here they are again:

The Code of Canon Law
The USCCB
Congregation for Catholic Education
Council of Trent
Council of Trent – The 7th session (where I pulled most of my information
Charter of the rights of the family (which is right on the Vatican’s website)
Responsibilities and rights of parents in religious education
St. Joseph Foundation
and the HSLDA website

 

Can. 793 §1. Parents and those who take their place are bound by the obligation and possess the right of educating their offspring. Catholic parents also have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances.

§2. Parents also have the right to that assistance, to be furnished by civil society, which they need to secure the Catholic education of their children.

Can. 794 §1. The duty and right of educating belongs in a special way to the Church, to which has been divinely entrusted the mission of assisting persons so that they are able to reach the fullness of the Christian life.

§2. Pastors of souls have the duty of arranging everything so that all the faithful have a Catholic education.

Can. 795 Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life.

And

Pope Saint Pius X said that in order for a child to be prepared for Holy Communion they must ONLY be above the age of reason, and be able to tell the difference between regular bread and the Body of Christ. This right to salvation, supersedes the knowledge we like to impart.

And

Can. 843 §1. Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.

Can. 889 §1. Every baptized person not yet confirmed and only such a person is capable of receiving confirmation.
§2. To receive confirmation licitly outside the danger of death requires that a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises.

Can. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise.

USCCB:
Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 891, hereby decrees that the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Rite shall be conferred between the age of discretion and about sixteen years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop and with regard for the legitimate exceptions given in canon 891.

Advertisements

Two and a Half Homilies

This weekend, because of some rather unusual circumstances I ended up going to Mass three times. Not that I mind, if nothing else by the end of the weekend, I felt like I knew a lot more about the readings than I normally do.

Here is the short version of what happened:

On Saturday night, my sons had their last obligation to serve as altar boys, at our old parish, but because several of the kids were sick I only took the older boys to Mass. I have say going to Mass either by yourself or only with older kids that you don’t that you don’t have to keep telling to, “quit touching that,” is really a different experience. Then Sunday morning most of us went as a family to our new parish. One of the older boys was still kind of sick and one of the younger boys was still actually sick so we left them at home to veg out and get better while the rest of us went to Mass. By Sunday evening, the older boy who had been only sort of sick was feeling better. Earlier in the weekend I had gotten a note from a priest that we know, and had been meaning to visit for some time telling us that he would be presiding over Mass at 4PM on Sunday Afternoon. So since I now had a healthy boy, who really should go to Mass if he is well enough, and as I said we wanted to visit with our friend after Mass, we went.

It is really interesting hearing three different takes on the the same readings. And honestly I feel like I learned quite a bit. Though I love history, and read an listen to a lot of it, I have never really studied biblical history, I feel like many people may know a lot more than I do on the subject. So if you have heard some of this before just stick with me for a couple of minutes.

The first Homily given by Father W.E. started out really well. We learned that Nicodemus was one of the Jewish leaders at the time, who didn’t quite agree with the rest of the leaders and wanted to hear more about what Jesus was saying. However, he was not quiet ready to come out into the light about it. (the Theme of the Gospel reading (coming into the light (grace) of God) by the way) and so he would actually come to Jesus at night. So it you read biblical history, he is some times refereed to as the Night Visitor.

Unfortunately that is where the first Homily stopped because it was uninterrupted by, “And here is the pastoral administrator to continue the homily.” The rest of the homily was not on this subject. In fact, though I did my best to pay attention I am not really sure what it was about. One of the things (among many) that I don’t like about the Pastoral Admin giving the homily is that it really never seems to have much to do with anything. So I call this first one a half homily. What there was of it was pretty good, but it was cut short.

The Second homily of the weekend given by Father M.N. He also focused mostly on the Gospel reading, and it was a great call to confession. We as humans would rather live in the dark than come into the light because our lives are evil. That can be hard to hear, but we need to hear it because we as Catholics have a way to reconcile that. Yup, this homily was about the sacrament of reconciliation. Father M.N. is pretty young (about my age, he is young because I am young, So says I.) and he tells a fair number of stories about himself growing up. This week was no different, as he told about a time he did something he really should not have and before he got caught told his mother what he had done. He Talked about how that had freed him of his burden. How as Catholics we were given the gift by Christ of reconciliation and we can have burdens lifted, if only we take part in that wonderful gift. I heard you father M.N. Making plans to go to confession this week.

Father M.N. also took a few moments to explaining why we have to confess to a priest, and not just anyone. This having to do with the power Jesus gave to the Apostles on the third day, saying “whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven…” and how that was passed down from the Apostles to the priests of today. He did this with the help three young men (early teen-aged boys) pretending to be the bishops of the past, passing down the power of the Apostles.

Father M.N. tends to preach for a younger audience. He includes a lot of stories about his childhood, he very often gets genuine laughs from children and adults alike (real laughs.) His Homilies are animated and loud. This is not by any means a negative comment, just a comment on what I see. Everyone in Mass who is old enough to pay attention, is paying attention because he holds your attention and what he is saying is interesting. That can be a challenge and I really appreciate that he makes that effort and goes the extra mile to engage the people in the pews.

The Third Homily of the week was given by Father M.M. He happens to be a good friend, and someone I think of as a spiritual adviser, even if he really does not know that. (BTW I don’t THINK he reads this so…) If I sound overly enthusiastic about this homily it is because I am. He is a great speaker, and someone who never pulls any punches about the faith.

This Homily, though it did talk about the Gospel reading some, focused more on the first reading, in which Israel was taken into captivity by Babylon and denied their Sabbaths for 70 years. Father M.M. focused on the loss of the right to practice our faith, an how if we do not actively participate in the Mass we run the danger of having it taken away from us. As demonstrated in this reading God can even work through the non believers. If we, for example, say I don’t need to go to Mass because “I read the Bible at home,” or “I take a walk in the park to get closer to God” we are missing out on the most important part, The sacrifice that was given to us by God Himself, the the Body and Blood, that we are commanded to do, “In Memory of Me.” A paraphrased quote, “birds are great but they don’t pray to God. Dogs are nice, and obedient but they don’t have souls. The Animals of nature are great but they do not offer sacrifice. The human person is different.”

Near the end of the Homily, Father M.M. did talk about how this related to the The HHS mandate, and how if we let something like this happen, what will be next? I took this as a very fitting analogy to, “[Their enemies] burnt the house of God and tore down the walls of Jerusalem…”

I want to pause for a moment to say that I don’t have any illusions about The U.S. being Jerusalem and though the HHS mandate currently facing the U.S. is a big deal, it is not quite the same thing. However I am speaking more about the loss of religious freedoms around the world and the general apathy of those that call themselves religious to do anything about it.

Before it got to the HHS Mandate, Father M.M. spent a few minutes driving home what I think was a very important point. He told another story about Cyrus, this one historical in nature and not biblical, though very telling about the man’s character. Again I am going to paraphrase. The story went like this.

Cyrus’s army had destroyed another army that had given them trouble for some time. The Leader of which was brought to the palace presumably to be executed. When he arrived for whatever reason Cyrus deiced to question him instead.

Cyrus: What would you do if I spared your life?
Other leader: I would serve you forever.
Cyrus: What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?
Other leader: I would die for you.
Later that day
Other leader to his wife: Did you see that Palace?
Wife: No
Leader: what did you see then?
Wife: the face of the man who said he would die for me.

While telling the story at the proper points Father M.M. pointed to various parts of the very beautiful church building. Reminding us why we come to Mass, and what it is important for us to come to Mass and not just pray in our homes or “commune with nature.”

Father M.M. Tends to preach more toward adults, in language that everyone can understand. The subject (as all the homilies I talked about are) is always serious and gives you a lot to think about. I usually find myself not getting all of the message of Father M.M.’s homily until I have had time to really think about it. (In other words they are very deep and give me a lot to think about.)

So as you can see two and a half homilies, that were very good, and very different. I came away from this weekend trying to figure out if there was a way from me / us to attend a Mass with Father M.N. and Father M.M. every week to get the most out of the readings. I don’t think there is but it would be interesting. I don’t normally attend more than one Mass in a weekend and don’t think the situation to do this again will present itself any time soon but it certainly made for an interesting weekend for me.

NOTE:
I want to note that I am not by any stretch of the imagination a biblical scholar and I am by am by no means critiquing any of the homilies that I heard this weekend. My comments were and are my opinions. (See warning #1 and #2 on the upper left side of the page.) I respect all three of the priests and appreciate that they have different styles. And I thank all three of them for enlightening me this weekend.

Second NOTE:
I don’t think I have access to the text of any of the homilies from this weekend, so I am going from memory here folks. If I left out part of a homily it is only because I am human and forget things. The parts I talked about where the parts that stuck out most to me, and therefore had the greatest impact. The comments about style at the end of each homily was meant to give you an idea of the flavor of each of their preaching styles.

The Readings from the week were all from the Forth Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

First Reading
2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23
The causes for the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon are described.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 137:1-2,3,4-5,6
A lament from exile for the loss of Jerusalem

Second Reading
Ephesians 2:4-10
In grace we have been saved, so that we may do the work of the Lord.

Gospel Reading
John 3:14-21
Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man will be raised up so that those who believe in him will have eternal life.