faithfamilyI am a catechist who is involved in first Eucharist preparation. I am appalled that so few of the children know their basic prayers, yet they are going to receive the Body of Christ. Our faith formation director says there’s nothing we can do about it. What do you think?

Here is my response to your question in three words: support, don’t judge. Your expectation is that children would be taught their basic prayers at home from little on, and that they would pray them so frequently that by second grade the children would have memorized these prayers perfectly. This is a fine, reasonable expectation, but one that does not fit the reality in the homes of all of your students.

What are you as a catechist to do? There is always the temptation to “fuss and fume,” uttering such exasperated phrases as “What’s the matter with these parents?” and “I can’t believe these kids don’t even know the Hail Mary and the Our Father!”

You could do that, or you could go back to the Scriptures where Jesus said, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Lk 5: 31) and begin at square one. The apostles didn’t know how to pray until Jesus taught them and they were grown men!

Questions for Christ may be sent to her at Catholic Herald Parenting, P.O. Box 070913, Milwaukee, 53207-0913 or by e-mail.

With frequent practice the children can learn their basic prayers in just a few weeks. Print the prayers on attractive card stock and encourage the children to share these prayers with their parents.

Even second graders can learn to pray the rosary, a beautiful meditative repetition of the basic prayers that goes around in a circle, and given the beads to finger, children will learn quickly by incorporating their tactile and visual senses.

Now, what about those parents? Support, don’t judge! Write frequent notes home explaining what the second graders are learning in preparation for the reception of first Eucharist. Most likely your parish will have a family preparation program that will involve the parents in the months before the first Eucharist celebration. These programs usually involve parent meetings, home study and parish gatherings such as a “baking bread day” or retreat day. Beyond the specific sacramental preparation, you can support the families in becoming more prayerful. Here are a few suggestions:

Keep families connected with the liturgical cycle. Consider inviting parents to class prior to Advent and Lent to teach them about these two main seasons in our liturgical year. In Advent, help them to make a simple Advent wreath and have them write family prayers for each of the four weeks. Teach them about Lenten traditions such as pretzels, hot cross buns and family Stations of the Cross.

Encourage household blessings such as pet blessings, new home blessings and blessings on birthdays and special anniversaries such as baptismal anniversaries. Supply families with prayers from “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” (USCCB) or “A Book of Blessings” (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) to use in their domestic churches.

Encourage families to send their prayer intentions to class with their children. Incorporate prayers “for Grandma who has cancer,” “my Dad who needs a job” and “blessings for my brother who is graduating” into your classroom prayer.

I self-publish several sets of “family packets” for Advent, Lent, feasts of saints and for other feasts of the church year such as Pentecost, Epiphany, etc. These are sets of masters that can be purchased by parishes or individuals and duplicated for as many families as you desire. Each packet includes prayer, Scripture, discussion, a simple activity and suggestions for snacks that fit with the session’s theme. These family “faith sessions” take about 30 minutes and many families have used them with wonderful results. Call me at (414) 481-1987 for a brochure detailing all the publications.

Have your students take turns leading the classroom prayer. Allow them to try different styles of prayer and prayer environments. Ultimately, this assignment will involve parents, as their children search at home for prayers, music, candles, etc.

In keeping with your mantra: support, don’t judge, I’m sure you are praying for your second graders and their families. You are not alone in your efforts. “In the same way, the Spirit, too, comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Rom 8:26-27).

(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass.)