By Dave Jolivet
FALL RIVER, Mass. — In a concerted effort to assist pastors in the formation of candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation, the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, and Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., have formulated a guideline publication with the hopes of making uniform the process in all parishes across the diocese.
The “Diocese of Fall River Guidelines for the Sacraments of Initiation,” was sent to pastors in June and promulgated August 15, following a detailed research and development period involving the aforementioned office, an advisory board made up of catechetical leaders from across the diocese, and a select group of clergy and the Presbyteral Council.
“We needed to have guidelines to pull everything together — including those in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and parish Religious Education programs,” said Claire McManus, director of the Office of Faith Formation.
McManus told The Anchor the process of developing a uniform set of guidelines began in January of 2015.
She said that there were many variances in circumstances and, consequently, procedures. “Some were good and some, not good,” she added.
McManus was assisted by Deacon Bruce J. Bonneau, assistant director of the Office of Faith Formation.
“We eventually met with Bishop da Cunha to discuss the need for a uniform procedure process, and to get his input on what should and shouldn’t be done in varying circumstances,” said McManus.
“We had to come up with something that was the best practice, pastorally appropriate, and in line with canon law,” Deacon Bonneau told The Anchor.
McManus and Bonneau developed a draft of the guidelines and again met with Bishop da Cunha to discuss the document.
“Bishop da Cunha tweaked the draft based on his recommendations and that of the advisory board and the results of a survey sent to catechetical leaders in parishes across the diocese,” added Bonneau.
After those changes were incorporated, the Presbyteral Council reviewed it and made its recommendations as well.
“The bishop made the final changes based on those practitioners of the Sacraments, namely the priests,” said McManus.
Among the many guidelines, two major changes were that un-baptized children in first grade or older who wish to enter the Catholic Church should enter a two-year formation process and may receive the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion when that is completed.
“The reason for that is children at that age are considered to be at the age of reason and must be given adequate time to develop Spiritually,” said McManus.
Also, the time for the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation will be in the spring of ninth grade or any time during the 10th grade.
“Through this process, we have tried to offer some clarity with RCIA and adolescent candidates,” said Bonneau. “We tried to take all situations that one would find in a parish, but it’s impossible to cover all extenuating circumstances.” Such occurrences will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
The final version was distributed to pastors last month. It included a letter from Bishop da Cunha to all involved with the Faith Formation of adults and children across the Diocese of Fall River. He said, “It is my hope that these guidelines will assist all involved in the formation of those who will be receiving the Sacraments of Initiation, as well as in the planning of our Liturgical celebrations within our diocese.”
In her letter to pastors, catechetical leaders and school principals, McManus said the guidelines were, “the product of collaboration among many catechetical leaders in the parishes. The input and advice received from those who contributed helped to create this resource that is designed to assist and support parish Sacramental preparation programs.”
McManus and Bonneau each indicated the hope that the new guidelines will not only assist pastors and Religious Education personnel, but families as well.
“Throughout the process, we had in mind to use this all as an opportunity for evangelization — that of the candidates and their families as well,” McManus told The Anchor. “A lot of hard work, research and cooperation went into the final product.”
McManus also made a point of thanking those involved in the process, including Bishop da Cunha, the Presbyteral Council, the Faith Formation Advisory Board, and catechetical leaders.
She also gave kudos to Deacon Bonneau and Rose Mary Saraiva, Events Coordinator and Bereavement Ministry and part of the support staff for the Office of Faith Formation.
A copy of the “Diocese of Fall River Guidelines for the Sacraments of Initiation,” can be found online at http://fallriverfaithformation.org.