Current Sacramental Preparation is Failing Lost Souls

Earlier this week, my spiritual daughter texted to tell me that the course she and her husband took in preparation for their baby girl’s Baptism was a 20-minute YouTube video. That was the entire preparation. I was disappointed, but not surprised. In the post-COVID era this has become common. If we are honest, it was common before COVID. My husband and I were handed a poorly written book and told we needed to read through it. That was our Baptism preparation course 13 years ago.

We are failing in our mission to minister to and evangelize those coming for the sacraments. People do not need a video that accomplishes very little. They need our time and our witness. Until we completely revamp the way we do sacramental preparation, we will continue to confer sacraments on those who are not disposed, perjure themselves, commit sacrilege, have no idea what they are doing, or who are checking them off of a list before they go back to their secular lives.

Arguably, the majority of Catholics coming to the Church for the Sacraments of Initiation for their children are no longer actively practicing the Faith. They send their children to religious education classes, but they seldom or never attend Mass. They do not pray as a family. They are not living the life of discipleship. In reality, they are lost. I asked my middle schoolers questions about all of the above, and none of them—except my own daughter—were being raised in homes where the Faith was being practiced. Most DREs have never seen the families coming for sacraments until they show up wanting Baptism, First Holy Communion, or Confirmation.

Strangely, a lot of parishes are okay with this and even foster this system and mentality. Rather than truly accompanying them and leading them to the life of joy as a disciple of the Lord, we check them off our lists and pretend that our parishes are flourishing. We quite literally ignore the massive problem we know is there because nobody wants to suffer. Nobody wants to be the “bad guy” that is honest with people about what they are called to as disciples of the Lord.

Our parishes aren’t flourishing. All of those sacraments given to people who never will come back are a lie we continue to perpetuate so we don’t have to look hard into the reality that the Church in the West is in terrible shape. Many parishes are limping along—there are exceptions–and will be in for a rude awakening when the Baby Boomer generation dies out, and we find increasingly empty church pews.

The numbers we cling to on statistical charts are deceiving. If it was true that all of the baptized families are regular practitioners of the Faith, as well as those prepping for First Holy Communion and Confirmation, then our parishes would be overflowing, but they aren’t. If your parish has not seen a decrease in Mass attendance in the wake of COVID-19, then thank God for it.

One of the most tragic dimensions in all of this—besides the reality that the Church is probably committing mass sacrilege—is that these families are hurting and lost. They need us to evangelize them and invite them to fully live out their own baptismal calling. I have served in active ministry for over a decade and known the situation is grim, but I truly saw the reality on the ground during my time as a Director of Faith Formation.

In my short time serving in that role, I encountered invalid marriages, widespread use of contraception, adultery, IVF, divorce, trauma, PTSD, intense grief and loss, occult practices, indifference, rare Mass attendance, and ignorance. I had parents tell me the devil is not real and justify gravely immoral sins. These are baptized Catholics. We have abandoned their suffering in favor of a business model and expediency. We do not see the people coming to us as anything more than someone to check off our list and run down the conveyor system of sacramental preparation. We tell them to watch a video and that’s enough to be a disciple of the Lord. To do so is to abandon them in their hour of need, even if they aren’t aware of it, yet. We are placing souls in serious jeopardy, including our own.

There is no doubt that DREs and youth ministers are over-worked and overwhelmed and that they receive little support from the powers that be when it comes to reform. The much-needed reform requires a willingness to be hated on all sides. From personal experience, it is very difficult, but it is what is required to serve the Lord. We are called to go into the Cross in order to help Our Lord reach souls. I see the same thing every time I visit the sick who have fallen away.

The irony in all of this is that countless people in charge are frustrated that so many people come to them with a consumeristic view of the sacraments. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I got that sounded more like an Amazon order than a request for sacraments in order to help their children or themselves live a life in Christ. It is frustrating, but the Church has fostered this mentality by essentially teaching people that secular pursuits are more important than the sacraments.

This is exactly what a 20-minute YouTube video teaches people. The sacraments don’t really matter that much, but getting your child to soccer practice every single day is really important. We don’t want to get in the way of that by requiring a considerable amount of time to prepare people for the sacraments and to have honest discussions with those who are not ready to receive them.

We no longer lead people to put the spiritual life first. We place our sacramental preparation programs around the secular pursuits of those coming for the sacraments. Soccer, football, dance, or whatever other extracurricular activity is more important than preparing to receive the sacraments. When my former pastor and I stood in front of a crowd of parents and explained that they would be coming to weekly sessions, as well as six retreats that included Eucharistic Adoration, the response was nothing short of diabolical. How dare we put Christ before the “more important” things in people’s lives. The wrath was startling, but given the state of things, is no longer surprising.

In reality, we can’t blame the poorly catechized parents because they have never been led in a way that places Christ first. Instead, they have been left to their own devices in their wholly secular lives. No one points out to them that they must attend Mass regularly and go to Confession regularly to be an active disciple of Christ. No one tells them that they are supposed to be teaching their children to pray and that they are the first disciples to lead their children. Instead, they think it is the parish’s job to teach their children the Faith through lukewarm catechesis they seldom absorb. They may hear their parental duty once in passing from a YouTube video, but how can anyone in the Church expect that to be enough?

It is easy as a DRE to blame these poorly catechized parents, but in reality, the Church is to blame. We have not invested in evangelizing the people in the pews in an engaging way. Countless video series are released, but these are not engaging people. It is largely passive, and the same 20-30 people attend. The only time I have seen more active engagement was when we ran Alpha at 5 different times during the week in order to make the opportunity available to others. This was combined with a day-long retreat that included witness talks, small group discussion, a meal, and Eucharistic Adoration that helped engage over 100 people to more actively live as a disciple of Christ. This required time, presence, and commitment.

As far as the suffering families who came seeking sacraments, the only reason I knew how much they were suffering and how lost many of them were is because my pastor and I met with every single family seeking Baptism for their children and because our First Holy Communion families were required to come to sessions each Sunday and all of the six retreats we ran. Every retreat ended with Eucharistic Adoration, and every session ended with prayer before Our Lord in the Tabernacle with their kids.

We were also honest with them about what they were asking of the Church. They were told that they were responsible for raising their children in the Faith, they were taught how to pray with Sacred Scripture, they were told missing Mass is a mortal sin, and that receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin is the mortal sin of sacrilege. We explained honestly how bizarre it would be to sit in front of a piece of bread on the altar and that it is Jesus Himself who waits for them. We were honest with them in love, and we sought to be joyful witnesses in each of these sessions.

The baptism preparation families came to my home for three different sessions that included a meal. I sought to give them one of the most precious things I could: my time. It didn’t matter how busy I was because these were the souls Our Lord had put in front of me, and they needed my attention. Slowly, I saw people return to the practice of the Faith, spouses desire to come into the Church, parents more equipped to lead their children, and wounds heal. It wasn’t perfect, and there were people who absolutely hated me for it. Not every family became fully engaged. All I could do was throw out as many seeds as possible, but the Holy Spirit is the one who sprouts and grows those seeds.

The great danger for the Church is that we abandon souls in need because we view them as a burden or a number. Yes, it is difficult to go into the darkness that many of the families dwell in through their sins or generational sins. Divorce of parents was the number one reason people told me they had abandoned the Faith. It is time for the Church to truly examine how we prepare families for sacraments. We need to stop pretending that people are living the Faith. The majority are not. Rather than dwelling on it, we need to get to the hard work of evangelizing them and revamping processes and programs that are failing.

Will the Church continue to live a lie by pretending like what we are doing is fine? Will we continue to avoid the deeply difficult discussions we need to have with these families? Will we continue to place secular pursuits before the sacred? Will we continue to offend Our Lord with sacrilegious receptions of Holy Communion? Will we continue to fail to evangelize those who the Lord sends to us? Will we continue to turn away from these suffering souls?

A 20-minute YouTube video or any other preparation like it is to fail the people sent to us. These people need our time and commitment to lead them as much as we are able to through our own witness and loving, but difficult, discussions. Yes, people will walk away—it may even be a majority at first–much like those who abandoned the Lord when He walked the earth 2000 years ago. All we can do is pray for them to return and serve those whose hearts are open to Him. We have to stop thinking that our successes will be greater than His, especially in an age as dark as the present age. We have to be willing to take risks in order to reach the souls He wants to reach through us. To evangelize and to love is to lead people to the truth when it is difficult and complicated. It is to see wounded souls in need of the Divine Physician.

Ultimately, the first ones in need of conversion are all of us who have failed to give our time and to truly seek to lead the lost souls in our midst. It’s time to shut off the videos and put away the books and look into the eyes of those souls He sends us and hope they encounter His loving and merciful gaze. It is time to listen to their stories and all of the pain they carry so that they can begin the process of healing from the wounds of sin—their own and the sins of others, including the Church. This is where true evangelization begins.

Photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash


Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy. Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths.

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