A crisis in religious teaching

detail of a statue of Saint Honorius of Amiens; by Eugène Aizelin, 1873; church of Saint-Roch, Paris, France; photographed on 1 March 2008 by Marie-Lan Nguyen; swiped from Wikimedia Commons; click for source imageSt Honorius of Amiens       d.653




Last Sunday in the parish of Notre Dame des Etangs in northern France saw the return of the Catechism for a new year. Under the 1905 separation of Church and State in this country, religious teaching was excluded from the school curriculum but schools were closed on Wednesdays so that children might attend their Catechism  classes. For five years children attend a weekly or fortnightly class, as they prepare for First Confession, then First Communion, and finally something called ‘Profession of  Faith’ (which is not Confirmation, which follows during teenage years).

In recent years the numbers for Catechism have dropped off dramatically. One priest told me that when he was first ordained fifty years ago nearly half the  children in France were in a Catechism class. In a parish like ours the numbers are very small, and often neither parents nor children come regularly to Sunday Mass.

In my first few weeks in the parish I have had the opportunity to talk and work with three enthusiastic teachers and with some of the children. The Catechism books are beautifully produced, and later on I did some practical work with them, preparing for the celebration of All Saints’ Day – a public holiday in France, though this year it falls on a Sunday.

For some families – maybe an increasing number – the Catechism is part of the ‘Rite of Passage’. The children are baptised and make their first Communion. Then they lapse completely, not even making it to Confirmation. Indeed, I do wonder if Confirmation has become here the Sacrament without a reason. Would it be better to replace the ‘Profession de Foi’ with Confirmation, and to reverse the curious progression which has prevailed since the time of Pope St Pius X, of baptism, first Communion – and then Confirmation?

The late Bishop Gery Leuliet, formerly Bishop of Amiens

Already I sense that the Catholic Church in France – in spite of separation of Church and State – has some of the same problems with ‘establishment’ as does the Church of England. In an attempt to appear warm and welcoming, the Church is fearful of challenging – and becomes perhaps too accommodating. As someone is once supposed to have said of the C of E. “The Church of England is what the people of England want her to be.” But this Sunday’s Gospel (the Rich Young Man) reminds us that Jesus makes demands on people (on us) and demands nothing less than our all. Yes he does so as one who lives by his own demands, giving all for the world. Somehow when Jesus calls us to give our all, what comes over is his utter love for us. How often this is in contrast to the ‘rules’ of the Church which seem to be nagging and narrow. Or would people nowadays have perceived Jesus like that?

As young Muslims respond with vigour to the practise of their  faith, perhaps it is time for us Christians to throw off comfortable and undemanding religion and to embrace a renewed  Christianity where the Saviour in his love makes powerful, and sometimes painful, demands over our lives.


About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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4 Responses to A crisis in religious teaching

  1. Pauline Watson says:

    Agree totally. Our Bishop spoke recently of process of coming to faith: Evangelisation – baptism – confirmation – commitment. Most Catholics are baptised and confirmed before they are (if ever) evangelised, therefore there is little or no commitment made. Had not though about it like this before, but it seems to make sense. I wish the Christian churches would stop trying to be all things to all people – the Orthodox Church doesn’t compromise, yet it seems to flourish?

    • It does raise questions surrounding the age of baptism. The first generations of Christians seem to have moved easily from evangelisation – baptism/confirmation/communion … to baptism of infants and children of Christian families, followed by catechising, growing into adult faith … to concerns around the time of the Reformation about individual commitment, expression in words … with the ‘logical’ decision of the Baptists not to baptise infants (but then the problem of what you do if someone lapses after baptism and then returns ). But you are quite right, I think, in emphasising this issue of commitment to Christ and his Church as one which the Church must face. My few months in this French Parish have brought up for me again what I faced often as an Anglican – what to do with the couple who really want baptism for their child though they have no idea what it really is or what it involves for them or their child.

  2. Rhiannon says:

    Where are you. Have you given up blogging?

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