I really love our textbooks. We are using the Faith and Life Series by Ignatius Press. The seventh grade book is The Life of Grace. The book has enough information to be used in a daily religious education class so it is a bit of a challenge to winnow the lesson down to our one-hour class every week.
What I don’t enjoy is the specter of the final exam that hangs over the curriculum. There is a five-page final exam that is given in the springtime. It contains questions on the very basic facts of our Faith. For example:
--List the Ten Commandments
--What happened at Pentecost?
--What are the seven Sacraments?
The expectation is that one must receive a passing grade in order to be confirmed the following fall. The children are given the very test questions to study. If they do not receive a passing grade (65%) they take it again and again until they do. I really don’t think anyone has ever been denied Confirmation because they didn’t pass the test.
Still, the whole process bothers me. I think it perpetuates the impression that Confirmation is a graduation rather than a Sacrament of Initiation, a beginning. I know the test is meant to ensure a rudimentary understanding of basic doctrine before Confirmation. Yet I think we risk conveying that these five pages of facts is all you need to know.
I would never endorse a no-grade no-test approach to academic curricula. But I am very uncomfortable emphasizing the letter grade and objective testing method for CCD. It just feels wrong. The nature of what I am trying to convey in CCD is so different than math, English, and social studies. There are certainly objective facts to be learned about our Catholic Church. However, with this school-room approach we risk focusing so much on Reason that we leave out Faith.
I am sure I am also biased by my own Confirmation experience. I was three-years-old. My mother was visiting her family in South Texas. The bishop was going to be in town that weekend to administer Confirmation. Her good friend was anxious to be my comadre or Godmother. No preparation was needed. We just showed up to the church. I knelt at the communion rail along with everyone else. The bishop went down the line, mumbled some words, and slapped our faces. My hat fell off. That is the extent of my memory of this Sacrament.
I have been assured time and time again that I received this Sacrament and its attendant Grace completely. Therefore, while I endorse thoroughly teaching the doctrine of Catholicism, I think we need to be careful about insisting some minimal performance on a written test is required to qualify for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I think Fr. Martin Fox summed up my feelings as well in his commentary on Jimmy Akin’s post:
I should add, we scaled back the confirmation prep here, because I couldn't see a good rationale for a lengthy and intensive program. Sacraments aren't a reward for intensive study or completing X hours of work; they are gifts of grace. The Church's requirements are, by comparison, minimal. What I suspect confirmation programs are really about is a "last chance" to cram the kids full of religion before they leave and you never see them again. Understandable, but I just don't agree with that. You don't "earn" or have to "prove yourself" for a sacrament.
Very important point. The grace of Confirmation does not hinge on the final exam score.