I feel I should set the scene for this post as some may feel that it comes across as being superior to those who celebrate sacraments in a particular manner. My entire career is restricted because of the dominance of the predominantly denominational education system. I cannot work in over 96% of schools in the country simply because I do not share the same belief system. If I still practiced the religion I was raised in, I would have only one more school in the entire country that I could work in without compromising my faith. I genuinely don’t care what people do in their private lives but the tradition surrounding sacraments in schools, for many, has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with commercialism. Again, if this didn’t affect my wife’s and my career and my family’s options in terms of school, I would have no beef. The context of this article is to demonstrate that rather than being superior, I am clearly inferior in Ireland. I want to hold a mirror up to everyone that could have done something about an event that nobody agrees is in the best interests of Catholicism. But they didn’t. Some people may find my thoughts offensive but they are not intended to be. There is nothing in this article that I haven’t seen or heard said. The only entity that doesn’t get a hard time in this article is the school. They are caught in a tug-of-war and none of this is their fault.

And I’m wondering why it couldn’t have been. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all rethink the way we live, the way we work, the way we do everything. Schools have adapted to learning amazingly quickly. The last few weeks have seen Maths taught via Zoom, essays shared via Google Docs, Irish modelled through Screencasts, and so on. We’ve even managed to find ways to leave our houses safely for essentials such as grocery shopping and pharmacies.

However, when it comes to a religious ceremony, the Communion, it was simply cancelled. There was no innovation to ensure this rite of passage could happen. Instead, it will be postponed to some future date and teachers around the country will be expected to fill in the gap. I’m sure we can expect jokes from the altar about how god was testing your patience for that bouncy castle. We’ll all go back to normal: spending hundreds of hours and euro trying on miniature wedding dresses, keeping cake shops and bouncy castle renters in business, watching YouTube videos of designer dresses for mammies to outdo the other mammies in terms of style, filling envelopes with €50 euro notes, and then the banners and giant Instagram-style photo frames and photo booths and sweet trolleys and cupcakes with edible crosses and jokes about skipping the church and going straight to the hotel and giving out about the teacher who could have made more of an effort.

The church will also have missed one of the best opportunities they’ve ever had to reclaim a ceremony that has been hijacked by commercialism and vulgarity. They easily could have helped every single child in 2nd class to make their communion this year. They easily could have provided the ceremony via video conference and they easily could have blessed the communion wafer. They easily could have left the wafers on a table and their parents could have gone to the church on a rota and they could have fed them the bread under the priest’s supervision. The ceremony would have been all about the religion, which of course it should be.

Many teachers genuinely believe in the message of the Catholic Church. Some might be surprised by this but given that most schools are controlled by the Catholic Church, it makes sense that a larger proportion of their employees believe in their dogma. Anyway, many teachers find the whole sacrament preparation a chore at best. Many are offended and sickened by what it has become. Ultimately they are victims of free outsourcing. The church and most of the parents have outsourced all the religious preparation to them. It’s handy for both parties. The church doesn’t have the numbers to spread their dogma and parents don’t have to bother bringing their children to church or to teach them the prayers.

To me it seems that for all the anger some priests convey about families that use their churches for big parties, it is clearly faux-rage. Much like the ceremonies have become, their ire is meaningless. They have effectively bought fully into the circus.

If it had no effect on the growing number of children that do not partake in the Mayfest, one could leave them at it. However, in over 90% of schools, it is entirely normal for schools to dedicate weeks, if not months, of a year preparing most of the children for, what has effectively become, a party, while the growing minority have to sit at the back of the classroom or be encouraged to “join in” as backing singers or some other sideshow. (This is often called inclusion and we should feel grateful for it.)

However, those of us who have an interest in separating the church from the education system shouldn’t be smug either. We have also missed one of the best opportunities we’ve ever had to highlight this issue. We’re unlikely to get a chance to point out the blatant hypocrisy of it all again.

Today should have been your Communion and there is no reason why it shouldn’t have been.

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