Here we are in a bright brand-new year, weeks on from the shortest day and yet the reality is, January is often a dark month. It is appropriate then that a group of us in the parish are preparing the Service of Light for our Confirmation families. It is good to light the darkness, carrying the flame from our paschal candle to each baptismal candle, unwrapped and drawn out from cupboards and wardrobes.
There is a conference coming up in Trinity College on 16th January, organised by the Loyola Institute exploring the theme of religious literacy. That really is our purpose too with our Service of Light. We want the families to come to a deep understanding of what they are doing, for that knowledge to bed down in their hearts and make sense in the context of their own lives.
Simplicity and engagement are key for us in our planning. People can all too easily be overwhelmed with a deluge of words – and in the end hear nothing. So we are keeping to the idea that ‘less is more’ with only one scripture reading, Matthew 5:14-16, you are the light of the world and remember, you don’t have a light just to hide it under a tub, you put it on a lampstand for all to see. We want the homily which follows to bed down those ideas. Again, simplicity is key.
Our first evening with these parents was an opportunity to explore the idea of Confirmation, to think about what it means to stand up as a person of faith. Our second evening with the theme – We are God’s storytellers – invited the children and their parents to bring the good news of God’s love out into their world.
With the Service of Light, we want the families to make the connection between what happened at baptism – where the parents and godparents took on the responsibility of nurturing this child in faith – and now this young person being prepared to take that responsibility on themselves, supported by the love and faith of their family. The handing on of the baptismal candle from parent to child symbolises that.
Good liturgy is vital. I know the church will look beautiful with over one hundred candles. Many parents will find it moving and emotional. But we don’t simply want people going home with a feeling of ‘oh that was nice’ we want to make it concrete and challenging too. We want to unpack the liturgy so we will use the prayer of St Theresa of Avila ‘Christ has no body now but yours’ to help all of us reflect on what it actually means to live out the love of Jesus in our day to day lives, to be the hands and feet, the eyes of Christ. And yes, we do want people to have a sense of responsibility for this.
Who needs our care and our gentleness? Where could our talents and energy be put to good use for the people around us? What can we do to make life easier even in some small way for people who struggle with poverty, war or climate change? This is what it means to be the presence of Jesus Christ in the world. When we allow our faith to inspire us and to shape our choices and actions that is when our light shines. Confirmation is about saying yes to that possibility.
This is the type of religious literacy we are committed to, that people would understand Confirmation not as a rite of passage in sixth class but as a commitment to a way of being, a way of life with God at the centre. We want families to feel confident to continue this conversation at home. This is not academic ‘book learning’ but arises from reflection on life experience. Challenging? Probably. Empowering? Hopefully!