Call for radical overhaul of First Communion to help parents

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

The Jesuit social justice campaigner, Fr Peter McVerry, has called on schools and churches to work together to radically overhaul the manner in which First Communions are conducted in order to reduce the financial cost for parents.

Fr Peter McVerry told ciNews that the Church needs to “abolish First Communion at seven and make it much later in a child’s life.”  Describing the “whole phenomenon of First Communion” as currently celebrated as, “a fiasco,” he lamented the pressure on parents to cover “exorbitant” costs.

He also called for Confirmation to be pushed back to the age of fifteen or sixteen.

“We really have to look at some very radical ways of reducing the pressure on parents over Communion and Confirmation,” Fr McVerry said.  He called for preparation for First Communion to be done in school and suggested that when parents wanted to bring their children to the church to make their first communion, “Let it be a private family affair rather than a community affair.”

The Jesuit added, “This might reduce the pressure on parents to spend exorbitant amounts of money that they don’t have on togging the kids and themselves out for the day.”

In relation to his call for the age of Confirmation to be pushed back, he acknowledged that it might mean that many children wouldn’t go on to confirmation, but said that the current approach is not working. 

“What is the point of confirming a kid at twelve who is never going to pass the door of a church again?” he asked.

His comments follow the publication of a new survey carried out by Millward Brown Lansdowne for Ulster Bank, which found that the average outlay for First Communion is down 17 per cent on that of two years ago, from €1,165 to €967.  The survey also found that the amount of money collected by the children has fallen by almost the same percentage.

Cash gifts for communicants have dropped by eighteen per cent over the same period from €574 to €486.  Amongst the most expensive cost of the day are the First Communion outfits that now average €213, down by a third from two years ago while spending on make-up, fake tan and hair for girls fell by twenty-five per cent to €38.  Additional costs, linked to bouncy castles, limousines and other celebrations have fallen to €382.

Responding to the survey findings, the Society of St Vincent de Paul said some families are borrowing from moneylenders or falling into arrears with their energy bills in order to cover the costs of the occasion.  John Monaghan, SVP National Vice President, said the organisation had appealed to the bishops to help bring some “sanity” back into the situation particularly because so many families could not afford the current costs.

He warned that the current situation is “taking away from the sacrament” and is more about “show business.” 

by Sarah Mac Donald