Sacramental Readiness and Initiation – Developing New Habits

We’ve had a good conversation here about sacramental readiness over the last few days thanks to a plea for help from “Monica.” Thank you to all who have so generously shared their wisdom.

Our discussion got me thinking about the notion of readiness and the fact that all of our catechesis takes its cue from the process of Initiation which is an apprenticeship into a way of life. Assessment of knowledge of the faith is just one part of ascertaining readiness. What we really need to learn how to assess (and, more importantly, how to imbue) are habits: habits of prayer, Sunday worship, stewardship, and Works of Mercy just to name a few.

Je m'en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées

It’s important to keep in mind that habits – especially good habits – take time to develop. Forget the myth that it takes 21 days to change a habit. Research now reveals that the length of time varies depending on the complexity of the habit (as few as 18 days for simple habits and as long as 254 days for complex habits) but that the average is 66 days.

Suffice it to say that we need time to develop the habits mentioned above that come with a life of discipleship. That, of course, has ramifications.

  • The first is the realization that a process of initiation – in particular, initiation into the Sacraments of the Church – cannot and should not be locked into an academic calendar. The RCIA, whether for adults or children, needs to be fluid and open-ended with opportunities along the way to assess the develop of habits. The various stages of the RCIA are provided precisely for that reason…to signify readiness to move on to another stage. Thus, when someone is not yet ready to move on, they are not “held back” but simply extend the period they are in until they are ready to move on.
  • The 2nd ramification is the fact that we need to utilize interviewing techniques when assessing sacramental readiness in order to focus on the development of habits (thanks to those folks who suggested interview questions in our discussion on sacramental readiness).
  • The third ramification is that we need to better utilize sponsors – mentors – to help those preparing for the Sacraments to incorporate the habits of discipleship into their lives.
  • Finally, the fourth ramification that I can think of is that we need to address these habits upfront and ask inquirers – in an initial interview – not only if they desire to receive a sacrament, but also how interested they are in developing the habits of discipleship: prayer, Sunday worship, stewardship, Works of Mercy, and so on. This can be used to establish expectations for the initiation process as well as criteria for ongoing assessment of readiness. It’s not enough to ask them if they desire to receive a sacrament because they may “desire” it because to do otherwise will upset someone in the family. We need to ask if they desire to develop new habits and are willing to invest the time to do so.

Your thoughts about all this?

[photo courtesy of  massimo ankor via Compfight]

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. This is an excellent followup to the dialogue in response to Monica’s question. Like Monica, I work with children and teens who often enroll to please parents or grandparents, and sometimes under duress. I found the responses to Monica also helpful for me. This discussion of habits will be helpful also, and not only with kids, recalcitrant or otherwise. I have immediate use for these suggestions with adults who are eager and serious about the process but who have trouble understanding that there is more involved than simply memorizing information. You have given me a “language” in which to speak to them. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Louisa…I consider that the highest compliment in writing (to give language to ideas).

  2. Joe
    The language used sounds more like our corporate culture’s ingredients for making a successful entrepreneur. It is focused on personal effort to the development of personal skills and traits, the making of a successful person in our times.
    I would rather use the language of faith. In Scripture Peter answers two direct questions: “Do you know who I am?” (Peter gives a correct answer). “Do you love me?” Peter is sure the Lord knows he does. Peter developed the ability to answer these questions in the contexts of relation and community. it took Peter time to become the man who would be crucified upside down our of profound humility.
    The “sacrament” came first, after the time it took for Peter to know enough and to love/desire enough. Then followed a lifetime of his ordering life in Christ within the context of the faith community.
    I think that our sacramental candidates need to know enough (not necessarily everythi9ng at this time) and love/desire enough to be open to receiving God’s embrace (Their love will grow as the sacramental graces help the to develop lives of virtuous living with the support of the community.
    The sponsors of our candidates are more than mentors or trainers. They are the Church community. They used to be appointed by the community. The training isn’t “Chariots of Fire”-like the individual developing all of the champion traits through one’s own efforts aided by a mentor. it’s the community through prayer, support and example, modeling life in Christ to the point the candidate can answer the two questions of knowing and desiring. The supports for what come’s afterwards are the graces from God (the gifts of the virtues) and the lived experience of the community of faith. The sponsor’s duty is to enable these relationships to be formed.
    This presumes that the Church is really a community and that it lives the faith. Others can decide that for our own times.

    • Frank, I’m surprised that you read this as the development of personal skills and traits when these are the very things that the entire community does. Aren’t we responsible for initiating them into the life of the community? How is that reduced to “developing all of the champion traits through one’s own efforts aided by a mentor?” And aren’t the relationships you speak of formed by the very acts I mention: prayer, Sunday worship, stewardship, and Works of Mercy?

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