CANANDAIGUA — Two engaged couples sat at a small table at St. Mary Parish’s Dougherty Hall Jan. 5 and listened as a woman explained the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage.
“It’s a sacrament because it’s a promise and a pledge. … Marriage is a commitment rather than a contract. It’s an unconditional promise. You don’t know where it’s going to go,” Jacqueline Johnson told Chelsea Baker, Josh Akin, Renee Rizzo and Anthony Venezia.
The scene could easily have been mistaken for a pre-Cana session, except that at the next table over, Father William Darling, parochial vicar for St. Mary and St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield, was explaining the sacrament of holy orders to another small group. Several other tables dotted the room, and a group of people at each table was learning more about one of the church’s seven sacraments.
All of these people were taking part in St. Mary’s Sacrament Faire, a one-day event presented each year as part of the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program.
“The whole purpose of it is to give (RCIA candidates and catechumens) a hands-on introductory experience to our seven sacraments. When they walk out of there, they will have had basically a foundational experience on which to build,” said Marie Fischette, St. Mary’s RCIA coordinator.
The idea for the Sacrament Faire was born several years ago, Fischette said. That year Easter Sunday fell relatively early in the calendar year, as it does this year, meaning that RCIA classes — which conclude before the Easter Vigil — would have to be completed in less than the normal amount of time.
“In a year like this where Easter is so early, we were trying to find a way in which to give a really good background and foundation on the sacraments and still get (through) a lot of what we needed to cover,” Fischette said.
Instead of devoting at least one RCIA session to each sacrament, Fischette and members of the parish’s RCIA core team decided to gather their candidates and catechumens together on one day and give them a crash course on all the sacraments. The participants visited stations devoted to each of the sacraments and also were given materials to read and review at home. The Sacrament Faire does not completely take the place of sacrament-themed RCIA sessions, but helps present the material in a quick, efficient and fun way, Fischette said.
“We build from that. For example, following (the Sacrament Faire) they’ll do one full session on baptism, one full session on Eucharist and one full session on confirmation,” she noted.
Candidates, catechumens and their sponsors arrived at Dougherty Hall by 9 a.m. Jan. 5, Fischette said, then gathered for opening prayer before breaking into small groups and visiting the sacrament stations. Every 15 minutes or so, Fischette rang a small bell, and the participants wrapped up their discussions, gathered their belongings and moved on to the next stations.
By 11:30 the participants had visited each station, then they gathered together for a simple lunch of soup and salad. After lunch, they took part in Sacramental Squares, a memory and matching game led by Deacon Claude Lester, St. Mary’s catechetical leader.
“Our activity is going to require some of the learnings from this morning,” Deacon Lester told the game’s contestants as he laid squares of paper on the floor.
Printed on the underside of each square was a word or phrase related to at least one of the sacraments, Deacon Lester explained. Contestants were to take turns flipping over pairs of squares, sharing with the rest of the participants one fact about each word or phrase and looking for each square’s match, which was printed with the same word or phrase, he said.
After a rousing game of Sacramental Squares, the Sacrament Faire concluded with two half-hour presentations, one about grace and the other about moral and Christian decision-making.
“It’s a fun time. People learn a lot,” Fischette said.
Candidates, catechumens and sponsors alike seemed to agree with Fischette.
“I think it’s been very enlightening. I’ve learned something at every single station,” said candidate Kathy Wade.
“It’s a good way to get introduced to the Catholic faith,” added Steve Wade, Kathy’s husband and sponsor.
Catechumen Ed Perdue said he especially enjoyed the station about baptism, since it helped him better understand the sacrament and know what to expect when he’s baptized this year during the Easter Vigil. His sponsor and wife, Carolyn Perdue, said she found both the Sacrament Faire and her role as a sponsor to be very rewarding and fulfilling.
“A deeper understanding of (my) faith is what I’m getting from it. I think when you learn about the sacraments as an adult it’s very different because you can relate them to (your) life,” she said.
Longtime Catholic Donna Batzel also said she was enjoying her role as a sponsor for Loretta Reisch.
“Sponsoring her has been such an experience. It really renews your faith and it makes you look at everything so differently,” Batzel said. “I think you look at religion kind of nonchalantly. When you go through this I know it renews everything.”