Just as a friendly reminder of what a retreat is, it is meant to be a spiritual time for further reflection on topics that have already been covered. I mention this because we are often tempted to continue on instructing our students with every opportunity we get and may utilize a retreat to transmit more new information. That is not to say that there should not be new material at a retreat, but rather that we should focus on going deeper at the given topics. Okay, having prefaced with that point, let's turn to what we should look for at a First Reconciliation retreat. What will follow below are merely principles, another blog will describe more practically how to put these into practice.
If you have never read the National Directory for Catechesis, published by the USCCB, perhaps now may be a good time to glance through it. There is a lot of very helpful guidelines in it. This book was written as a guide for catechesis here in the US. It is our version of the General Directory for Catechesis, which was written in Rome by the Congregation for Clergy and given to the whole Church.
There is a section titled 'Catechesis for Children's First Reception of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.' I'm going to list their bullet points of what they suggest should be taught. Remember, that these are pointers for the instruction part of it, therefore for a retreat, these pointers will need to be adapted in more practical ways.
Acknowledge God's unconditional love for us
Turn to Christ and the Church for sacramental forgiveness and reconciliation
Recognize the presence of good and evil in the world and their personal capacity for both
Recognize their need for forgiveness, not only from parents and others close to them, but from God
Explore the meaning of the symbols, gestures, prayers, and scriptures of the Rite of Reconciliation
Understand how to celebrate the Rite of Reconciliation
Understand that "sacramental Confession is a means offered children of the Church to obtain pardon for sin, and furthermore that it is even necessary per se if one has fallen into serious sin.
That sums a good portion of what to focus on. All these points should be covered in creative and concrete ways, ideally before a retreat, but could be brought up again during.
These bullet points are helpful, but I believe they still require us to look at them more closely. Therefore, I will briefly comment on these points individually.
Acknowledge God's unconditional love for us- love itself cannot only be described, it needs to be illustrated. This could be done through stories and examples. However, the main theme here is not just love, but unconditional love. Some of the best examples are biblical stories and can be found as early as some of the stories in Genesis, but ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Best examples are those that illustrate that no matter what, God's love is more power than any problems.
Turn to Christ and the Church for sacramental forgiveness and reconciliation- Being forgiven by those we harm is a good start, but a next step will be seeking sacramental forgiveness. It is a resource that our students need to be made aware of and learn to appreciate its importance.
Recognize the presence of good and evil in the world and their personal capacity for both- having a moral compass is important especially in a time when morality is becoming more relative. Recognizing the presence of good and evil in the world allows us to be objective and more importantly acknowledge its reality. However, it is not just out there, we are also capable of good and evil.
Recognize their need for forgiveness, not only from parents and others close to them but from God- This is similar to the second point of turning to Jesus for forgiveness. The keyword here is recognizing the 'need' for forgiveness from God.
Explore the meaning of the symbols, gestures, prayers, and scriptures of the Rite of Reconciliation- By symbol is meant the purple stole, the gesture is meant the laying of the hands, the prayer is meant the act of contrition and absolution, and of course the act of confessing. There is scripture that is part of the Rite but it is not often read.
Understand how to celebrate the Rite of Reconciliation- Simply put this is best done by re-enacting the Rite of Confession, with everything involved with it including the purple stole and te laying on of hands.
Understand that "sacramental Confession is a means offered children of the Church to obtain pardon for sin, and furthermore that it is even necessary per se if one has fallen into serious sin- Again it is the resource offered the Church by Christ for the forgiveness of sins, even after sin has occurred after baptism.
Having reviewed these principles, I encourage you to keep in mind that some of your curriculum may cover these. If they don't, these principles are the least of what should be covered and reviewed. For a better idea of how a retreat helped to put these into practice check out the blog on the Reconciliation retreat from St. James.