Nicolete Burbach (Consultant researcher in the Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice, and Lecturer in postmodern theology at the University of Durham).
It has become a truism in Catholic circles that online forms of communion are not really communion; that the presence it offers is a false, ‘virtual’ one; and that however much closer it may seem to bring us lonely individuals, bound to our houses, the physical gulf between us is an alienation that can never be overcome in a purely digital medium.
Dr Joseph M Bradley (Experienced University Lecturer & Secondary School Teacher)
The world tells us to seek success, power and money:
God tells us to seek humility, service and love (Pope Francis).
Western societies are dominated by ideological practices and philosophies characterised by consumption, competition, and achievement. This is reflected in personal, group and national aspirations governed by passions, incentives and actions regarding the production and acquisition of wealth, status, power and material advancement. Partly in this context, directly and indirectly, a conventional school education in Scotland plays a significant role in preparing pupils to ‘fit in’ with society.
Marie McCoy (Religious Education teacher at St Ninian’s High in Giffnock)
Here we go again. Not so long ago my classroom was a hive of Advent activity as my pupils listened to ‘O’ antiphons and designed Jesse tree decorations. Now, like classrooms up and down the country, it lies empty and deserted and we must return instead to the soulless world of online learning.
William Liston (Former Religious Education adviser to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Motherwell).
In 1974, the first post-Vatican II document relating to religious education in Scottish Catholic Secondaries was published by the National Religious Education Committee appointed by the Scottish Conference of Bishops.
Teaching online last term was something that I was absolutely dreading, a feeling that I know many of my colleagues shared. A common concern was the sense of personal connection, the building of a community within the classroom, that allows for the venture of dialogue, conversation, and learning. When it comes to Catholic education, which always has a pastoral dimension, incorporating this element in a virtual environment poses serious challenges. To me this seemed impossible to carry out online. What, in fact, I was actually confronted with was a completely different reality, one in which a ‘light shines in the darkness’.
The announcement on Sunday that we were to enter another severe lockdown left many of us scrambling to get organised for what lies ahead in these next four weeks. Indeed, closure of schools means that teachers and parents alike are having to prepare for another period of challenges where we try to do our best to get things right for our children. Schools across the country are working relentlessly to support the learning of our young people and the established key partnerships with parents, the local communities, local authorities and so on are critical at this time to ensure there is minimum disruption to children’s learning and their health and wellbeing. For Catholic schools in Scotland, one of most significant partnerships in terms of the education of children is the relationship with the Church. Much has been written about the ‘three-legged stool’ or ‘catechetical triangle’ in terms of the religious education of Catholic children and the particular roles of home, parish and school in developing and nurturing children’s faith. Indeed, it is recognised that even with the knowledge that many children in Catholic schools do not attend church with their families, the strong relationship that many priests have with their local Catholic school ensures that the responsibility of the parish to impact on children’s faith is realised. The complete closure of Catholic churches in Scotland once more means that this ‘leg’ of the stool is not able to function as normal and, therefore, may have a negative impact on the faith development and religious education of pupils. We need only remind ourselves of the hundreds of children across the country that have not yet made their First Holy Communion or received the Sacrament of Confirmation, nearly a year on from when they should.
Dr Maureen A Farrell (Senior Lecturer, Programme Leader MEd Children’s Literature and Literacies, UoG)
Descriptions of Christmas 2020 usually seem to include words like unusual, challenging or unprecedented. One I would add is absence. The absence of contact, the absence of touch, the absence of gathering – social and religious. And for me one of the biggest absences is the absence of singing, particularly choral singing and even more specifically singing at weekly mass and the annual carol concert.
As the Christmas holiday draws to a close, and the festivities die down, often it can feel like a disappointment. We return back to ‘normal’, to work, or to school, albeit this year somewhat differently. As our Christmas holiday ends and we enter into the last few months of winter, it can seem quite bleak. There is no holiday to look forward to, no star to follow. However, within the Church’s liturgical calendar Christmas is very much still with us. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the hopefulness and promise that is found within the Incarnation. This is the message of hope and light that Christmas celebrates, and it is also the message that is at the heart of the teaching mission of the Church. This is also a message that we live out and witness to in our daily lives as Christians the whole year round.
James McDevitt (Head Teacher, Holy Cross Primary School, Edinburgh)
Over the past few years I have got into the habit of going to Mass on most days during the school holidays. One of the great benefits is that such regular attendance at Mass helps one to see how the liturgical calendar works. Nowhere has this been brought home to me more clearly than in my discovery of the significance and the beauty of the Octave of Christmas.
The Octave begins on Christmas Day on the Feast of the Nativity and concludes on New Year’s Day, The Feast of Mary, Mother of God. The period of eight days is a period of celebration. The Incarnation is such a joyous event that one day of celebration is not enough!
In addition to the feasts which start and end the Octave, there are a number of important feast days to note. The principal of these is the Feast of the Holy Family, which is celebrated on the Sunday of the Octave, or on 30 December when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. The others are the feast days of St Stephen on 26 December and of the Holy Innocents on 28 December.
Bob Davis (Professor of Religious and Cultural Education, University of Glasgow)
The hashtag #covidchristmas has gathered fresh momentum in recent days as new government restrictions have taken hold across most the United Kingdom in the closing period of Advent. The ethos of expectation so integral to this season of the Church’s year seems hijacked and parodied by forces that obstruct our every hope for, and anticipation of, the Christmas period. These feelings seem salient whether we observe Christmas as a major sacred festival of the Christian calendar, or as a secular holiday and gathering-point for family celebration and solidarity––or indeed as both.