Signs Of Grace
Sacramental Preparation for First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion
Since 2015, the Augustine Institute has released four groundbreaking video-based sacramental preparation programs for adults and parents: BELOVED for marriage preparation (2015), REBORN for baptism preparation (2015), FORGIVEN for parents of First Reconciliation children (2016), and soon-to-be-released PRESENCE for parents of First Communion children. In 2018, the Institute will be making another big step in engaging the crucial mission of sacramental preparation with the release of SIGNS OF GRACE, a complete sacramental preparation program for children preparing for First Reconciliation and First Communion. SIGNS OF GRACE: You Are Forgiven is designed for First Reconciliation, and SIGNS OF GRACE: You Are Loved is created for preparation for First Holy Communion. “Our goal is to provide the best catechetical materials possible for parents and teachers who are preparing children for First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion,” says Jeff Cole, director of publishing for the Augustine Institute, who has been spearheading the project over the past year. For Cole, forming children to truly understand and embrace the sacraments is at the very heart of SIGNS OF GRACE. “The primary impact that we would like to see is children who understand, at an age-appropriate level, the meaning of these sacraments and who are prepared spiritually to make these sacraments an integral part of their Catholic lives.”
To achieve this goal, SIGNS OF GRACE has been an ambitious project involving many key players over the past year to ensure that the materials meet the needs of the children preparing to receive the sacraments and also to intimately involve the parents and the entire family in the process. The primary writer of SIGNS OF GRACE is Ashley Crane, an Augustine Institute alumni, who also was a major contributor to REBORN and FORGIVEN. Mary Pollice, an experienced Catholic school elementary teacher, authored the many hands-on activities and family pages, and Paul McCusker, the director of Augustine Institute Radio Theatre, provided the Hope Springs modern-day children’s stories that accompany and reinforce the catechesis in each chapter. In addition, several parish catechists, directors of religious education, and Catholic school teachers from around the country provided their expertise, as did some of the professors from the Augustine Institute faculty. “Because we are using several writers and designers who are skilled in the different fields of expertise, it has been like a jigsaw puzzle—putting the manuscripts all together so that each session is complete and consistent between the different chapters and books,” says Brenda Kraft, director of print production, who has been working hard to coordinate the many moving parts of writing and printing SIGNS OF GRACE. “We have a team that includes professors, biblical scholars, reviewers, copyeditors, and proofreaders who we depend on to help us make sure that every part of the books is in line with our Catholic Faith and that they are written with the second-grade student in mind.”
The teamwork has definitely proved to be fruitful as the final product is indeed comprehensive. Both You Are Loved and You Are Forgiven include a Teacher Guide, Student Guide, and Student Activity Book as well as several other ancillary products to engage the children in a variety of ways. “What makes SIGNS OF GRACE so unique,” according to Cole, “is the easy-to-use Teacher Guide designed to give the teacher support and numerous ideas in delivering the lessons to a variety of different classes with different learning styles. There are activity books with take-home pages for parents, saint’s cards, Mass cards, and First Confession cards.” In addition, all the books, activities, and supporting materials are designed to be implemented in a variety of contexts from Catholic schools, to parish religious education programs, to home school programs.
Another key feature of SIGNS OF GRACE is the short and uniquely creative videos for children produced by Augustine Institute Studios. These videos are designed to introduce children to each of the sessions in both You Are Forgiven and You Are Loved and include popular Catholic presenters such as Chris Stefanick, Matt Fradd, Scott Powell, and others. “We were happy to accept this challenge of creating these short videos for children in sacramental preparation,” said Steve Flanigan, executive producer of Augustine Studios. “And my team set out to entertain, educate and stimulate the synapses of the 7- to 8-year-old students, allowing the teachers to engage the students more effectively. This was a difficult challenge for us from the opening creative meetings, to convincing our super-talented presenters to trust us with what was an uncomfortable, venerable delivery of content. It took a heroic effort of the Studio team to pull this together.”
However, one of the truly unique features of SIGNS OF GRACE is the integration of parents’ sessions, using the video programs of FORGIVEN and PRESENCE to engage and catechize the parents and families as well. Parent formation in the context of sacramental preparation programs is one of the greatest and most challenging aspects of sacramental preparation across the country. Many parishes put a lot of effort into catechizing the children and preparing them to receive the sacraments, but often the parents are largely uncatechized and are not regularly receiving the sacraments themselves. Karol Seydel, director of faith formation at St. Mark’s parish in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is thrilled to see that SIGNS OF GRACE is going to provide the resources and curriculum to address this critical issue. “The sacraments are often seen by parents as something you ‘get’ rather than a gift of grace given to us by God,” observes Seydel. “The challenge is to present Catholicism as a way of life and how the sacraments provide the grace necessary for a life of discipleship. The Church must accompany parents, providing pastoral support that integrates evangelization and catechesis.” In fact, it was this very concern that inspired the Augustine Institute to produce FORGIVEN and PRESENCE—to re-evangelize and inspire parents to re-embrace the sacraments and to have an active role in the sacramental preparation of their children. Now, with SIGNS OF GRACE, both the sacramental preparation of the children and inspiring catechesis of the parents come together in one program to form and encourage the entire family as the child prepares for his or her First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion. “This is a real differentiator from the other sacramental preparation programs currently available in the Church today,” explains Patrick Thornton, executive director of marketing for the Augustine Institute. “To have the incredibly powerful and engaging resources for parents in FORGIVEN and PRESENCE combined with the solid catechesis for children in SIGNS OF GRACE is a real game-changer for sacramental preparation.”
SIGNS OF GRACE is already getting great reviews from several of our advisors and consultants who are directly working in the field with sacramental preparation. “I love the depth of this new series. It is so needed in today’s Catholic schools and parishes. Thank you to everyone who put in so much hard work,” says Alicia Riggs, a Catholic school principal from St. Petersburg, Florida. Natalie Travis, a Catholic school teacher from Fort Collins, Colorado, raves about how flexible and user-friendly the program is. “The first thing I noticed about the teaching guide is that it is VERY user friendly. A new teacher or Religious Education volunteer teacher should have no trouble using this teacher’s guide and being successful. There are plenty of options for teachers when using this book. It is very adaptable for either a classroom setting or a weekly religious education program.”
SIGNS OF GRACE is set to release on March 1, 2018, and it is the Augustine Institute’s hope that it will to be a very effective and useful tool in inviting many to a deep friendship with Jesus Christ.