Ideas for teachers

The School of Athens (Raphael)

The School of Athens by Raphael (1510-11)

In the center, Plato points to the heavens as the realm of spiritual realities
while Aristotle insists that they are found in the world of human experience.

I have been teaching courses on the sacraments for over 30 years,
and I have used all of the following suggestions at one time or another.

Sharing Experiences

In a religiously diverse classroom, it may be possible to find students who have different experiences with religious ritual. Protestants and Orthodox may be willing to describe how baptism or communion are done in their churches, perhaps by commenting on the pictures or videos found on this website. Ask volunteers to review the images in advance, then if possible show the images in class during thir commentary.

Ecumenical Worship

Church-going students can invite others in the class to worship with them on a Sunday or another day when a service is being held.

Guest Speakers

Invite priests and ministers to spend at least a half hour with the class discussing their local church and its denominational affiliation. If possible, ask them to bring visual aids such as pictures of their worship space and vestments that they wear. Some questions you might ask them to address:

      • Where is their church located and what is its history?
      • Why do people join their church?
      • What do they as ministers like best about their church?
      • What improvements would they like to see?
      • What is their usual Sunday service like?
      • How are baptisms performed, and what is their church's understanding of baptism?
      • How often do they hold communion services, how are they done, and what is the understanding behind them?
      • What other rituals, if any, does their church offer, and what is the meaning and purpose of those rituals?

Church Visits

Better still are opportunities to visit neighboring churches so that students can see for themselves what other worship spaces, baptismal pools and so on look like. This is most easily done in urban settings with a variety of churches relatively near to school, so students can get there by walking or car pooling.

Pastors and other ministers are usually appreciative of the opportunity to talk about their church, its practices and theology with visitors. Always arrange visits in advance, and go prepared with questions such as those above, to supplement questions that the students will ask.

Field Work

Identify nearby churches that offer a variety of worship and ritual experiences and make a list available to students. Have individuals or small groups arrange to attend a service and speak with a minister or representative after the service. Have them prepare a list of things to look for and questions to ask, such as those suggested above. Have them present a brief report to the class on their visit afterward.

For a field trip check list based on the first three chapters of the book, click here.

Student Demonstrations

Even Catholic students are often unfamiliar with six of the seven sacraments. Using The Catholic Rites Today: Abridged Texts for Students by Allan Bouley or a similar source, assign teams of students to demonstrate sacramental rituals other than Eucharist, which is readily available on any Sunday. Invite the students to consult with priests they might know and to be both creative and serious in presenting their demonstration. They may be able to borrow vestments, or they may have to fashion their own.

Teams of 3 to 5 students (sometimes with help from non-team members) can easily demonstrate

          • an infant baptism,
          • an adolescent confirmation,
          • a penance service,
          • an anointing of the sick,
          • a wedding,
          • an ordination.

Each student should be required to participate in at least one demonstration, but the demonstrations should not be graded. Grading is difficult for the instructor and anxiety-producing for the students. Left to themselves, students will give their best performance in front of their peers.

Demonstrations ought to be put first on the agenda so that the team can set up before class. Discussion afterwards can include questions directed to the team (e.g., What was hardest and what was easiest about doing this?) and questions for the observers (e.g., What caught your attention? What would you like to ask a question about?).

Generally speaking, older students do better than younger students, majors to better than non-majors, and graduate students do best of all.

Additional suggestions

Sharing Online Journals

Request or require students to create unique usernames and passwords for their personal journals on this website. (They should not use the name and password on their e-mail account, for example.)

Collect this information so that you can look over their work and perhaps give them credit for their progress.

You may want to share this information with the students so that they can see what others are doing and learn from one another. (If the students prefer anonymity, do not connect the usernames with their real names.)

NOTE: If students are allowed to read other students' journals, they can potentially change other students' journal entries, and they might possibly change other students' passwords, since they can read another student's journal only by using the other student's username and password. To protect against this,

  • Use this option only with students who are not likely to abuse the privilege of accessing other students' journals.

  • Impress the importance of respecting other students' rights by not sharing usernames and passwords with people who are not in the course, and who might prevent students from accessing their own journals by changing their passwords.

  • Suggest that students copy their journal entries into a word processor so that they have a permanent record of what they have written, at least until the end of the course.

Discussion Forums

Direct students to enter any of the forums on this website. To see the forums that are already available, click here.

You can even set up a forum of your own, to which only you and your own students have access. To learn how to do this, write to me at the address below.


Course Syllabi

The syllabi available here are Word documents that can be downloaded and edited for use in your own course. To add your own syllabus to this list, please send it to me in Microsoft Word (2003), Open Office Writer 3.0, or in a generic (text only) format that can be read by word processors.

These syllabi suggest ways that the book may be used and are not intended to be taken as the only ways to use it. None of these syllabi refer to quizzes or exams, for example, since I do not give tests in my courses.

Introduction to Sacraments at Brescia University (Spring 2009)

Theology of Worship at Aquinas Institute of Theology (Fall 2009)

Spirituality of Sacraments at Bellarmine University (Spring 2010)

Sacraments of Initiation at Saint Michael's College (Summer 2010)

To discuss any of the above suggestions, or to make some of your own, 
please write to me at


Last modified: Friday, 26 February 2016, 3:42 AM