100 children in RCIA—what would you do?

QOur church has just added over 100 children (candidates), 9 to 17-years-old, into the RCIA program. I have not been able to find information on discerning these baptized children. I am fairly new to the team and am finding discernment of children, or rather more specifically trying to determine when and who is ready, very frustrating. I hope you can provide me with some pointers to help make this process easier.

AWow! That’s a lot of children, and quite an age range. I think your first step is to do a little sorting. Are any of these children approaching your parish on their own, or are their parents also in a process of reception? For those whose parents are also in the process, I would focus on discerning the readiness of the family and not focus exclusively on the children.

For those children that are closer to the 17-years-old end of the spectrum, you can treat their discernment as you would the discernment of an adult.

The basics of a discernment process can be found in paragraph 75 of the RCIA. The criteria there are meant for unbaptized adults, but they can be adapted to anyone, at any age. Briefly, you want to see growth in

  1. the way the candidates hear the word of God and understand the tradition of the church
  2. the way the candidates pray and worship
  3. the way the candidates participate in and contribute to the parish community
  4. the way the candidates care for the poor and for those who have never heard the Good News

For a more detailed discussion of discernment, check out these links:

There is lots more that could be said about discernment, and I’m going to open the discussion up for comments to see what other wisdom is out there.

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Comments

  1. Perhaps the number is a red herring. With 100 or with 1, discernment is individual. Yes, it’s labor-intensive. But that’s why you have a whole community to initiate, right? Which brings me to the next point.

    There must be lots of adults that have a hand in this process–parents, catechists, sponsor families and the like. Everyone should contribute to the discernment process in their own proper way. How are they empowered and prepared to do this? That’s the key question. Don’t take it all upon yourself.

    If you are on the team that coordinates the whole process, you’ve got to offer some formation around this topic. Then the catechists, adult sponsors, etc., will tell you how it’s going with the children. At crucial decision times, you will want to pool their wisdom and have a process for doing so. But if they never heard of it before those decision times, they will probably not know what you are talking about, become anxious and be unable to make useful observations. So do it early.

    Some of the baptized candidates will be ready in a short time because they have been living the Christian life, and are catechized at their age level. Be ready for that. Some process and preparation is good for everybody, but it may not need to be long.

    Beware of the assumption that because a child went to Catholic School, or Sunday school (or Bible school), the child is ready. Does this child have a relationship with the parish community at Sunday worship? A relationship with a school community, although sometimes very beneficial, is not enough. There is also the child’s relationship with God. Is the child aware of being in relationship with a loving God? Does the child know friendship with Christ? Does she/he pray?

    As you see, this is not all cognitive stuff. Much of it is relational. But there is a place for cognitive learning in this process too. Your diocese may have some guidelines about age-appropriate catechesis. This will help you and your catechists to see if in the process you are expecting too much (or too little) of the children.

    Finally, beware of the parent who wants to rush the process, do it up quick. I’ve dealt with parents who never baptized their children for 7-8-9 years, but now that they’ve made up their minds, they want it NOW! Initiation is a process. We’re in God’s time. We’re walking on sacred ground. Keep that awareness always in mind and you won’t go wrong.

  2. Great reply Rita. I think your caution that children in the RCIA process have a relationship with the Sunday assembly is important. After all, that’s the primary “classroom” of faith.

  3. Hi, everyone! Rita and Nick bring up lots of great issues and suggestions. I would add to their comments by saying that the catechetical formation they participate in with their peers, either in the parish school, faith formation sessions, or parish youth groups play a significant role. Their adult leaders and some of their close peers in these areas might even play a role in the discernment process of the children.

    But I want to raise a different concern.

    I’m wondering if all of these baptized children should be in an RCIA process in the first place.

    In addition to making sure the parents or guardians are the primary focus of the discernment, especially for younger children, we also have to avoid a one-size-fits-all catechetical process. There isn’t enough information in the question above to know which process to use for each person. Although the principles of discernment are the same, the process in which discernment takes place is determined individually. Discernment begins at the beginning with determining which process is the appropriate one to use.

    If they are catechized Christians seeking to become Catholic, then the process for them is the RCIA, Part II, section 5, adapted for children, and would be likely be a relatively short process. As needed, there may be a brief period of instruction and probation as well as optional use of one or more of the rites from Part II, section 4.

    If they are uncatechized Christians seeking to become Catholic, then they will likely participate in elements of the catechumens’ formation and possibly celebrate one or more of the rites from Part II, section 4.

    If they are uncatechized Catholics who are seeking to celebrate Confirmation and Eucharist, then their catechesis corresponds to that of the catechumens in Part I of the rite along with the rites from Part II, section 4. They could also celebrate some of the rites from Part I.

    BUT, if they are catechized Catholics who are only preparing for Confirmation, then they are not prepared through the RCIA. Their process is the same as the sacramental preparation for the Rite of Confirmation.

    I think once you know who should be where and you follow the discernment requirements in the Rite for their particular situation, the discernment process becomes a bit more manageable.

  4. First, breathe! Next, know and trust the process, being well rooted in the ritual text, and then begin with Nick’s suggestions about sorting out who is who and what is the appropriate response in terms of age, sacramental experience, family context, etc.

    With 100 children entrusted to the Church under your direction, remember that the responsibility for their formation and discernment belongs to the community and not to a single individual. Remember, too, that discernment is an ongoing process rather than simply a formal meeting or a “judgment” that takes place just before certain Rites.

    An Ignatian-inspired understanding of discernment may be helpful. Discernment is an encounter which we enter into mutually – both/all parties seeking to encounter the Spirit of God and the revelation of God’s will for an individual who is in unique relationship with that God.
    It depends on awareness of the child’s and family’s desires for initiation, invites the assessment of feelings and facts that emerge along the way, and leads to a reflected choice on the part of all involved.

    Sometimes the purpose and elements of discernment are lost, especially with children, in effort to replicate a religious education experience with a focus on sacramental preparation according certain guidelines and goals. Sacramental initiation of children, according to the Rite, follows the same path as that for adults, and is a spiritual journey (#5) toward and beyond Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.

    The path moves from faith and initial conversion (#31) to evidence of first faith (#42) through enlightened faith (#78, 120) to a living faith (#212) that, following sacramental initiation will give the child a new perception of faith, the Church and the world (#245). Along the path, companions are essential: sponsors, parents, peers, community groups, catechists, all of whom know the path well and can be attentive and responsive to the individual child along the way. Over time, companions are responsible to help the child grow in the areas of discipleship named in paragraph #75 of the Rite: Word, worship, community, and apostolic witness.

    Discernment is ultimately a matter of companions knowing the child well rather than finding out what the child knows well. Within those relationships the child will indeed encounter the Spirit of God in a unique way. Companions guided by the spirit of discernment (not judgment), knowledgeable about full implementation of the Rite, and attentive over time to the feelings and facts about the child’s faith and family will be led to a discovery of the proper time and circumstance for sacramental initiation.

    When discernment is seen as an ongoing process rather than as a couple of evaluative meetings, and when companions are part of that process, discernment is integrated into the lives of both the child and the community. Even when there are as many as 100, the Rite reminds us that this is an individual journey of faith.

  5. Thanks for your terrific thoughts, Miriam. I loved! this line: “Discernment is ultimately a matter of companions knowing the child well rather than finding out what the child knows well.” Mind if I steal it?

  6. Thank you, all of you for your inspirations. These children are all baptized catholics, who are in need of communion, reconciliation, & confirmation. We have put them in groups of catechized and un-catechized. Your responses have helped me look at this process in a much different way. I truly feel I am on this journey with them, but maybe I am taking “discernment” a bit too seriously, or at least in the wrong way. I will remember Miriam’s quote. “Discernment is ultimately a matter of companions knowing the child well rather than finding out what the child knows well.” Thanks to all.

  7. Miriam,

    I too really appreciated your insight that “Discernment is ultimately a matter of companions knowing the child well rather than finding out what the child knows well”. I plan on using this with my catechists for the children.

  8. Hello all,
    After many years of coordinating RCIA (adults) I have this year been given responsibility for our parish’s childrens catechumenate (or whatever the proper term is!). There are several difficult concepts to grasp, that center mostly around ‘baptized but uncatechized Catholics’.
    Before I say anymore, please know that I really do buy into the RCIA concepts of formation, and am not in the ‘but then they’ll never go to faith formation again’ camp.
    But here’s the thing – I have a hard time considering an 8 year old (baptized Catholic) whose parents are getting him/her started in faith formation 1 or 2 years ‘late’ as entirely ‘uncatechized’ and thus in need of RCIA. But I don’t know what age is too old for ‘catching them up’ (maybe putting them in regular faith formation with an additional family session).
    On a practical level – at my parish we take kids 8 and up into Childrens Catechumenate (and charge no fees)…. so we have heard of parents deciding to save money on faith formation classes by holding their kid out for a year or so! “Get it all done in one year” is, we all know, not a helpful attitude!(Our Diocese mandates a 2 year sacramental prep period for the ‘regular’ faith formation children)
    I’m good with unbaptized children, and with children baptized in other Christian traditions, but figuring out how to appropriate help the baptized, uncatechized Catholic children has got my head spinning! Can anyone help, please??

  9. Hi Cathy,

    I agree with you that it is difficult to see why an 8-year-old baptized Catholic would not be introduced into the parish’s usual formation process for baptized children. I think part of the difficulty is that in many of our parishes we’ve separated the “RCIA” from the overall faith formation of the parish. It might be helpful to think more broadly that, as a parish, we form children in the faith.

    Then, we need to discern the best formation process for each child. I don’t think the first question should be about age. It might be better if we first asked about spiritual need. What does *this* child need, and what does *that* child need. If a parish had a true discernment process for children’s formation, then the children’s catechumenate would not be separate from the rest of the children’s formation processes. The children’s catechumenate would be integrated into the overall formation process where possible and flow out of it when necessary. I realize that is an ideal, but that seems to me to be the vision of the rite.

    The question for a particular parish, then, is how close can we come to the vision of the rite? And can we get a little bit closer each year? So in your case, you might start with a discernment process that focuses on baptized Catholic children who started the formation process late. What do they need? And where would their needs be met most fully?

    As an aside, I also think at least some of the children baptized into other Christian traditions might be better served by the regular children’s formation process rather than the catechumenate. At least we should not assume they belong in the catechumenate just because they were initially formed in another tradition.

    Thanks for all the terrific work you are doing to serve the children in your parish!

  10. Thanks for your insights, Nick. Since I still work primarily with adults, I am grateful for generous and wise colleagues both down the hall and across the country to teach me the mysterious ways of children!

    I think some frustration arises in that, as one essay in “Readings in the Christian Initiation of Children” points out, even with the RCIA text, there are inconsistencies and contradictions. Every time I think we should try one thing for children with a particular background/experience level, I then think, ‘yes, but…’

    Always some reason to keep learning, eh?

    All the best,
    Cathy

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