How to prepare baptized, uncatechized Catholic children

QI was wondering if you could give some guidance about sacramental preparation for older children (baptized Catholic, but formally uncatechized) 3rd grade and above, since there is little consistency among parishes within our diocese.

In most cases, these children (primarily 3rd-6th grade) have had no formal catechesis and have not celebrated first confession or first communion. Some of the parishes integrate them into a regular religious education program and use a two-year process, which would include sacramental preparation in the second year (for first confession and first communion only and confirmation later, usually in the 8th grade).

Many parishes place them in an RCIA program with some sacramental preparation for first confession and first communion in the second year, but they are not confirmed.

Then, there are some parishes that place them in an RCIA program, and they do receive all sacraments at the Easter Vigil; there is a distinction made at the Vigil between the neophytes and candidates.

Any thoughts or suggestions on what the best direction to go might be?

AOh my, what a tangle! Unless you are a diocesan employee, I think you have to focus on what is right for your parish. It might be better if all the parishes in your diocese had a uniform policy, but that may not be a problem you can solve. So what’s at stake here?

Focus on conversion

First and foremost, this is about the conversion of these children to a life of faith. Presumably, they are all old enough to speak for themselves about their reasons for wanting to complete their initiation. Each one will have a unique story, and each person’s story will call for a different approach toward their ongoing catechesis. For example, in your first and second descriptions, you note that the children prepare to celebrate the completion of their initiation (their sacraments) in their second year. But how do the parish leaders know ahead of time that the children will be ready in year two? Might some be ready at the end of year one? Might some need more time than two years? We can’t know unless we are discerning with each person on their own as they walk the journey of faith.

Unify confirmation and Eucharist

And when should they be confirmed? Some dioceses have strict policies on the age at which Catholic children can be confirmed, and yours apparently does not. (Mine doesn’t either.) If it doesn’t violate diocesan policy, my preference would be to celebrate the final two initiation sacraments together in a single ceremony. This shows the unity of the initiation rites.

Celebrate when it is best for the candidate

Should that “single ceremony” be the Easter Vigil? Again, it depends upon the candidates. If the candidates have family members who will also be initiated or completing their initiation at the Easter Vigil, it might make sense to celebrate with them there. On the other hand, it might be more appropriate for them to celebrate the completion of their initiation with their (mostly younger) peers. And a third option might be a celebration of that includes only the older, previously uncatechized children on a Sunday in the Easter season.

I know this seems to make your options more disparate and less unified. The unifying factor is that every child would receive a careful process of discernment to determine the best options. I’m sure, however, there a lots of other opinions and suggestions out there. What say you all?

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  1. Great overview, Nick. Don’t think I can add any more wisdom to what you have already put out there. It’s an example of the “program to process” development in the sacramental life of the Church envisioned in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It will take time and in the meantime, parish by parish, diocese by diocese, it will be messy. Staying focused on the fundamental purpose behind all these questions (forming disciples) will help determine the path for each child.

  2. A great summary, Nick. The only thing I’d add is that most of the folks I know who are working with children in these settings also find there’s a big need to minister to the parents–usually through a process of reconciliation, as many of these parents are alienated or non-practicing Catholics.

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