RCIA for children is a family affair

'reading buddies' scheme by Phil Dowsing / eco-photography
120 members of RCIA teams from northern California have just wrapped up a two-day institute (sponsored by the North American Forum on the Catechumenate and the dioceses of San Jose and Monterey). The institute focused on how to adapt the RCIA for children.

Talking with some of the participants reminded me of something I wrote about in The Way of Faith. It seems to me that many RCIA teams worry far too much about the children and not nearly enough about the parents. What I wrote in my book is this:

I truly believe that when it comes to adapting the rite for children, the biggest adaptation we have to make is to pay more attention to the parents than the kids. On the first encounter, we need to think of the family as inquirers. The decision about the readiness of children to enter the catechumenate will not be based on the child’s individual readiness. We are saying that if the adults, or at least one of the primary caretakers in the family, are not ready, the children are not ready. Just as with adult inquirers, we are not refusing to celebrate the sacraments with the children. We are inviting the family to spend some more time with us, reflecting more deeply on what they really want. We pray that in that process the Spirit will move them to the initial faith needed to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance. (135)

What is your experience? Do you treat the entire family as inquirers? Do you require parents to participate in a catechetical process along with their children? How do you determine readiness for the Rite of Acceptance or the Rite of Election? I’d love to hear your stories.

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  1. In our parish, the journey begins with an interview with the entire family. (Families come to us throughout the year and can join the ongoing group at any time.) We live where churches are not within walking distance, Catholics are a minority, and parochial schools are scarce. We tell parents or guardians) that “young people are dependent upon their parents to walk the faith journey” and their involvement is crucial. We let them know that we will emphasize a life of discipleship, and that all involved must deliberately choose that; this will not be a “first communion class” but a journey about a way of life. For teens,they will also become a part of our youth ministry, with that team welcoming them, knowing they are in this process. If appropriate, we ask adults to participate in Catholics Returning Home, too. The first step in the Christian Initiation process (Precatechumenate) we call Family Inquiry, and offer a choice of language group. Family Inquiry intergenerational sessions, focus on inquirer’s questions and the person of Jesus. Some work during those sessions will be whole group, some in family, and some time with parents in small group by language, and students in groups by age. We look at life as a Christian family and building the household of faith (ie what that looks and feels like; prayer, worship, service.) Periodically, catechists meet with a family for a second interview to see how it is going. Several times during the year, after discernment among the team first, then, involving the parents, we celebrate the combined rite with the parish community. Parents serve in the sponsor role for that first rite (only) and answer a question during the rite about their own commitment to Christ and to help these young people. Over the years, we have become more and more certain that “readiness” on the part of the parents is essential. The young people almost always “get there” much faster than the parents, and children/teens are much less impatient as well. Catechumenate will last one to several years, based on ongoing discernment. Although BOW dismissals will be held in Catechumenate with the students and catechists (no parents) we continue with periodic Family Sessions throughout, along the liturgical year and in preparation for further steps. The Day of Reflection retreat is also for parents, sponsors and the Elect and Candidates, and includes time where adults gather apart from students as well as sponsor-student and families together. We encourage parents and neophytes to register and continue in our existing faith formation programs after Easter.

  2. When I interview children for the RCIA process, I always interview the parent(s) more than the children. I like to hear from the children why they want to participate and their stories are always wonderful as they share how they want to learn about Jesus. However, that yearning comes from somewhere and I think that it is from how they interact as family.

    When a child seeks a deeper relationship with God, God is already acting in the parent(s) life as they are the ones who make the initial contact with the Church.

    What a wonderful opportunity it is to do Family Catechesis. We are not there yet, but are moving in that direction. “And a child shall lead them” is a wonderful model for leading the family into a closer relationship with God. After all, it’s the parent(s) who will continue to nurture that faith in their children.

    My dissapointment this year was finding out that LTP was no longer publishing Celebrating the Lectionary, especially the Catechumenate section. I have used this resource for 10 years and now I am really struggling to find something that comes close to it. Apprentices in Faith, by RCL Benziger and Faith, Life, Creed, by Mary Birmingham are two wonderful resources that we are now using with the adults. I only wish that they would add a childrens component.

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