The Triduum and Children in the RCIA

From childhood till now you taught me to praise your wonders.

Psalm 71:17

“Yes, but, do we have to go to all three?” my own children asked at dinner last night as we discussed the family schedule for the week. The unequivocal answer is, “Yes.” It is right and good for children to celebrate the sacred Triduum, and most especially if those children are the elect.

For some reason, probably because family life is so chaotic, many initiation ministers think it is “too much” to ask children who are elect to spend three evenings in church celebrating the great paschal feast. However, consider that my middle school daughter has three track meets on three consecutive nights this week. And, many kids practice sports four nights a week and more! My point is that most kids today are accustomed to a busy schedule and it’s not too much to expect them to be at church for three nights.

A lot to ask

On the other hand, I would argue that it is a lot to ask the elect and their parents to be at church for three nights, and that is precisely the point. Sacramental initiation into the life of Christ is a big commitment, and we expect the young elect and their parents to be there. Don’t apologize, as I sometimes want to do, for expecting the children and their parents to fully participate in the Triduum. Help them to understand that it is an honor and privilege to participate in this sacred three day celebration.

It’s important to view the Triduum as one, unitive feast, rather than as three distinct and separate celebrations. We are asking families to come to one celebration, not three. “The Triduum is a single celebration of the paschal mystery presented over three days”(Roman Missal). The children in the RCIA are being fully initiated into the life of life of Christ. They are being incorporated into the paschal mystery. In order for the children and their families to have the best and richest experience possible, they need to participate in the entire paschal feast. Think of it as a festival which begins with Mass of the Lord’s Supper, continues with celebration of the Lord’s passion on Friday and culminates with Easter Vigil and the celebration of the sacraments of initiation.

Four suggestions

Here are four suggestions that you may want to consider as you begin your final preparations for your paschal festival with children in the RCIA.

  1. Telephone each family to confirm final arrangements. Let them know they are in your prayers and remind them what time to be at church on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Tell them you’ll meet them at a certain place and sit together. Even though you’ve told them a thousand times, this telephone call allows you one more opportunity to personally touch base with them and address any last-minute concerns. It also reinforces how important it is for them to be there. Godparents or parish sponsors can also help make these telephone calls if you have a large number of children.
  2. Help with the provision of child care for young children. Families with young children are often worried about whether their young children “can make it” through the three day celebration. You may need to provide onsite child care during the liturgies.
  3. Make arrangements for a “break room” for children during the Vigil. You may want to consider having an area where children can “take a break” during the Vigil. Sometimes the Vigil is so long, that children need to leave for a few minutes, get a drink and relax before returning to the assembly. This may be the same room where children change into dry clothes after baptism. Remember, it’s a three day celebration so there is nothing wrong with taking a short break!
  4. Celebrate the Preparation Rites on Holy Saturday (RCIA, nos. 185-192). Holy Saturday is a day of “reflection and prayer,” rather than a day for rehearsal (no. 186). Include the children in the preparation rites on Holy Saturday, especially the Ephphetaha Rite. It’s a very simple rite that’s effective with children and it can be the basis of your reflection for Saturday morning.

Lastly, take some time for your own personal prayer and reflection on the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. You’ve spent a lot of time and energy preparing these children to enter into the life of Christ. Now, give yourself some time to praise the wonders of God redeeming love.

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