5 principles for adapting the RCIA for children

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAIf you flip open your RCIA to paragraph 252, you’ll see the section titled “Christian initiation of children who have reached catechetical age.” Paragraphs 252-259 are pretty important for understanding how we should go about adapting the catechumenate process for children. Here are a few things that stand out for me.

1. The norm on which this form of the rite is based is everything that comes before this rite. That is, the RCIA itself. Anything we do in adapting the rite for children has to be in harmony with what we do with the adults.

Practical implications:

o We cannot baptize child catechumens and celebrate Eucharist with them without also confirming them in the same ritual.

2. To be subjects of this form of the rite, these children have to meet two qualifications: they were not baptized as infants and they have attained the use of reason.

Practical implications:

o This rite is not for children baptized in other traditions who are becoming Catholic (because they’re baptized).

o The age of the child is not the determining factor; use of reason is. A child who is younger than seven, who would be capable of knowing the difference between ordinary bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ, and who knows right from wrong, is of catechetical age.

3. As with the adults, there is no set length for the catechumenate. The spiritual journey of each child is unique, and, “the process of initiation thus must be adapted to both their…growth in faith, and to the catechetical instruction they receive” (RCIA 253).

Practical implications:

o A child who has not experienced “a conversion that is personal and somewhat developed” cannot be initiated, even if he has completed two years of first communion preparation classes with his peers. (Neither can his peers celebrate first communion if they have not experienced a conversion, but that’s another post.)

4. Formation is more about lifestyle training than classroom study. The child catechumen’s formation “depends upon the help and example of their companions and on the influence of their parents” (RCIA 254).

Practical implications:

o The child catechumens should be hanging out with Catholic children their own age.

o Their parents need to be actively living the faith. It makes little sense to ask for a profound conversion of young children if their parents are not living a converted lifestyle.

5. The discernment of the children’s readiness is interlinked with the readiness of their parents.

Practical implications:

o Because many parents who bring their children for initiation are not living a converted lifestyle, children’s catechumenate teams need to be providing a conversion process for the parents as well as for the children.

Take a look at paragraphs 252-259. To read it through will probably take five to ten minutes. What other principles can be drawn out of the text? Is there anything in those paragraphs you disagree with? Anything you think we aren’t emphasizing enough in our parishes?


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Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

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