(Note from Nick: I asked Rita Burns Senseman to answer a question we recently received. She is a leading expert in children’s initiation. Thanks Rita!)
Should young people in the RCIA attend regular religious education classes in addition to the catechesis and programs they take part in with the RCIA?
It depends. In most instances, if your parish has a well-developed RCIA for young people,then there is no need for them to participate in regular religious education. Besides, it is often “too much” for a catechumenal family to attend all RCIA sessions, which include Sunday dismissal from the Liturgy of the Word, in addition to regular religious education.
However, the complete answer to this question depends upon discerning what the individual child and family really need to complete the process of initiation and conversion (see RCIA 253). The first step is to talk with the child and the parent or guardian and determine what type of formation the child needs and how this fits with what your parish has to offer. For example, if a fifth grade child is truly uncatechized and has very little religious formation, it may be unwise to have the child join a fifth grade religious education class. Such “classes” are designed for baptized, catechized Catholic children. The child may be better served in a catechumenal group with other children, their Catholic companions (RCIA 252, 254), their parents (RCIA 252, 254) and possibly some sponsors.
On the other hand, if your parish does not yet have a well-developed children’s catechumenate, the child may need to be part of some regular religious education in order to have interaction with baptized Catholic peers (RCIA 254.1, National Statutues 19). Another issue to consider in the discernment process is the age of child. Although it may be unwise to have an uncatechized fifth grader in regular religious education, it may be fine for a first grader. A younger child may feel very comfortable in a first grade catechetical session.
In addition, when discerning what is the best pathway for the child, consider her or his previous religious formation. If the child is already evangelized and somewhat catechized, they may not need a precatechumante. And, if the child is fairly well catechized, they may feel very comfortable in the parish catechetical program. For example, if the child has been coming to church for years, but has not been baptized, it may be appropriate for them to attend parish religious education, in addition to the RCIA sessions.
In the end, it depends on the needs of the child. There is no easy answer. It’s not a “one program fits all.” Discernment is the key.