My friend and I were laughing the other day remembering how our kids loved to put on “shows.” In fact, on Erin’s daughter’s eighth birthday she received a special gift which she had specifically requested: a huge roll of red tickets – the kind you get at a school carnival or raffle. These tickets were given to drafted parents and siblings who were required to be the audience and watch every show performed in the family room or basement. Remember those days when your kids would dress up and give you “a show?” Or, maybe you’re living “those days” right now.
The point is that most kids love attention. And many kids especially love the attention received from a group or an adoring “audience.” On the contrary, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults tells that when celebrating liturgical rites with children, we should keep the congregation small, “since a large group might make the children uncomfortable” (see nos. 260, 257). To be sure, liturgical rites are not a “show.” The liturgy is the official public worship of the Church. And, a congregation is not an “audience.” Members of the congregation are active participants in the liturgy. Thus, the point made in the opening story does not directly apply to liturgical rites. Nonetheless, I believe the general principle is true: kids love attention from people who care about them.
And, I believe the people in our parishes care about children in the RCIA. Furthermore, I believe the RCIA is dead wrong about celebrating the liturgical rites with children. I think that both the children in the RCIA and the worshipping parishioners benefit when we celebrate the rites of the RCIA with the Sunday assembly.
First, the children in RCIA benefit from being present in the midst of the Body of Christ. Our Sunday assemblies, gathered for Eucharist, are the Body of Christ made manifest. When children in the RCIA stand in our midst for worship they are being formed by the Body of Christ. The liturgy is formative. And, we do our best liturgy on Sunday in the midst of God’s holy people.
Besides, the children are preparing to join our sacred assembly; they ought to have the opportunity to be among us. Moreover, in my experience children are not intimidated or overly uncomfortable being in a large congregation. Although it’s not uncommon for some children to be “nervous” about being the center of attention, all that’s needed it a little reassurance from a trusted adult. Once they know that loving parents, sponsors and same-age companions will be walking with them throughout the ritual, they usually feel safe and secure.
Second, members of the parish, young and old, benefit from children in the RCIA celebrating the rites on Sunday. When the rites of the RCIA are done well, they help worshippers grown in faith for the liturgy is formative for all participants. For example, when the person in the pew watches a parent get down on his knees and sign his son’s feet with the sign of the cross, the pew person is led to ask, “Do I walk in the way of Christ?”
In conclusion, even though I am sure the authors of the RCIA had the children’s best interest in mind when they advised us to celebrate the rites with a “small congregation,” I’ll stick to my position that they are dead wrong. And, I encourage you to celebrate the rites of the RCIA with your young catechumens in the midst of your Sunday assembly. You won’t even need the red tickets.