There are three ingredients in this secret formula. The first two are simple ingredients that you can pull off your shelf anytime. What I mean by “pull off the shelf” is that they are already present and waiting – right there in your parish. It’s the third ingredient that seems to be a secret.
Ingredient #1 – the parish school teacher
Talk to the teacher. The truly critical ingredient is to have the teacher of the catechumen on board and intimately involved in the children’s RCIA process. In other words, it takes collaboration. It may require extra effort on your part, but go out of your way to talk to the teacher in person about the child catechumen in her or his classroom. Talk to the teacher about how you can work together and what is in the best interest of the child. Share your ideas for collaboration and listen to the teacher’s ideas. There is so much you can do if you gain the trust and support of the classroom teacher!
In addition, you will also need the support of the principal. In order to work with a teacher, you have to start with the principal. So, even before you go talk with the teacher – talk to the principal.
Ingredient #2 – the classmates
Once you have the teacher on board, then involve the children. When a catechumen comes to us via the Catholic school, it’s essential that we involve her or his classmates as companions on the journey. Often, the classmates have already had an important role in evangelizing and bringing the child catechumen to faith.
Build upon the role and the relationship the school children already have with the catechumen. I suggest that with the teacher’s permission and collaboration, you give the classmates special responsibilities along the way. When they feel they have a responsible role in the faith journey of a classmate, they often take it very seriously and get very excited. You might ask classmates to do some of the following:
- Be a prayer partner.
- Be a pew partner during weekday mass (negotiate with the pastor, teacher, principal how dismissal works at school masses, see RCIA no. 75.3).
- Participate as a companion during the major rites or RCIA sessions that happen through the parish.
- Be a holy day helper. When a holy day or feast day arrives, asks a classmate to help the catechumen better understand the day. You’ll need to provide support and materials.
- Be a good friend.
The secret ingredient – the minor rites (RCIA, nos. 81-103)
The minor rites of the RCIA (blessings, anointing, exorcisms, and celebrations of the word) are so simple, yet so profound, that they can have a dramatic affect on the entire school and on children’s RCIA. I consider these rites the “secret ingredient” because many teachers and principals (and some RCIA coordinators!) are unfamiliar with these rites. They can easily be added to a school mass or a celebration of the word or incorporated into a religion class (see RCIA, nos. 92, 96, 100).
Picture this scenario. During a regular weekday school mass, after the homily, the catechumen is called forward. The presider invites all the students present to raise their hands in blessing over the catechumen. The blessing is prayed and the presider lays hands on the child’s head (RCIA, no. 97). Then, the child is dismissed with a catechist and a companion to break open the word (RCIA, no. 75.3). In this way, not just the catechumen’s classmates, but the entire school becomes a witness to the faith journey of the Catholic school catechumen.
There are many ways that the minor rites can be incorporated into the parish school. You can celebrate a blessing or have a priest or deacon do an anointing at the end of religion class. However, it’s also important that the rites be done with great care, with great reverence and with adequate preparation; on the part of the coordinator, the presider and the children participating.
If you have used the minor rites with children in the Catholic school setting, please tell us your story by commenting on this blog. We’d love to hear from you!