There are two main reasons your pastor isn’t more involved in children’s RCIA.
#1 – He is busy. Not that he is any busier than you are, but he is busy pastoring the parish. And, yes, RCIA is one of his many responsibilities as pastor. Paragraph 13 of the ritual text, clearly outlines the priest’s responsibility for “attending to the pastoral and personal care of the catechumens, especially those who seem hesitant and discouraged.” The text goes on to say how deacons and catechists help the priest – which brings us to the second point.
#2 – He has entrusted you with the pastoral care of children in RCIA. Paragraph 16 of the rite describes how catechists have an “important office for the progress of the catechumens and the growth of the community.” Similarly, paragraph 15 describes the role of deacons as assisting in the ministry to catechumens.
All in all, most often the pastor trusts that you (the catechist, deacon or coordinator) will tend to the needs of the child catechumens. Not that he is abdicating his responsibility, but he trusts that you will look after the catechumens and tell him where he needs to be and what he needs to do. I believe that pastors truly care for child catechumens (and adult catechumens), but coming to children’s RCIA is usually not on his radar screen.
So, here’s what you can do to get children’s RCIA on your pastor’s radar screen. Take into account his busy schedule and the fact that you are the recognized leader for children’s RCIA. Here are some sure-fire ways to get your pastor involved.
- Do the minor rites, especially the Anointing of the Catechumens (RCIA, nos. 98-103). Pastors love to use the sacred oils in ritual celebrations and the kids love it, too. The anointing is simple and it’s all spelled out for you in the ritual text. Give him a copy of the ritual in advance and tell him when you want him to be there. The rite says that “this rite of anointing may be celebrated several times during the course of the catechumenate” (RCIA, no. 100). Three of four times throughout the year, I ask our pastor to come to the end of our session and we close with the anointing and a blessing. And, he always shows up!
- Give him specific, short “tasks” that fit his schedule. For example, our pastor usually has time between Masses on Sunday and that’s when our children’s RCIA meets. I send an email that asks something like this, “Would you come to children’s RCIA from 10:15-10:25 on October 7 and talk about why St. Francis is important to our parish?” I try to make my request something that is easy and enjoyable. On occasion, I ask him to simply come for juice and doughnuts.
- Send regular updates via email. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to keep your pastor up to date with the folks in children’s RCIA. Email is an easy way to communicate, especially if you are a volunteer and not often at the parish office,. Send a brief summary of who is in children’s RCIA and how they are doing. That way, when your pastor comes to a session or celebrates a rite with the children and their parents, the names and stories will be familiar to him.
- Invite him to the spiritual preparation for the rites. Most pastors see their primary role in RCIA as presiding at the major rites. Prior to each of the major rituals you are probably doing spiritual preparation with the children and their families. Invite your pastor to participate in this session, even if it’s for a short while.
- Here is a short story from a pastor in North Carolina who told me he was amazed by how spending time with RCIA families before the Rite of Acceptance improved his preaching and presiding. Plus, it was easy and inspiring, he said. “All I did was read a short Scripture passage and then ask the kids to tell me what they wanted from Jesus. Then, I just listened.”
- Prepare him well for presiding. Preparation of the presider is not just a good way to get your pastor more engaged and involved with your child catechumens, it is essential for good liturgy. Prepare a presider’s guide and walk through the rite with him. Celebrating the rites with children can be tricky because there are often child and adult catechumens, and sometimes candidates at the same celebration. Ask the pastor to be a part of the rehearsal of each rite and walk through the steps and the choreography of the ritual with parents, sponsors and child companions. (Usually, the child catechumens are not present at a rehearsal). If your pastor was not part of the spiritual preparation for the ritual, talk with him about each of the children so that he can personally relate to each one of them during the celebration of the liturgy.
These are just a few quick tips. I would love to hear how you get your pastor involved. And, pastors, we’d love to hear from you, too!