Sunday, 10 November 2013

Preparing to Initiate Children of Catechetical Age – Paradigm Shifts, Part 1

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has been in use in our country for over twenty years.  Considerable time and energy have been devoted to implementing the church’s rites of initiation for adults who come to our parishes asking for baptism.  In addition to the adults seeking initiation, parish leaders are being approached by families with children of catechetical age seeking baptism or reception into Full Communion. (Children who have entered their seventh year are considered to be of catechetical age).

A rather elementary survey of parishes may indicate that one of the common ways to address children of catechetical age seeking initiation is to meet with the parents and inquire why they have waited so long to celebrate baptism, provide some basic catechesis on baptism and then baptize the child on a Sunday afternoon either with the group of infants or at a separate time.  The child would then join a group of peers and prepare to celebrate confirmation and first eucharist in the same way as children who had been baptized in the Catholic Church as infants.  Although at first glance this response may seem reasonable, it is not in harmony with our Church’s vision of initiation for children of catechetical age.  Before a parish community can respond to families with children of catechetical age, paradigm shifts may be required.

Children of catechetical age celebrate full initiation
Our Church reminds us that “the Christian initiation of these children requires both a conversion that is personal and somewhat developed, in proportion to their age … as with adults their initiation is marked by several steps.”  (RCIA, 243) The formation of children includes both periods for catechetical formation and the celebration of the various liturgical rites.

It is inappropriate to simply baptize these children.  The Church’s rite is clear, “the children will receive the sacrament of baptism, the bishop or priest who baptizes them will also confer confirmation, and the children will for the first time participate in the liturgy of the eucharist”. (RCIA, 281).  It is not appropriate to celebrate baptism with the child without celebrating confirmation and first eucharist in the same celebration.  Formation for children of catechetical age resembles that of adults seeking initiation, not the preparation and celebration for infants.

Part I of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is normative and foundational.  This means that the four periods of formation and the Rites of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, Election and Scrutinies will shape the initiation journey for children of catechetical age and adults.  Although the periods of Evangelization and Precatechumenate, Catechumenate, Purification and Enlightenment will shape the journey.  Gatherings and times of catechesis for the children will be held with their families, not the adults.  A parish will have only one catechumenate with various activities and times of catechesis.
Children of catechetical age will celebrate the sacraments of initiation at one liturgy, normatively the Easter Vigil.  They will continue to gather with their families for the formal period of mystagogy throughout the Easter Season.  The fully initiated children will continue to gather each Sunday to be nourished at the table of the Word and Eucharist and their post-baptismal catechesis will take a path similar to that of children baptized in infancy.  If there is a Catholic school in the community they will receive ongoing religious education or they may participate in a parish based religious education. 

Readiness to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation
When parents approach the parish seeking baptism for their infant child the Church welcomes them and provides catechesis.  The Church expects and understands that babies will be baptized into life in Christ in virtue of the faith of their parents.  We do not wait until the child is old enough to participate in formal catechesis.  The Church does expect that the parents be members of the local parish and active participants in the weekly Sunday Eucharist.  Readiness to celebrate the sacrament of baptism with a young child (not yet of catechetical age) is evident in the faith life of the parents.

The readiness of adults to celebrate the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and eucharist is reflected in their relationship with Christ, their participation in the weekly celebration of the Sunday liturgy of the Word and their desire to live lives modeled and shaped by gospel values.  Adults who have journeyed through the periods of Evangelization and Precatechumenate, Catechumenate, and Purification and Enlightenment have participated in the Liturgy of the Word each Sunday and been dismissed to break open the Word.  A parish sponsor and, throughout the period of Purification and Enlightenment, a godparent, have supported these adults.  With members of the parish they have engaged in works of charity and been apprenticed into living a Catholic way of life.  There have been times of catechesis, reflection, prayer and discussion.  Answers to the three questions the Bishop asks during the Rite of Election shape the process of discerning their readiness to celebrate the sacraments of initiation.  Before declaring the adults “elect”  (chosen by God and affirmed by the Church), the bishop asks their godparents “Have they faithfully listened to God’s Word proclaimed by the Church, have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence, have they shared the company of their brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer?” (RCIA, 118)

Readiness to celebrate the sacraments is not linked to or determined by knowledge acquired.  Too often a major obstacle to celebrating the sacraments of initiation with children of catechetical age is revealed in expressions such as, “They don’t know enough” or “if we celebrate full initiation we lose opportunities to teach them.”  To begin to implement the Church’s vision of initiation for children of catechetical age we must grapple with the way we as a local parish or diocese determine readiness to celebrate the sacraments of initiation.

Embracing the Church’s vision of initiation for children of catechetical age may challenge current pastoral practices.  Yet children of catechetical age are quite capable of a personal relationship with Christ and are eager to journey through the initiation process.  In a parish a first step is to review Part I of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, recognizing that it is normative and foundational.  We read and implement Part II Chapter 1 of the rite in light of Part I.

Written by Catherine Ecker and Originally published in Celebrate! – January – February 2010. 

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