The key to catechizing children in the RCIA is this:
The process of initiation [of child catechumens] thus must be adapted both to their spiritual progress…and to the catechetical instruction they receive. (RCIA 253, emphasis added)
We can’t stress enough that the spiritual progress and instruction required for each child is unique. We must constantly be adapting the initiation process for each child. So how do we know what to adapt?
The goal of adapting the RCIA for children
To know what to adapt, we need to be diligent in asking the right question. Often, we get stuck on the wrong question: What do they need to know? The right question is: Who do they need to know?
I don’t know about you, but I get stuck on the wrong question because it is the question that helped me grow in my faith. By the time I could read and write, I was learning what I needed to know to be a better Catholic. But, by the time I could read and write, I already knew who I needed to know. I was raised in a faithful Catholic home. By the time I started school, I knew how to make the Sign of the Cross, say the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, and had a basic understanding of the Trinity. I started school catechized. I didn’t need to be introduced to Christ. I needed an ongoing catechesis for my continuing conversion.
RCIA catechesis is initiatory catechesis
Ongoing catechesis is way different than initiatory catechesis (see National Directory of Catechesis, 57-59). Initiatory catechesis is a
comprehensive and systematic formation in the faith [that]…includes more than instruction: it is an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life, it is a “complete Christian initiation,” which promotes an authentic following of Christ, focused on his Person; it implies education in knowledge of the faith and in the life of faith, in such a manner that the entire person, at his deepest levels, feels enriched by the word of God. (General Directory for Catechesis, 67)
So the adaptations we are striving for in initiatory catechesis are those that are focused on the Person of Christ and following that Person. It is a catechesis that provides a
basic and essential formation, centered on what constitutes the nucleus of Christian experience, the most fundamental certainties of the faith. (General Directory for Catechesis, 67)
The purpose of this initiatory catechesis is to lay a foundation that will enable the child catechumens to later engage fully in Christian life—which includes a more comprehensive, complex, ongoing, lifelong catechesis.
By focusing on the wrong question—what they need to know—we run the risk of not attending fully enough to the most important question—who they need to know. The key to adapting the RCIA for children is this: first who, then what.
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