Someday I’ll learn to stop saying, “Now I’ve heard everything” when it comes to the RCIA. Because there’s always something new. You all probably know all about this, but I can be a little slow sometimes.
A reader e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago to ask about several baptized Catholic children in her parish who were in grades 3-5. These kids had missed first Communion in second grade. The heart of the question was, should these children be in the RCIA process since they are “uncatechized”?
No, I replied. The rite is very clear. The RCIA, adapted for children, is for unbaptized children of catechetical age. (See paragraph 252.) So baptized children would not be subjects of the RCIA. It seemed pretty black and white to me. I thought perhaps I had misunderstood the question. Or maybe this was simply an isolated instance of a parish not reading the rite carefully.
Parishes are using “RCIC” for catch up
Well, I discovered otherwise when I was doing some Web research in preparation for launching TeamRCIA’s new resource for children’s catechumenate. (If you didn’t get the announcement by e-mail, contact me, and I’ll send it to you.) It turns out lots, maybe hundreds, of parishes are using the catechumenate as a catch-up program for kids who miss first Communion in second grade. (One parish even used that exact phrase: “RCIC [sic] is for children in Grade 3 and over needing to ‘catch up’ on their sacramental formation.”
Honestly, I was a little blown away by the huge number of parishes who have pretty much the same information on their websites. It is as though somebody sent out memo (that I didn’t get) that said from now on, RCIA will no longer be about conversion and initiation. It will be about catching up all those children who have not celebrated their sacraments on the usual parish schedule.
Why the vision of the RCIA gets confused
After I thought about a little, though, I could see why it might be confusing. First of all, the preparation process for first Communion in most parishes is an event all unto itself. Some parishes in my diocese have over 400 children a year celebrate the sacrament. Having a half dozen kids “out of sync” might seem a little scary because, if not reintegrated quickly, they could throw the whole system out of whack.
Also, the rite says that the child catechumens will “often belong to a group of children of the same age who are already baptized and are preparing for confirmation and eucharist…” (254). That is because childhood is one long conversion journey, so unbaptized children can very easily be catechized along with baptized children of the same age. This is not often the case with adults. There is a different, deeper level of conversion that happens in adulthood. So a catechized adult and an uncatechized adult require significantly different formation processes. With children, however, it can be difficult to distinguish between a third grader who is “baptized, catechized” and one who is “baptized, uncatechized.” In fact, I’d say unless you are the Holy Spirit, it is probably impossible.
Religious education vs. paschal conversion
The real rub here, however, is not about the right age or about initiation. What is happening in far too many places is that RCIA (or usually “RCIC”) has become just another acronym that is synonymous with CCD. There is no discernment of conversion and no apprenticeship for mission. There is, instead, a programmatic religious education. These “RCIC” programs are designed to have children celebrate the “childhood” sacraments (including reconciliation), on time, at the right grade levels.
I do realize I’m preaching to the choir and that most of the readers of this blog are the very fine examples of the vision the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults calls us to. That is, to a vision of conversion rooted in the Paschal Mystery. But I’m beginning to fear we are more in the minority than I previously thought. I’m curious what your experience is, however, of the parishes around you. Are you an island, or are most parishes in your area living out the full vision of the RCIA? Thanks for your input.
21 thoughts on ““RCIC” as a sacramental catch up program”
Nick – our diocesan worship office tells us that baptized Catholics over the age of reason who have not received First Eucharist ARE indeed candidates for a catechumenal process and are to receive the sacraments at Easter. (This is differentiated from those who have received First Eucharist but not Confirmation – those people are not eligible.) I was told it is in the National Statutes. (Don’t have my RCIA text here at home to check where.) I also believe that’s what Sr. Gael Gensler said when she did the workshop here on RCIC last winter. It seemed strange to me, but I was told it is correct.
Hi Joyce. I’m not an expert in Canon Law, so I don’t know if a bishop has the authority to make the adaptation your diocesan worship office has given as policy. But it is not what the rite intends as far as I can tell. The rite (and the National Statutes) provide the option for incorporating baptized, uncatechized adults into some aspects of the catechumenate. But there is no parallel provision for children that I can find.
After reading this, I was curious so I went searching on websites of local parishes. I discovered a number of things.
Most parishes have HORRIBLE websites, both ugly and not at all informative. Ok, that has nothing to do with this conversation, but it is a pet peeve of mine.
I looked at 20 websites and could only find info on kids or teens on 8 of them. (A few more had adult RCIA, but many had no mention of RCIA at all and that seems really sad.)
Four parishes seem to be doing it correctly, with a specific class for unbaptized children and separate class for sacramental catch up.
One parish had RCIA for adults and teens while the kids attended regular RE class with additional private class for baptismal prep.
Two parishes mentioned RCIA for adults and teens, but nothing for younger children.
And one parish seemed to mix RCIA and sacramental catchup together.
And another slightly off topic observation, two parishes had OCIA groups, ORDER of Christian Initiation for Adults, which I thought was odd and had never heard before.
So it seems in my diocese there is no consistency what so ever.
I also discovered that I am VERY thankful for my parish (which I randomly picked the first time I went to Mass)! We are fairly large, so have lots of classes for kids in every group. We have the standard classes for kids on the “normal” schedule. We have “Welcoming Children to Church” classes for kids who have been baptized, but are “behind schedule” as well as a teen sacrament class and a High School Confirmation Class (we usually confirm at the end of Jr. High). And we have children’s and teen’s RCIA classes.
I do wonder if some of the problem has to do with size. If you have one kid who hasn’t been baptized and a couple who have, but haven’t had any other RE it would be hard to separate them, classes with a kid or two aren’t much fun. Where as larger parishes have more kids, so it is easier to make the finer distinctions.
This isn’t exactly a direct response to the comments, but something that comes to mind whenever I hear/read discussions about the initiation of children. I think that the alphabet soup that has become all too prevalent is not at all helpful to moving toward clarity on the issue of children’s initiation. Since there is only ONE rite mandated by the Church for initiation of those “over the age of reason,” I would hope we could refer only to the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” – RCIA. It may take a few more syllables, but to talk about the RCIA adapted for children rather than RCIC or OCIC, might lead us to ask the obvious question, “But what about the children?” The answer is, “See RCIA, Part II” That will lead us back to the primary source where we find the basic principles for all initiation (other than infants) and the particular norms for adapting the rite for children. Working from there, we can design the adaptation that most faithfully and fully implements the Rite of the Church while at the same time responding to our own parish situation and the community’s needs — as Karen describes her own parish’s solutions. Sometimes, I fear, our discussions can become a comparative exercise focused on what other parishes are doing rather than on what the RCIA document calls for, as Nick points out. So I continue to work until we become the majority (see Nick’s original post) trading alphabet soup for clear, running, life-giving waters.
Once again we find the move to “one stop” shopping.
Just as scarry is the tendency to combine RCIA with adult faith formation, returning Catholics, “inquiring cradle Catholics”.
It is widespread but tell me isn’t just an unfortunate Canadian problem.
As a second grade CCD/RE teacher, I have experienced some of the confusion expressed here. This is my first year as the first sacraments teacher (1st confession, 1st communion). I have one student whose 3 siblings were baptized after the grandmother adopted them. However, he was made to wait for Easter next year. I suppose because there are other older kids awaiting baptism at that time. Frankly, I don’t understand separating him from his siblings in the sacrament of baptism. I believe he should have been kept together with his family in this sacrament. Now he is going through first sacraments class with all the baptized children–the only one of his siblings not baptized, the only one in my class who is not baptized, and the only one in our class who will be baptized at Easter. If we are trying to emphasize the family-like unity of the Church, I don’t think this is the way to do it.
Next, we do have an RCIC program of sorts. Any child who is not baptized and is in any grade up to 4th grade goes in that class. They learn about baptism and the sacraments, and are required to go to their regular grade RE classes on Sundays. They receive 1st communion on the same Sunday as the 2nd grade class. Anyone 4-8th grades goes to a different RCIC class but gets baptized (if needed) and receives the sacraments at Easter along with all the RCIA candidates. Our RCIA classes are aimed at non-Catholic and non-Christian converts. I agree with Bonnie that there should be a seperate class for “reverts” to the Faith.
In our pursuit to be “relevant” and individualized, we sometimes lose the simplicity of our Faith in Jesus Christ. The central core of our Faith is the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Baptism and sacraments are important, but for children all the other stuff about Church teaching, bible stories, and the like will come as they continue to attend RE. We should leave RCIA for adults.
Hi Nick, Thanks for commenting on this subject. For years I have done a “catsup” class (catch up) for kids who have been baptised but needed the sacraments. I discovered when I mentioned this at a faith formation leaders mtg that I was in the wrong and the students should be attending an “RCIC” program. My gut just kept telling me no, do it the way you have always done it, so I kept it a secret known only to those in the parish that really needed it. Thanks for this blog! Guess I wasn’t so far off track!
Thanks for sharing Patricia. Keep up all the great work you are doing!
Glad to hear there are so many good things happening with RCIA adapted for children. At the same time, I agree with Nick and others that using RCIA as a “catch-up” for baptized Catholic children seeking sacraments is just plain wrong!
However, I want to make chime in on a couple points. The first is Joyce’s point on baptized Catholic children over the age of reason participating in RCIA. I believe there are some instances when the Rite calls for this possiblity. See #400 which says that “adults who were baptized as infants either as Roman Catholics or as members of another Christian community but did not receive further catechetical formation nor, consequently, the sacraments of confirmation and eucharist.” The key point here is DID NOT RECEIVE FURTHER CATECHETICAL FORMATION. Remember, catechetical formation happens in a lot ways, including through particiapting in Sunday liturgy, but a child who really has had NO catechetical formation since baptism, may indeed need to follow the general pattern of the ordinary catechumenate. Discernment is very important in this instance.
Another imporant point to consider is that in the case described above where we cite #400, we are following the general principle that for purposes of initiation children who are “no longer infants but who have attained the use of reason” follow what is prescribed for the baptism of adults (canon 852).
And, just one more point. As has been said many times before — there is no such thing as RCIC. Only RCIA and the Rite of Baptism for Children for those who have not attained the use of of reason. Certainly, children in second grade have the use of reason.
Hi Rita. Terrific point about “did not receive further catechetical formation.” Thanks for chiming in!
I am a DRE in the same diocese as Joyce, who commented above. I have a Master of Divinity degree and have been a DRE for over six years, and I am still extremely confused about the correct use of RCIA and how to catechize and prepare children for reception of the sacraments. It seems that there is a lot of disagreement out there, even among the theological and catechetical experts. Every resource I read recommends something different. As Joyce indicated, our diocese is bringing in experts who seem to be in disagreement with what you have said. I need some help to navigate these waters, but how do I know where to turn?!
I’m sorry it all seems so confusing. The best advice I can offer is to always turn to the rite first. It is true that even that is not a final solution, because different people will interpret the rite differently. But, if you have a clear understanding of what the rite *says,* at least you know if someone is offering an interpretation of the actual text or an interpretation of what they wished the text said.
The rite says that the RCIA is for unbaptized adults (paragraph 1). That has to be your guiding principle in reading all of the rest of the exceptions and adaptations allowed by the rite.
Later on, the rite says the RCIA can be adapted for unbaptized children who have reached the age of reason (paragraph 252). In making adaptations for these children, you have to go back to the *primary* purpose of the rite, and use that as your guide in making adaptations.
Nowhere does the rite say the RCIA is for *baptized* children. Rita makes a good point above when she points out that we might, in some cases, apply paragraph 400 to baptized children who “were baptized as infants either as Roman Catholics or as members of another Christian community but did not receive further catechetical formation.” However, as Rita also points out, we have to discern very carefully here.
First of all, paragraph 400 clearly applies to physical adults and not “children of catechetical age.” So when we apply that paragraph to children, we are making a pastoral adaptation. And every situation is different. So every situation is going to call for a different kind of adaptation. The further down the adaptation road we go, the more we have to remember the primary principle. This is a rite primarily for unbaptized adults.
So I think that means we CANNOT say, “All children over the age of reason who have not received first Communion belong in the RCIA.”
It does not mean that NO child in that situation ever belongs in the RCIA, however. It depends on the child. It depends on your parish process. It depends on how much your regular religious education process is based on the principles of the catechumenate.
Perhaps it would help if, instead of focusing on catechesis, we focused on conversion. The unconverted do not need catechesis. They need conversion. The converted need catechesis. Using a the “unbaptized adult” primary principle, we could look at each child before us and ask, “Does this child know and love Jesus Christ?” If not, he needs conversion. If so, he needs catechesis.
At my parish, I work with our DRE to determine how and where we will form any child who comes to us “out-of-sync”. If there has been little or no catechesis since the baptism, then the child will typically end up in RCIA with unbaptized children. If, however, the parents have exposed the child to Church via participation in the life of the parish community—through attendance at mass, prayer at home, as well as how the child understands service and mission of all baptized, then we typically place this child in regular Religious Ed with an additional hour spent weekly with a “specialist” whose job it is to prepare them for the specific sacraments missed.
I think the key is to continue to train people so they know the Rite well. I have seen in the southern deanery of our diocese a slow move in a positive direction to become more and more true to the Rite. At first it is scary for some, and change is hard. It can seem overwhelming to move from a process not envisioned by the Rite to one in alignment with it. Just take it one step at a time. Give yourself goals – i.e. by summer I will have started a year round inquiry process and then when you have that goal completed set yourself another one. We can do it! We can implement the Rite without adaptations that are not true to the Rite. Take it one step at a time and see where you find yourself! It has worked very positively for us in the Southern deanery of the Diocese of Monterey and I have confidence it will work for you as well. Don’t settle – keep journeying on!!! Blessings for Advent – Terry
if an adolescent who has been uncatechized since baptism, or is unbaptized, comes to us, we invite them, with parent, guardian, and sponsor, into the process. the other, younger, or “catch-up” children and their parents are invited to family catechesis. it is our experience that the reason these children have not been brought to catechesis is that it hasn’t been a priority for the family, and so it is important that the family, as a unit, be catechized and discern their place in the community as a family. we have had this in place for about six years, and it has been very successful.
I took over from an other DRE about 4 years ago and I must admit I didn’t really understand R.C.I.A.for teens and children. So I followed what was already in place.
What I did notice is many parents just want their children to get the sacraments whether it be R.C.I.A. or regular RE. Our regular RE program is a least 3 years long. My diocese (Phoenix) requires Reconciliation in 2nd grade and Confirmation/1st Communion in 3rd grade.
This is very challenging. Many children after receiving their “graduation” sacraments never come back to further their religious education. And many parents don’t bring them to Mass even if they are in the program, it is very frustrating. It is the same way with R.C.I.A..
I have gone back an read with much more concentration the R.C.I.A. book.
I have decided next year we are going to take a long hard look at our programs and start with a different approach. Thank you for your blog and all of the people who contribute their knowledge…Pat
Does anyone have a nicely worded “letter to parents” on what commitments we need from them? Sorry to go on and on, but I am so very frustrate and feel I am not doing my best for the parents or the children.
Pat, you are so right that it’s very frustrating when parents don’t want to be or can’t be or downright refuse to be involved in the formation of their children. And, sometimes don’t even want to be involved in Church. I also agree with Mary that the reason the children are coming for baptism at a later age is that the parents have not been involved. So, all in all, parents are a key!
Although I don’t have a nicely worded letter as you requested, I do have a suggestion. I admit it takes a ton of time and may take several people to help you, but it is so very worth the effort! I suggest that you have a face-to-face conversation/discussion with each parent who seeks initiation for their child. In this way, you can begin to build a trusting relationship with the parent, show them how much you really care, and explain in personal terms why their involvement is so important for THEIR CHILD. No matter how nicely the letter is worded, it seems that a letter never quite conveys the same importance and concern we want to show. And, most parents are like me, I often “skim” a letter and then stack it on a pile of “school papers” and letters to deal with later. Lots of things gets lost in the shuffle at our house.
I know it’s a lot of work and a lot of time you may not have, but I find it’s worth all the effort. All the best…Rita
I think your advise is wonderful. I have many Spanish speaking parents who are in trusting their children to me and take the responsibility very seriously and have been worried about the parents that I can not get to know because of my lack of skill in Spanish.
But I think speaking to them one by one is worth the time ans effort. God always seems to give us things that at first almost seem impossible, but he always does send a messenger when you ask him. Thank you for your message. I intend to follow up on this……..Pat
I came to this site because of the dilemma I personally have. My new parish also has an RCIC 1/2 program. My daughter and I are teaching it this year. ?? I have four unbaptized children in the class. There are 11 children in the program. My dilemma is that no matter the age 8-14, they know little of God and the Church. There are two exceptions. These two are in 3rd grade, go to Mass every Sunday, and answer all the questions. We are trying to teach to the whole group without losing some of them along the way. The book we were given to follow is the first grade edition of what is used in the regular program!!! We were told to follow the book and add what is needed. How about a 14 year old working in a first grade book?? We decided to use the Creed to teach beyond the book. We are starting with God the Father and the Old Testament, and then going through the entire creed. It is very disheartening to me. I was a teacher for 41 years and see that we are expected to bring all of these children up on so much info. We are forging ahead, but see this ridiculous. Is there anything out there that really addresses such a problem. We are good at finding things to put together, but what about next year when these same children move up to RCIC2? It was probably not right but in my last parish all the children were baptized and we “caught” them up on their faith.
Hi Judy. I agree with you. The situation you describe does indeed sound disheartening. From what you wrote, it seems to me that your parish is not providing a conversion process for the children based on the principles of the RCIA. It is, instead, attempting to do something more akin to religious education. But, as you point out, the children in your process do not fit into the neat religious education “grade levels” that text books are designed to serve.
I would suggest you spend some time reading the RCIA itself, especially the pastoral introduction, and familiarize yourself with the basic principles of the rite.
Once you have a feel for the RCIA, the number one resource for adapting the RCIA for children is “A Child’s Journey: The Christian Initiation of Children” by Rita Burns Senseman.
You should also download a free sample of Friends on the Way, which is a weekly resource for children’s catechesis that flows from the Sunday readings.
Finally, there are lots and lots of free articles on this website about adapting the RCIA for children. Click here to begin reading those.
You won’t be able to solve all this in a day or even a year. But perhaps these resources can get you started. All the best.
I find the input here very interesting. I stumbled upon this site yesterday. I’ve been a catechist at my church for seven years. In those years, I have mostly taught a class we call “Basic Faith.” for children older than 2nd grade who have not received the sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist, and in a couple of cases, Baptism. I have also had a couple of years working on sacramental prep. for adult converts.
I have found it to be very rewarding, though admittedly, I have had some frustrations, too. My biggest frustration seems to be shared with others here: that the kids show up to class, but the families (in some cases) don’t come to Mass. We have had pastors speak with the parents of our whole RE program, because the problem is unfortunately, not limited to those attending my classes. The interesting part is that this has not been a problem with the adults I have worked with. Perhaps they are more self-motivated, since they’ve made the decision for themselves to enter the Church. I suspect that many of the kids I work with are there because a well-meaning grandparent has been pushing the parents. Our parish is in the inner-city, so I had been wondering if it was related to our demographics, but it sounds like it’s a pretty common problem elsewhere.
My approach to working with the kids has, I believe, been very fruitful. I’ve been a homeschooling mom as well for over 20 years, so that has probably helped a lot. I use the “Faith and Life” program and focus on the 2nd grade Teacher’s Edition. I don’t use it as a script, but as a guide for what I want to cover, and adapt the lesson to the ages of the students I’m working with. There are some fun ideas for explaining the faith in creative ways. I REALLY strive to bring them to conversion, reaching their hearts, while teaching them the faith. I stay away from worksheets and school- like lessons, because on Wed. evenings, they’ve usually been in school all day, and seem to engage better if we have more discussion and sharing. I’ve been blessed at how many of these kids have opened up to me. Our class sizes are small. The most kids (or adults) I’ve had in a class at a time has been six, so this approach would probably be easier than using it in a larger class setting. I think what also helps me is that I always pray to the Holy Spirit to work through me before every class, and then letting His light shine through me in my work with them. He’s definitely the One in charge here. I’ve had kids come in not knowing who Christ is on the Crucifix when our year starts. I’ve had these same kids (13 year old boys of all things) express sadness when they learned that our sessions were coming to an end in the spring. One even asked if it might be possible for us to continue in the summer! You can imagine how truly blessed I felt to hear that. It’s such a privilege to bring these people to God.
I just wanted to share this in the event it might be of some help to others, and to thank you for having a forum for those of us doing this work. It’s very helpful to learn what is or isn’t working for others in this ministry. God Bless!