My friend and I were laughing the other day remembering how our kids loved to put on “shows.” In fact, on Erin’s daughter’s eighth birthday she received a special gift which she had specifically requested: a huge roll of red tickets – the kind you get at a school carnival or raffle. These tickets were given to drafted parents and siblings who were required to be the audience and watch every show performed in the family room or basement. Remember those days when your kids would dress up and give you “a show?” Or, maybe you’re living “those days” right now.
The point is that most kids love attention. And many kids especially love the attention received from a group or an adoring “audience.” On the contrary, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults tells that when celebrating liturgical rites with children, we should keep the congregation small, “since a large group might make the children uncomfortable” (see nos. 260, 257). To be sure, liturgical rites are not a “show.” The liturgy is the official public worship of the Church. And, a congregation is not an “audience.” Members of the congregation are active participants in the liturgy. Thus, the point made in the opening story does not directly apply to liturgical rites. Nonetheless, I believe the general principle is true: kids love attention from people who care about them.
And, I believe the people in our parishes care about children in the RCIA. Furthermore, I believe the RCIA is dead wrong about celebrating the liturgical rites with children. I think that both the children in the RCIA and the worshipping parishioners benefit when we celebrate the rites of the RCIA with the Sunday assembly.
First, the children in RCIA benefit from being present in the midst of the Body of Christ. Our Sunday assemblies, gathered for Eucharist, are the Body of Christ made manifest. When children in the RCIA stand in our midst for worship they are being formed by the Body of Christ. The liturgy is formative. And, we do our best liturgy on Sunday in the midst of God’s holy people.
Besides, the children are preparing to join our sacred assembly; they ought to have the opportunity to be among us. Moreover, in my experience children are not intimidated or overly uncomfortable being in a large congregation. Although it’s not uncommon for some children to be “nervous” about being the center of attention, all that’s needed it a little reassurance from a trusted adult. Once they know that loving parents, sponsors and same-age companions will be walking with them throughout the ritual, they usually feel safe and secure.
Second, members of the parish, young and old, benefit from children in the RCIA celebrating the rites on Sunday. When the rites of the RCIA are done well, they help worshippers grown in faith for the liturgy is formative for all participants. For example, when the person in the pew watches a parent get down on his knees and sign his son’s feet with the sign of the cross, the pew person is led to ask, “Do I walk in the way of Christ?”
In conclusion, even though I am sure the authors of the RCIA had the children’s best interest in mind when they advised us to celebrate the rites with a “small congregation,” I’ll stick to my position that they are dead wrong. And, I encourage you to celebrate the rites of the RCIA with your young catechumens in the midst of your Sunday assembly. You won’t even need the red tickets.
7 thoughts on “Why the RCIA is Dead Wrong about Celebrating Rites with Children [paragraphs 257, 260]”
Generally speaking, I’d have to agree with you. There are instances, however, when a “special needs” child may not be comfortable, as the Rite states. I once had a twelve-year-old girl run to the bathroom to vomit every single time she went to stand in front of the assembly. She just couldn’t do it. Also, I’d be careful about the language I use in criticizing the official rites of the Church: “dead wrong” is strong language; “My experience has shown me differently” invites conversation and respects the authority under which the Rites were written.
What about Adults who are very private people and have avoided joining the church because they are not comfortable in being limelight at the rites. Although the process is best as a public witness of faith – is it necessary to have the rites in front of the entire congregation?
Robin and Ivana have both made very good points about that fact that some people, children and adults, are not comfortable being in front of a congregation for the celebration of the rites. I believe there are two important points to address regarding this issue. First, the communal dimension of the Church, our faith, and our liturgical tradition is constitutive to who we are as Catholics. The RCIA stresses the importance of the community’s role in the journey of faith (nos. 4, 9, 75.2, 75.3). Second, we must also use good pastoral judgment when determining what is best for an individual candidate. Of course, we would never “force” someone to do something that might cause trauma or distress. Ivana pointed out two good examples of when pastoral discretion is needed. That’s part of the beauty and wisdom of the Rite; it gives us guidelines and direction, but also tells us to adapt.
Good points. Well-said and well-taken.
After the Easter Vigil, as we celebrated joyfully with the family of our neophyte D, age 12, who had spent 3 years as a catechumen, her grandmother remarked that she was continually surprised at D’s openness during the rites and rituals and how eager D was to receive the blessing at the time of dismissal, since D had always been such a quiet and reticent child. D giggled as she gently and lovingly reproved her grandmother; “but I was never up there alone. Everyone was with me, and it was so awesome to hear everyone praying just for me.”
I believe in trusting the process. When we stop injecting our own fears and bias, we allow others to be themselves. The warmth and acceptance of the community SPEAKS!
I do agree that, for most, celebrating the rites with the community into which the child will be initiated, including peer and family support, has been the most meaningful for our youthful catechumens. The adult catechumens have benefited from the open and honest faith sharing of our younger members, especially during dismissal reflections.
Good for you!!!!!! You are right on. We should give them the opportunity to experience the Rites to their fullest and that is the presence of the whole assembly. Yes I do agree that there are some special needs children that might not be comfortable, but I suspect it in a small minority. Go to the Special Olympics and watch the faces of these children.
I love Theresa’s point about trusting the process. Amen!
Amen to Tommie, too! We had the Indiana Special Olympics in my home town of Terre Haute this year.