The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and the restoration of the adult catechumenate has been one of the greatest fruits of the Second Vatican Council. In the RCIA the Church recognizes that the ordinary way people enter into full communion with the Church is as adults — just as they did in the early years of the Church. This full communion is best symbolized in the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, the culmination of the process and the only Sacrament of Initiation that is repeatable.
The National Directory for Catechesis (NDC) goes so far as to declare that “The baptismal catechumenate is the source of inspiration for all catechesis.” (p. 115; emphasis mine) The Church recognizes the great wisdom inherent in the catechumenal process. Yet we ignore that wisdom when we alter the order of the Sacraments of Initiation for Catholic children baptized as infants.
Funny thing is, were these same children to approach the Church for the full range of initiation after turning seven, they would be required to go through the RCIA (in an age appropriate manner, of course) and receive Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
(Yes, I know this proscription is not universally observed in parishes. No, there is no such thing as the RCIC. Yes, these are pet peeves of mine.)
I think part of the reason we do ignore the inspiration of the RCIA is that we don’t trust the Church’s insistence on sacramental mystagogy as a vital and necessary part of catechesis. We get so caught up in making sure that kids are “ready” for the sacraments that we ignore the call to help them reflect on the experience and meaning of the ritual after the fact.
Imagine a religious education program where children are confirmed and receive the Eucharist in 2nd or 3rd grade and then have the next 5-9 years to unpack what they have been initiated into! Would children still anticipate “graduating” from religious education without Confirmation on the horizon? As fully initiated members would they (prompted by the Holy Spirit) be more likely to participate in the life of the parish? Would they be more inclined to view faith formation not as something leading up to a sacramental end, but a life-long pursuit?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I’d sure like to find out.
So those are my three reasons for making such an unusual request of my pastor. I don’t expect an answer until this fall, but I will be sure to let you know when an answer is forthcoming. And thanks to everyone who has added their comments to this conversation — your thoughts are appreciated!