Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Baptism in Rhode Island: Too Much Was Lost

Folks, after my post yesterday, I read a news report about an unbaptized ten year-old boy at a Catholic school in the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. It also appeared on the pages of Catholic News Service. After learning about the importance of baptism and eucharist at his religion classes, he made the decision to become a Catholic. So, as part of a Mass for Catholic Schools week, he was baptized at the school Mass and received his First Holy Communion. He was not confirmed.

This just helps underscore a disconnect at the parish level (or at least at this particular parish level) with the rites of the Church and with the "eucharistic direction" supported by both Pope emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis. While I am thrilled that this young man decided to become a Catholic, I wonder why this particular path was chosen for him, especially since it is in direct conflict with liturgical law.

This is clearly a child of catechetical age and, according to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, his path to the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, and in that order) is clearly spelled out:

"Also as with adults, their [the children of catechetical age] initiation is marked by several steps, the liturgical rites of acceptance into the order of catechumens (nos. 260-276), the optional rite of election (nos. 277-290), penitential rites or scrutinies (nos. 291-303), and the celebration of the sacraments of initiation (nos. 304-329); corresponding to the periods of adult initiation are the periods of the children's catechetical formation that lead up to and follow the steps of their initiation."

The rite is also clear that when initiation is celebrated, all three sacraments of initiation are celebrated:

"At this third step of their Christian initiation, 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 305).

And again:

"If the bishop has conferred baptism, he should also now confer confirmation. If the bishop is not present, the priest who conferred baptism is authorized to confirm" (RCIA 323).

And finally, in the "National Statutes for the Catechumenate" for the United States:

"Since children who have reached the use of reason are considered, for purposes of Christian initiation, to be adults (canon 852:1), their formation should follow the general pattern of the ordinary catechumenate as far as possible, with the appropriate adaptations permitted in the ritual. They should receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and eucharist at the Easter Vigil, together with the older catechumens" (#19).

This is simply the way the Roman Catholic Church initiates people, beginning at catechetical age. The articles about this particular young boy's baptism and First Communion portrayed the delight of his classmates, who witnessed the celebration of these two sacraments. And this is a good thing. But far more was lost, in my opinion, when the parish took the avenue it did.

Talk about a teachable moment; talk about an opportunity for catechesis that was lost. Imagine that entire set of classmates being drawn into supporting this young boy as he moved through the catechumenate process. Imagine how wonderful it would have been for the pastor, teachers, and catechists to let these young Catholics know that there is wonderful "treasure" in Catholic tradition that has been recently revived; a treasure that is designed to celebrate the faith journey of this young man. Imagine having the classmates present for the various rites of the catechumenate. Imagine them traveling together to the diocesan rite of election. Imagine them attending the Easter Vigil, during which their young friend was baptized, confirmed, and received hid First Holy Communion amid the signs and symbols so lavishly poured out on that night of all nights. As I said, in not following the rites of the Church, much here was lost.

And I think it is sad that a major Catholic newspaper and Catholic News Service would print this story without pointing out that this was something very out of the ordinary and should not be seen as a recognized and laudable practice to be imitated.

I am presenting an entire day's worth of workshops in the Archdiocese of Seattle on Saturday, including a segment on the RCIA as adapted for children of catechetical age. I just hope that the work that I and so many others do to fully implement the catechumenate will change the kind of pastoral practice exercised in this parish in Rhode Island. Things have changed since before the Second Vatican Council; isn't it time that pastoral and liturgical practice reflect that?

Thanks for listening. Again, I am so happy for this young man, but so sad that a great opportunity for catechesis was lost.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Rory Cooney said...

It really is sad, unless the rites are in fact devoid of meaning. Some bishops, priests, and even initiation directors simply don't find the meaning of the rites compelling enough to see them through locally. The prevailing sense in the Church seems to have wildly swung from oppressive rubricism to a faux-pastoral "WWJD" theology that is anti-intellectual and anti-ritual. A group that doesn't initiate carefully and reflectively about how it initiates, and into what, is not far from evaporation.

Scott Pluff said...

We had a similar situation, in reverse, in my parish last year. We encouraged the child to participate in our RCIA process, carefully suited and adapted to his age and level of understanding. In a word, we did it the "right" way.

Unfortunately, the family stayed stuck on the detail that their child would not later be confirmed with the other kids in his class. We explained the initiation process as positively as we could. I spent more than an hour explaining to the mother how this was a good thing for her child and his faith development. I sold it as well as I could, but her takeaway was that we wouldn't let him be confirmed with his class and that we were somehow punishing them for not having him baptized sooner.

As long as 99% of our students follow the Baptism-Eucharist-Confirmation model, the RCIA catechetical process will be seen as strange. Until we restore the order and timing of the sacraments for all, we will be offering these parallel and incompatible tracks. A single family coming into the church can be forced into two different tracks, adding confusion and frustration to their journey. "Why two different tracks? Well, it's weird, but that's how we have to do it!"

Michael R. Prendergast said...

I cringed when I read this yesterday in CNS. I hope we will all encourage our local ordinaries and those of us in parish and diocesan leadership to move toward celebrating the restored order of the sacraments at the age of reason. I understand that Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who spoke at the FDLC meeting last fall, about the issue of the restored order. Perhaps this should be brought to his attention and he could make and appropriate response.

L.reid said...

I agree with Scott's last paragraph! As someone who ministers in the Providence diocese, I am not surprised. Our parish was a participant in the pilot RCIA program in the diocese and we continue with the program to this day.
But I cannot say the same for the rest of the diocese - New England tends to be on the conservative side and still favors, in many cases, individual instruction by the pastor. We have done this also in cases where the person worked many hours and could not come to the classes.
I teach in our program and I know some of the people involved in the story. They are good well meaning people, but with, perhaps, less regard for the RCIA program than we would like.
And don't get me started on what goes into the diocesan paper.......

Chuck Lorenz said...

When we espouse a sacramental theology that can reduce a sacrament to something that the priest/bishop does to me, everything else in the rite becomes nonessential and optional. I'm afraid this type of theology is alive and well in the church.

Anonymous said...

As a Director of Religious Formation who journeys with children/families in RCIA, it can be difficult to explain why the four or five year old is Baptized but because the other child has turned seven, there is much more involved. Often, the parents just want to "get it done" because the second grade friends are receiving Communion.

Anonymous said...

Well....someone I a local university ..."accepted" a person into the catechumenate herself by doing an abridged Rite of Acceptance in the comfort of her office. Her community already did the Rite of Acceptance last week, and didn't want to do another. Her theory is that numbers look better than good discernment. To quit now, or be the thorn in her side for quality ministry?

Denise Morency Gannon said...

Could not agree more.

Anonymous said...

This is really very sad. Too bad that the local pastor doesn't realize the power of the rites celebrated well and completely. I too think that we need to start implementing the restored order of the sacraments of initiation in more dioceses. Then these aberations may start to decrease.

Christie Gregor said...

When I came to read this article ... I can't help but recall what I came across in my previous readings mentioning "the first rule of heaven is ORDER"...I guess if we take this literally, it truly pays to put things in their proper perspective. However, when reality sets in, I think we should have some flexibility and room for allowance for unique situations that may unexpectedly arise adn would need further understanding and other words that would picture more the Catholic faith of God's love and compassion. I guess there may be unique circumstances why at times the model of Baptism-Eucharist-Confirmation is not fully followed...what would really matter is how much love and understanding we put into the administration of these sacraments to the new members of the Catholic Faith...we can be either be too "legastic" or by the books or we take the path of love and understanding to welcome the new members of our Catholic faith.

May the good Lord give us a discerning heart to truly love our brothers and sisters.

God bless us all!
Christie Gregor
Say It With God’s Word