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).
"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.