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​​​​​​4.1.8.1 Introduction

"The sacraments of Christian initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist—lay the foundations of every Christian life" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1212​).

The norms are established for the "Christian Initiation of Children Who Have Reached Catechetical Age" (see Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 252–330).

"This form of the rite of Christian initiation is intended for children, not baptized as infants, who have attained the use of reason and are of catechetical age. They seek Christian initiation either at the direction of their parents or guardians or, with parental permission, on their own initiative. Such children are capable of receiving and nurturing a personal faith and of recognizing an obligation of conscience" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 252).

The initiation of children of catechetical age is a process based on their personal conversion. It is adapted to their spiritual progress and growth of faith rather than on cognitive knowledge. Because the criteria for initiation are based on assessing conversion of heart and action (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 42 and 75), there is no timeline for initiating these children. It could take several years, if necessary. "The duration of the catechumenate will depend on the grace of God and on various circumstances" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 76).

"The Christian initiation of these children requires both a conversion that is personal and somewhat developed, in proportion to their age, and the assistance of the education they need. The process of initiation thus must be adapted both to their spiritual progress, that is, to the children's growth in faith, and to the catechetical instruction they receive. Accordingly, as with adults, their initiation is to be extended over several years, if need be, before they receive the sacraments" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 253).

4.1.8.2 Goals for Christian Initiation

Children of catechetical age and adults will be brought to the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist through the development, promotion, and implementation of the initiation process presented in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. This liturgical rite of the church is the official norm to be followed in the initiation of adults and children who have reached catechetical age.

  • The initiation rite includes "not simply the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist, but also all the rites belonging to the catechumenate" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 1). When the sacraments of initiation are celebrated for children who have reached catechetical age, it is assumed that they will also celebrate all of the rites belonging to the catechumenate. The Code of Canon Law states, "The provisions of the canons on adult baptism apply to all those who, being no longer infants, have reached the use of reason." Thus, children from approximately the age of seven years to around 14 to 18 years are to be considered of "catechetical age" (Canon 852). Children, like adults, travel a journey of faith based on their spiritual progress. Various rites mark their growth in faith and culminate with the celebration of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist. In general, children follow the same path towards initiation as adults. There is one initiation process for both adults and children.

  • As with adults, initiation of children is marked by several stages: pre-catechumenate, catechumenate, purification and enlightenment, and mystagogy. These stages in the initiation of children are marked by liturgical rites: acceptance into the Order of Catechumens (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 260–276), the optional Rite of Election (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 277–290), penitential rites or scrutinizes (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 291–303), and the celebration of the sacraments of initiation (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 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" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 253).

  • While children follow the same journey of faith as adults, there are distinctions and differences based on age and developmental stages. In many ways, then, the rite cautions that "they cannot yet be treated as adults because, at this stage of their lives, they are dependent on their parents or guardians and are still strongly influenced by their companions and their social surroundings" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 252).

Parents/guardians and families of children preparing for initiation will be fully involved in the process. Their care, support, and example are necessary for the faith life of the children to grow and flourish.

  • It is vital that parents/guardians or other family members be included in the full process of initiation of children. Without the cooperation and support of parents/guardians or family, initiation of children through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the ​Eucharist cannot achieve its full potential for a lifelong growth in faith.

  • In the initiation process of their children, strong and active participation of parents/guardians and families will be encouraged by offering them guidance, support, and adequate adult formation opportunities.

  • Likewise, the community of faith into which the children are being initiated has a responsibility to support, sustain, and encourage the children and their families. "Initiation…is the responsibility of all the baptized….Hence, the entire community must help the candidates and the catechumens throughout the process of initiation" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 9).

  • Sponsors are those who accompany "any candidate seeking admission as a catechumen" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 10). In initiation of children, parents/guardians usually assume the role of sponsor and accompany their children and present them at the liturgical rites (Rites of Acceptance or Welcoming, Scrutinies and Penitential Rites, and Rites of Election or Continuing Conversion). If parents/guardians cannot for various reasons do this, sponsors or sponsoring families from the parish may take on this responsibility (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 260). Godparents, who may be persons other than the parish sponsor, may be chosen for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation.

Catechetical principles as presented in the General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis will be followed, noting the role of the baptismal catechumenate as inspiration for catechesis.

The baptismal catechumenate inspires catechesis in the following ways (General Direc​tory for Catechesis, 91):

There is recognition that Christian initiation is of fundamental importance in the life of the Church.

The baptismal catechumenate is the responsibility of the entire Christian community.

The paschal mystery and the spirituality of baptism permeate the baptismal catechumenate and inspire all catechesis.

The catechumenate is the "initial locus of inculturation" that receives and accepts all people.

The process of formation in the catechumenate is characterized by its comprehensiveness and integrity; gradual character expressed in definite stages; connection with meaningful rites, symbols, and biblical and liturgical signs; and constant references to the Christian community.

​"The baptismal catechumenate is both 'a process of formation and a true school of the faith' " (General Direct​ory for Catechesis, 91​). "It is a fruitful blend of instruction and formation in the faith; it progresses through gradual stages, it unfolds the Church's rites, symbols, and biblical signs; and it incorporates the catechumens into the Christian community of faith and worship" (National Directory for Catechesis, 35.D).

​The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults provides the rationale for catechesis of children of a catechetical age who are preparing to celebrate the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.

  • "Suitable catechesis…planned to be gra​dual and complete…[is] accommodated to the liturgical year, and solidly supported by celebrations of the word" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 75.1). Catechesis is to lead the children to an "appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 75.1).

  • Catechesis that prepares for the sacraments of initiation helps the children "become familiar with the Christian way of life" as they learn from the "example and support of sponsors, godparents, and the entire Christian community" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 75.2). They learn to pray, witness to their faith, practice love of neighbor, and "in all things…keep their hopes set on Christ" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 75.2).

Children of catechetical age will participate in all the liturgical rites (specifically those found in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 252–330).

  • Liturgical rites support and strengthen the faith of the children. They take part in the Liturgy of the Word, and are "kindly dismissed" along with the adults to prayerfully consider the word that has just been proclaimed to them (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 75.3). Blessings and anointings may also be used if adapted for children (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 95–97).

  • All the sacraments of initiation will be celebrated for children of catechetical age. Their initiation rites will consist of receiving the sacraments "in a single celebration of the three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1233​).

  • In regard to the sacrament of confirmation, "What is prescribed in the canons on the baptism of an adult is applicable to all who are no longer infants but have attained the use of reason" (Canon 852). "The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops determines another age or there is danger of death" (Canon 891).

  • In order to signify clearly the interrelation of the three sacraments, which are required for full Christian initiation (Canon 842.2), adult candidates, including children of catechetical age, are to receive baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist in a single eucharistic celebration (National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 14). "Since children who have reached the use of reason are considered, for purposes of Christian initiation, to be adults their formation should follow the general pattern of the ordinary catechumenate as far as possible, with the appropriate adaptations" (National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 18).

Archdiocesan programs are established to train and form catechists, directors of children's initiation, and parish personnel such as pastors, deacons, liturgists, and pastoral associates who are engaged in the ministry of initiation of children.

Collaboration among the archdiocesan Office for Worship, the Department of Catholic Schools, and the Office of Religious Education is welcomed and encouraged.

4.1.8.3 Process

Those engaged in the initiation of children of a catechetical age understand that these children are undergoing a conversion of heart, mind, and action. They have been brought by their parents/guardians to the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, but because they are capable of participating fully in their own initiation, their consent and willingness to participate in the process is expected and they are indeed "capable of receiving and nurturing a personal faith and of recognizing an obligation of conscience" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 252).

Thus, initiation becomes a process that moves at its own pace, geared to the faith life of the children. It is not a program that begins and ends, or that has the expectation of "graduation" or the completion of a course of studies. This process occurs in stages and is marked by liturgical rites that celebrate the movement of faith that is happening in the lives of the children.

"Suitable" catechesis is "planned to be gradual and complete" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 75.1). It is "accommodated to the liturgical year" and is "solidly supported by celebrations of the word" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 75.1). This catechesis leads the children not only to "an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 75.1).

To respect the rite's insistence that catechesis be accommodated to the liturgical year and supported by celebrations of the word, a form of lectionary-based catechesis is used in catechizing these children. The Sunday readings are used during the period of the catechumenate as a basis for presenting the mystery of salvation as well as an introduction to dogmas and precepts. Catechists assist the children in a prayerful reflection on the lectionary readings, week by week, and thus lead the children through a gradual and complete catechesis of the tradition in which the Christian community is grounded.

The process of initiation must be "adapted both to their spiritual progress, that is, to the children's growth in faith, and to the catechetical instruction they receive" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 253). The process takes whatever time is necessary for the children to experience and live out their new faith as they move towards the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.

Children who are in the initiation process can be catechized in groups according to their ages and stages of development. These groups consist of the initiation children alone. "It is advantageous, as circumstances allow, to form a group of several children who are in the same situation, in order that by example they may help one another in their progress as catechumens" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 255). At the same time, a group of initiation children can be included with other children from the parish community who are of similar age but are already baptized. If these baptized children are preparing for the Eucharist or confirmation, children preparing for baptism can progress "gradually and within the supportive setting of this group of companions" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 254).

Thus, initiation children can be incorporated more fully into the life of the parish if there are opportunities for them to participate in activities with their companions. Any parish gatherings for children, including service projects, music performances, seasonal workshops, or entertainments should always include the initiation children. Baptized parish children can celebrate the Liturgy of the Word with initiation children on occasion.

After initiation and the period of mystagogia, child neophytes are incorporated into the parish catechetical programs. Attention should be paid to welcoming these children into already established groups. Catechists need to be ready to receive these neophytes with gentleness and patience, realizing that they may require definitions and explanations that may be familiar to the other children.

Newly initiated children, however, often have much to teach their peers as they speak readily of their spiritual journeys and their conversion of heart. Part of the process of preparing children for Christian initiation is the recognition of their unique and special place in the Church. Those who minister with these children admit that their faith has often been strengthened by the faith of the children. Thus, the Christian initiation of children who have reached catechetical age is a great gift to the Church and those who engage in this ministry.

Please see the Guidelines for Ministering to Children: Bibliography.​