The Christian Initiation of Children of Catechetical Age: What happens in the CICCA?

Diana Klein

In this article, Diana Klein reflects on how older children are prepared to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation. Diana Klein is editor of the Parish Practice page in The Tablet.

More and more older children (between 7-14 years of age) are approaching the Church asking to be baptised. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (the RCIA),1 includes a section devoted to the initiation of these older children ? the Christian Initiation of Children of Catechetical Age (the CICCA).2 We say they are of ?catechetical age? because they have attained the age of reason. Some of them are children of lapsed Catholics who discovered the Church through their friends, neighbours or grandparents; others are non-Catholics attending Catholic schools who want to participate fully in the Mass. Whoever they are, the Church tells us they should follow the same process (appropriately adapted) as adults who are asking for baptism.

Shadrack was one of these children; he was 12 years old and he had just arrived in England from Africa when I met him. His mother had come to England from Africa to study nursing when the boy was five; and it was seven years before she was able to bring him to England to join her. He spent those years in a Catholic boarding school. He told me how he wanted to be a Catholic; but his mother did not agree. A friend of his had told him that he blessed himself with water when he went into the chapel because the water was blessed and it reminded him that he was a baptised person ? a child of God ? and that it helped to make you holy. Shadrack told me that he emptied the font, scooping handfuls of the holy water and pouring it over himself ? such was his longing to be holy. He told me about another boy in his school who was always in trouble; but, after his baptism, he changed. Everyone was amazed at the difference in him. Not only was he behaving better, but he seemed happier and Shadrack wanted to experience what that boy had experienced; he wanted to be baptised.

At about the same time, I met another boy of 10 and his eight-year-old sister who also wanted to be baptised. Their father was a Moslem and he had forbidden their mother to have them baptised when they were born. Despite the fact that he had left the family and the UK, the mother continued to respect his wishes ? although she began to take them to Mass. The children told me that they had made friends in the parish and they wanted to be baptised; they wanted to receive Jesus in Holy Communion with everyone else and they wanted to be altar servers. They wanted to belong so much that they called their father themselves to ask his permission.

These three children are part of a growing number of older children who are coming to the Church asking for baptism. They may have begun to ask the ?big? questions about where they have come from, where they are going, what they are doing here which led them to an awareness of God; they may already be coming to Mass, and they want to belong, they want to be like their friends or family members.

The Church gives us guidelines about how to initiate these children. The General Introduction of Christian Initiation3 envisages adaptations to the Rite; and it is equally clear that the preparation for the Rites must also be adapted to meet the needs of people who are preparing to celebrate them.4 In the case of children, the preparation materials have to be adapted both to their spiritual progress, that is, to the children?s growth in faith, and to the catechetical instruction they receive. As with adults, children?s initiation can be extended over several years, if need be, before they celebrate the sacraments.

We are told that the initiation of these

children requires both a conversion that is personal and somewhat developed, in proportion to their age and, as with adults, their initiation is marked by several stages and steps (or liturgical rites). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that ?from the time of the apostles, becoming a Christian has been accomplished by a journey and initiation in several stages . . . certain essential elements will always have to be present: proclamation of the word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith, baptism itself, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?.5 The Church tells us there are four ways we grow in faith ? and they involve the whole person ? body, mind, heart and spirit.6

The first way is by gaining suitable knowledge

The Church tells us that a fitting formation accommodated to the liturgical year and enriched by celebrations of the word leads us to a suitable knowledge of dogma and also an intimate understanding of the mystery of salvation.7 The key words here are fitting, suitable, intimate. Intimacy happens because the right word is said at the right time in the right way ? but all these key words speak of personal knowledge, heart knowledge, something that becomes a part of us. Accepting wholeheartedly that God loves us very much is the Good News for people. For children, this begins with our invitation and welcome ? ?Come and see where we live? (John 1.38-39).

Secondly, we learn by living the Christian way of life

Like the disciples, we come to know Jesus by following him. The Church tells us that we learn to pray to God more easily and exercise charity once we become familiar with living the Christian way of life by being helped by the example and support of sponsors and godparents and the whole community of the faithful.8 There is a very close connection between what we believe and how we live. The pathway into community life takes place little by little ? ?See how they love one another? (John 13.35).

Thirdly, we need to listen to God?s word

The Church says that we learn to pray by celebrating liturgies and by being helped on our journey ?little by little?.9 Our task is to know when and how to celebrate liturgy and to pray in such a way that it touches people?s hearts. Remember, we pray in order to encounter God ? ?I am with you always (Matthew 18.20). Prayer helps us become more aware of God?s loving presence in our lives. We are led through the listening to Scripture, through our experience of liturgy, prayer, reflection on Scripture and Tradition, into relationship with God. This is how we discover how to be followers of Jesus, how to live by faith, discerning how we will use our gifts for the service of others.

Fourthly, we need to respond to that word and walk in God?s presence ? living by faith and using our gifts for the service of others. The Church tells us that we should learn how to spread the Gospel and build the Church by the witness of our lives.10 This means that the children and their families should be encouraged to work with others in the parish outreach to the poor. A keen social conscience is normally found in children of this age. To join with others of their own age group in activities ? such as packing food parcels for the elderly and poor at Christmas, preparing sandwiches for homeless people, engaging in fundraising for the Catholic charity CAFOD or local hospices or parish projects abroad ? helps them not only to make new friends but gives a sense of purpose to their lives.

The process begins with a period of enquiry (or pre-catechumenate), an opportunity for the beginnings of faith. It is a time when the children should be encouraged to ask questions and to explore any pre-conceptions they may have about the Catholic faith. It is a time when they begin to know the person of Jesus Christ.

They will spend time learning how to pray and discovering something about living by faith. In many parishes, there is a Liturgy of the Word for younger children within the Sunday Mass. Our young catechumens can benefit from participating in it by helping with the little ones ? giving them the opportunity to explore the Scriptures at an accessible level.

We must remember that the catechumenal process is not a programme; it is a process. One way of understanding the process is by breaking it down into its three distinct aspects; liturgical, catechetical and pastoral.

The process is liturgical.11 It is moved along by liturgical rites that serve as gateways into the different stages or periods of the process. The process aims to lead participants to become liturgical people moving them towards full and active participation in the worshipping community. Liturgy is much more than ritual and it is through the liturgy (the summit which is the Mass) that our relationship with Jesus Christ becomes as intimate as possible outside of heaven. As the children move towards full communion with the Church, nothing is more fundamental to their catechesis, and more crucial to impart to the worshipping community, than the fact that it is through the liturgical rites of the catechumenal process and the sacramental participation to which they point, that a foundational relationship with Jesus is

most firmly established.

During the enquiry period, the focus is on the delivery of the basic Gospel message and on answering questions. It leads to the first liturgical gateway and the expression of the genuine desire to follow Christ and to seek baptism (or, if they are already baptised, may come into full communion with the Church). They should only take the first liturgical step of the process and become catechumens when they are ready to do so ? when they express their belief in Jesus and express their intention to respond to him and to be his followers. (This decision about their readiness will be made in co-ordination with the parish priest, the catechists and the children?s parents).

Although many of these children will do the Rite of Election with adults during the first weekend of Lent, the second liturgical step in their initiation is the celebration of a Penitential Rite or Scrutiny. The purpose of the scrutiny is to help the children recognise that we have limitations and there will be times when they know that they have made a wrong choice. We need to ask what it is in our relationships with one another and with God that need to be strengthened so that we can live our lives as Christians. Baptism is the start of the journey; and, yes, the waters of baptism are a new beginning, but living in a truly Christian way takes an entire life. The celebration of scrutiny should help the children to understand that ? and to know that the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be there for them when they need it. This leads to the next stage ? a time of prayerful preparation which culminates in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil (or at one of the Sunday morning Masses at Easter depending on the age of the children).

The process is catechetical12

The word catechesis comes from the Greek katekhein, which is translated as the re-echoing or echoing down of that which has been received. Catechesis is the process of ?echoing? the word of God. Catechesis aims to put people in communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ.13

The period of the Catechumenate is typically the longest period and most catechetical of the initiation process. A systematic and organic delivery of the doctrine of the faith aims to ensure that, by the second liturgical gateway, the children sufficiently understand and desire to live the faith; and, that as catechumens, they may choose without hesitation to take the next step.

The process is pastoral14

The pastoral work of the process is accomplished through the love and labour of many people, including the clergy, catechists, hospitality people, sponsors, prayer intercessors and parishioners. The catechumens and candidates learn who God is, what God?s plan is, how to follow him as a member of the Christian community. Through the pastoral attention of others, participants are informed about Christ, and formed in him, so that their experience of the community of believers becomes an ?apprenticeship of the entire Christian life?.15

By the time they reach the third liturgical gateway and they celebrate the sacraments of initiation, they must be ready to make their profession of faith.

In summary, the CICCA process is like the RCIA process. It seeks to prepare the children ? just as the RCIA prepares the adults ? not merely to assent to truths but to fall in love with the eternal lover ? and to desire to know him as only the lover knows the beloved.n

l Diana Klein, The Christ we proclaim, e-published by Westminster Diocese, London, 2010 (available on line:



l Diana Klein and Susanne Kowal, I Call You Friends, Christian Initiation of Children of Catechetical Age, McCrimmons for the National Project of Catechesis and Religious Education, Great Wakering, Essex, 2010

1 The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the exemplar and rule for all Christian Initiation confirmed by

the Congregation for Divine Worship for England and Wales in 1986. It has been normative for England and Wales (in other words, it is the way people become Catholic Christians) since 1988.

2 RCIA 252-329

3 Christian Initiation, General Introduction (nos. 30-34)

4 RCIA 13, 16

5 The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 1229

6 RCIA 75:1-4.

7 RCIA 75.1

8 RCIA 75.2

9 RCIA 75.3

10RCIA 75.4

11See RCIA 40, 75.1, 75.3, 79, 128, 134, 237

12See RCIA 38, 75.1, 78, 126, 235, 292

13General Directory for Catechesis (GDC) 80

14See RCIA 42, 45, 75.2, 75.4, 107, 234, 236

15GDC 67

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