Non Solum: RCIA in Practice

September is here; the academic year is in full swing; pews are filling back up from the summer slump. In many parishes, this also means that RCIA has or is about to begin. Although for many Americans, falling into the pattern of the academic year as a model for pastoral practices seems natural. Is this appropriate for RCIA? Rather than having RCIA as an education process ending (not culminating) with graduation at the Easter Vigil, RCIA is part of the church’s year, which is not on a September to May cycle, but rather spans from Advent to Advent.

In the National Statues for the Catechumenate, which was approved by the U.S. Bishops in 1986, the bishops stated that:

  • the catechumenate should extend for at least one year (6);
  • the program for the newly-baptized should extend a year after their baptism, including at least monthly meetings of the neophytes (24);
  • it is preferable that reception into full communion not take place at the Easter Vigil (33);
  • the term “convert” is reserved strictly for those converting from unbelief and is never used of baptized Christians of other traditions becoming Catholic (2);

From “U.S. National Statutes for the Catechumenate: Update.”

This process not only envisions a year-long process before the sacraments, but further envisions a year-long process of mystagogy after the Easter Vigil.

To practice the statues as written would mean not baptizing a catechumen entering RCIA now until Easter 2018!

This is hugely counter cultural, given our contemporary society’s practice of containing church life largely in the academic year with whatever carrot on a stick waiting at the end during the time everyone else is graduating from everything else. Rather, the RCIA process is envisioned as a years long process of conversion and formation into the life of God and the life of the Church that at the end of the process the people who have gone through it are richly formed and more fully integrated into the life of the Church.

The RCIA process is envisioned for those who are not baptized. The National Statutes state that the process to receive those who are seeking full communion ought to be a period of formation and instruction and rightfully should take place outside of the Vigil, although allowance of this is made. This exception to the norm in the Statutes seems to be the norm in pastoral practice. Though the appearance of conversion and triumphalism in the reception of other Christians is explicitly stated to be avoided, this unfortunately happens through the lumping together of the catechumenate and the candidates. Ultimately, though, they are not catechumens, and the RCIA is not for them.

But, and this is a big but, how many parishes really use the RCIA rather than trumped-up versions of the old convert classes with the liturgical celebrations from the RCIA sprinkled on top?

Some have a two-track program for those who are being received and those who are catechumens; some have them together, some have a year-long RCIA process, while many run the program in conjunction with the academic year; some run it as more of an adult education experience, others use it as a liturgical resource.

My questions are: in your experience, is this vision of the RCIA process possible or practical to implement? How has the RCIA been implemented in your parish or diocese, and what are the reasons for this?

 

Writer’s note: this Non Solum post is intended as a prelude to a three-part series on the usage of the RCIA process, the experience of the Catechumenate, and the process through which candidates for full communion are received in contemporary practice.

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49 comments

  1. Ours more or less follows the academic year. I suspect the practical reason is that impending marriages drive many of the attendees, and most wouldn’t want to wait 18 months to get married.

  2. We also follow the academic year, partly because its easier given the limited people-resources of a small parish.

    I was also reflecting on the year-or-more ideal and wondering if perhaps this is not “counter-cultural” in the negative sense of not recognizing the cultural reality of Christianity in the developed world. That is, back in the 4th century, someone inquiring into baptism might well be a tabula rasa, very unfamiliar with the basics of Christianity, not least because of the disciplina arcani. Today, at least in my experience, our cultural reality is that by the time someone begins RCIA they have been attending Mass for a year or more and have already, in a sense, begun their “catechumenate.” They have in most cases experienced at least one full cycle of the liturgical year, they just haven’t been enrolled in our “program.”

    I’m probably just making excuses, but I don’t see why 12 months or 18 months should constitute the “gold standard” for Initiation.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
      Fritz, I appreciate your comment about catechumens not being a tabula rasa. But consider your first year students, and compare them to upper class ones. They did not come in as a tabula rasa either, yet you keep them for four years! And a lot changes, for the better, as they get past the first year.

      I’ve tried it both ways and am now a big advocate for year-round, and a one-year + minimum as a standard time frame (with possible exceptions, but as a general expectation). The things people say when they have taken more than a year for initiation are what have persuaded me. Like these: “Everything I learned, I learned my second year,” and “At first I was doing it for my fiance. Now I am doing it for myself.” One of the women who did this came up to me later and said she had witnessed about this at a job interview: “I took two years to become a Catholic! They were very impressed.” (She got the job.)

      There is something that happens once you pass the one year mark. It always happens, in my experience. The level deepens. New things become possible in the person’s spiritual life. My point is that this corresponds to other transitions we make in life. But what many think of with RCIA, sadly, is “convert class” and a quick minimal intro to the catechism, not the goals outlined in the rite itself concerning community, apostolic works, conversion of heart and mind and practice, and catechesis that forms you for life.

      1. This year, my mother’s church in Korea is offering a special three-month “fast track” RCIA classes exclusively for non-Catholics married to Catholics, being that they already are (presumably) familiar with our faith, and also, because their Catholic spouses — bless their hearts! — could fill up what may be lacking (in the afflictions of RCIA leaders, lol) along the way.

        This made sense to me.

        I understand typically, it’s an eight-month process that runs from either Spring to Christmas or Autumn to Easter.

  3. My parish follows the academic year…in large part because we are on the edge of a large state university and many of our catechumens and candidates are students. One year we tried confirming the candidates on a different schedule but did not work out so well. The candidates really needed the same level of formation that the catechumens needed and despite being a decent sized parish, resources are not unlimited.

  4. Hasn’t this been discussed in great detail in various posts?

    I guess I would love hear more about how have folks moved beyond a autumn to Easter Vigil model. And did it stick.

  5. I am delighted that there is renewed interest about this issue!
    In my experience an ongoing Pre-catechumenate, catechumenate, and mystagogy is absolutely possible. When I was in pastoral work I did shift the school-year mentality. It took consistent, passionate work on my part, as the director, to help the pastoral staff, RCIA Team, liturgy committee, and parish understand the rationale for this.
    For example:
    When inquirers asked how long it takes, my answer was that it depends on you and that the process is different for everyone. Some people need an extended inquiry, others do not. We celebrated the acceptance into the order of catechumens 3 – 4 times in a year.
    To avoid confusion and to respect the identity of the baptized, we never used combined rites.
    We celebrated reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church as needed, and sometimes more than once in a given year – never at the Easter Vigil.
    Only catechumens were dismissed from Mass and participated in “dismissal catechesis;” for practical purposes baptized and unbaptized attended the same extended catechetical session; however, it was intentionally made clear who was baptized.
    We extended mystagogy for a full year and all neophytes were invited to join us for Mass, hospitality, and a session once a month. An important aspect of this was catechesis for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and then an invitation to celebrate it during the Advent Season.
    During my tenure in one particular parish this was very successful!
    I now teach a graduate course: RCIA: Theology and Practice and have the opportunity to help others explore better ways to put the rite into practice.

    1. @Donna Eschenauer:
      What a beautiful discussion that is happening.

      Donna, I wanted to thank you for your description of what you do in mystagogia. I never heard of it being done and and from the sounds of it, you and your community are doing a wonderful job.

  6. Realities are more important than ideas, as Pope Francis often says. The ideas and ideals affirmed by the bishops are terrific, but they often encounter realities that turn them over.

    We usually use a school year model, because a majority of our parish organizes their lives around school. We’ve done a year or more with a few people, but even then meetings were less frequent during the summer, etc.

    Offering a year after baptism is great, if neophytes will come. It seems anticlimactic, following after the great Easter experience without a clear purpose.

    Many confirmation candidates need little catechetical, bringing their earlier religious experience to us. Those who do need catechesis should participate in the Easter experience somehow imo; delaying confirmation to after Easter makes little sense to me. Scheduling it after Lent but before Easter leaves a 2 or 3 hour window to get it in lol.

    If you have a lot of people in each category, it may be easier. Or harder. Idk. Though I like the general principles laid out, I think the program has to be adapted to the people who show up. I am glad to see people like Donna and Rita can make them work.

      1. @Donna Eschenauer:

        Baptized but uncatechized people are different, I am sure we agree. I have some problems with keeping them ‘apart’ during the Easter celebration just because they were baptized. It can be done, but why?

        I like Jack’s solution, receiving them on Holy Thursday. It emphasizes communion as the culmination of the process. But the precedent for it is penitents who were reconciled with the Church on Holy Thursday, an association I’d hesitate to highlight.

        There must be a good way to handle this, so I’m happy to hear what people say. I’m just trying to raise realities that I think pose problems for the carefully laid out process.

      2. @Jim McKay:
        The point I was trying to make is twofold. First, this would mean we have to use the combined rite at the Easter Vigil. And, I suspect people do this because it is the most powerful liturgy of the year, and it a special opportunity for those being received. However, the Easter Vigil is about baptism and the reception into full communion is about communion and unity (See Paul Turner’s When Other Christians Become Catholic). In the combined rite, Confirmation for the newly baptized is placed after the renewal of baptismal promises and reception into full communion – this distorts the intimate connection of baptism with confirmation. Second, we need to take into account our relationship with other ecclesial communities so those seeking full communion can and should be received when they are ready.
        I have addressed this issue in my article, “Communion and Unity: The Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church” in Catechumenate September 2012.

      3. @Donna Eschenauer:

        I agree with almost everything you say. I just think there is a reality to Easter that makes it about more than baptism. It is about Resurrection. There is a reason why it is the most powerful liturgy of the year. And there is a reason why we should share it with all the members of our church, not ask some to wait another 50 days just because they were already baptized. That obscures the link between confirmation and baptism more than almost anything else imo.

        I agree that most candidates should be received into full communion when they are ready. I am talking about uncatechized people whose formation is just beginning. (Including uncatechized Catholics, but don’t get me started on that). For them, especially if they have accompanied the unbaptized for any length of time, the Vigil may be when they are ready.

  7. Rather than pro- or con-school year model, I would frame it with two questions. First, can someone begin the process at various points throughout the year, or do you make them wait until the “program” starts again? We’ve lost many people who show interest after Christmas by telling them to come back in nine months.

    Second, is it a fixed-length or variable-length catechumenate/candidacy? Someone who has been already attending Mass for a long time with a spouse or was well-formed in another Christian tradition may need less time in formation than someone who has never been involved in a church or is coming from a non-Christian background.

    My parish recently moved from a school-year model to a year-round, variable-length model. Part of our commitment includes dedicating 40 hours of paid staff hours per week to these ministries, a luxury that many parishes could not afford. Even with this increased effort, I don’t believe we have any organized sessions of mystagogy, and not much ongoing adult formation for the rest of the parish either. We get them catechized and initiated, then send them into the general population.

    1. @Scott Pluff:
      One of the main points of year-round – on-going is that you would never make anyone wait until “the program starts.”
      Part of the problem, I think, is that far too many view the RCIA as a parish program – it is a rite, not a program – it engages catechesis, but it is not a catechetical program!
      Also, be flexible, especially during the summer months.

  8. I have strong feelings on this topic.

    As always, the challenge for the ministry is sorting fish. A year-round catechumenate is prescribed for unbaptized non-believers. A wise leader would take into account the situation of a Hindu or Buddhist or atheist spouse who has been on the fringes of their Catholic partner’s parish life (or even coming to Mass regularly) and a non-Christian who walks in off the street.

    As for engaged persons, I wouldn’t shy away from counseling a person to wait before taking the final steps to convert to Christianity. If appropriate, maybe after the marriage. Certainly a person could enter the catechumenate before the wedding so as to be a church member, then celebrate Baptism later.

    I often respect the input of Karl and Fritz. But in this case, it seems they are advocating a model of initiating people into the status quo. Make no mistake: this is the model for a dying Body.

    An active 21st century Church would demand discipleship of its members. After a year of catechumenate and another year of mystagogy, a believer should be an active force in drawing others to Christ at work, at school, and in neighborhoods. If not, we have aimed too low and are failing the mission of the Gospel.

    If we are twiddling our thumbs in mystagogy, we simply haven’t grasped the call of discipleship. In which case, maybe it’s time for the leaders to go back to a mystagogy themselves before they can claim to be the gatekeepers on church membership.

  9. The RCIA program I took part in started in the fall and ended at Easter. A couple of people in my group didn’t make it all the way to the end, and I think a longer course would probably have even more drop-outs. Since then, I have learned more about the church on my own and to be honest I remember almost nothing from the course.

    As for other RCIA-type plans,, one convert I knew just talked to a priest a few times before becoming a Catholic.

  10. I think it would help if we stopped calling it RCIA (usually rendered RCIA Program). How would people new to the church know what R.C.I.A. stands for anyway? Let’s not greet them with acronyms, abbreviations, or technical jargon. There’s a book on my shelf that says Nuptial Mass on the cover, but we generally call these Weddings. Would we announce, “Next Sunday Fr. Joe is away, so instead of Mass we’ll celebrate SCAP.” What?

    Journey to Baptism? Forming Faith? Dying and Rising with Christ? Anything has to be better than calling it RCIA.

    1. @Scott Pluff:

      I really think that you are onto something here, Scott. So much gets lost in the acronyms and jargon, that it daunting to the imitated and harrowing for others. I wonder if words like pre-catechumenate, catechumenate, and mystagogy could be replaced or better translated with something less technical.

      It will be interesting in a year or two when RCIA ceases to exist and becomes OCIA with the new translation.

    2. @Scott Pluff:For my 30 years in this ministry, we called the process the “Journey of Adult Initiation”, even though the diocese called it RCIA. After I retired, the parish switched to the RCIA “program”, with “classes” that “graduated” at Easter. It is so true that names are important, and often shape expectations and outcomes. The God of all creation can be trapped into our little boxes if we try hard enough.

  11. Like I said, I’m probably just making excuses. I can certainly see the advantages of a longer catechumenate and an on-going mystagogy.

    I am curious, however, about the size of the parishes that do year+ catechumenates, both in terms of numbers of people in the parish and in terms of the number of people who go through the process. My parish has, on a good weekend, about 150 people spread between two Masses. I’m told that common pastoral wisdom is that 10% of those who come to Mass on Sunday are willing to be involved in some additional ministry; I think were well above that, around 20%. Still, that’s about 30 people who are involved in things like our parish food program, children’s religious formation, Confirmation, liturgical ministry, liturgical planning, pastoral council, finance committee, outreach and service, Pre-Cana, etc. A number of folks do double duty, of course, but its a small number to cover a lot of things.

    At the moment, my RCIA “team” is three people (including me, and all of us have full-time occupations in addition to this ministry) . Were we to try to have a year-round pre-catechumenate, a catechumenate, formation for candidates, and on-going mystagogy… well, that spreads the people-resources awfully thin.

    Now, having read my Aidan Kavanagh, I am at least partly convinced that one can make the RCIA the hub into which and from which all of the activity of your parish flows. But this would involve convincing others (including the Pastor) that such a radical reorganization of the parish should be done. So even if I am making excuses, they are excuses based in the reality of my particular parish setting.

    Still, I appreciate these conversations (even if we’ve had them before); they keep me from being complacent, and might even prod me to do things differently.

  12. Here’s my church’s web page for RCIA … http://www.olaparish.net/faith-formation/becoming-catholic-adults

    It’s changed a bit since I took part. We had a married couple as facilitators and the priest had almost no part in the program. It seemed that most of the classes were about trying to bond us together as a group and also covering basic Catholic practices. There was nothing about spirituality at all, nothing about theology, nothing about the church in current events (like the sex abuse problem). What was most clear was the ongoing problems existing between the RCIA staff and the priest. Maybe it’s better there now.

  13. My experience has been that we combine candidates and catechumens and then expect all candidates to follow the process designed for unbaptized people, so it gets deformed for them. We did this because (1) as Fritz points out, there are only so many resources – people, time, space – even in a large parish (2) we had few catechumens, 1 or 2 most years, so the RCIA team was formed and experienced to address “converts” rather than the unbaptized, (3) pastors can’t seem to agree on how the RCIA should work, so if one parish insists on a one year catechumenate, but the next parish over can “do” your fiancé in 6 months, where do you think people will go?

    I don’t think the RCIA can work as it is meant to if it includes the already-baptized.

  14. I suspect that the need to offer initiation to adult unbaptized will increase in coming years, as the percentage of unbaptized adults increases in the US, both because our society is becoming more diverse with immigrants from countries that are not historically Christian, and because the children of American Christians are becoming the children of American Post-Christians.

    As a variation, there are those who have been baptized as infants and then basically were never brought to church again. They have been sacramentally initiated but their faith hasn’t been fed. They do need a sort of a faith formation program.

  15. Throughout my service to five parishes over 43 years, I have refrained from using the letters RCIA to describe the process by which individuals move towards sacramental initiation into Christ and the Church. I call it the Journey of Faith which strikes me as far more descriptive of what we are actually about. Granted all believers are on such a journey, but it is one to which we invite others. The school year paradigm is so hard to break, but we’ve made efforts. Anyone can embark on the Journey’s weekly sessions whenever they ask to do so, but we only conduct a monthly gathering during the summer months. For the last ten years or so, we have been more careful to make distinctions between catechumens and candidates in terms of how we celebrate the various rites. There always seems to be a pressure to combine them because they are all part of “the class”. I stopped using the combined rite at the Easter Vigil about 30 years ago, maybe more. I remember reading something about how Holy Thursday was historically a time in which people were reconciled to the church after wandering about in the wilderness. So thereafter I have welcomed candidates for full communion during the Mass of the Last Supper. Following the homily, they come to have their feet washed after which follows the Rite of Reception and Chrismation. Such a beautiful evening on which to be welcomed into full communion! Exceptions are made for candidates who express a well informed desire to be admitted to communion even before this time. All adult baptisms (including children of catechetical age) are celebrated at the Easter Vigil. Following the Vigil there is a gala reception to honor all who were initiated during the Triduum. It’s late, there’s lots of food, and the place is packed. Many are so “high”, they come back on Easter Sunday for yet more.
    We need to do more by way of programmed follow up for the catechumens and we are moving that to a front burner this year.

  16. I think that sometimes you may want to nuance the keeping-apart of the catechumens and candidates.

    I may have said this before on a previous thread, but in my opinion one of the richest parts of the whole RCIA process is what happens after the catechumens are dismissed. That deep unpacking of the scriptures is incredibly worthwhile. In my experience, candidates want to be dismissed along with the catechumens precisely because they know how rich it is and what they would be missing if they didn’t go out with them. Dammit, if we knew how rich it was, we’d all want to be disnissed too! Telling the candidates they can’t have this experience is just wrong, I think.

    In my diocese there was a move at one time to receive candidates at Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. That seems to be a more appropriate time than Holy Thursday evening. But I really like what Jack and Donna have been doing.

    1. @Paul Inwood:
      First of all, I apologize for so many responses to this post, but this is a topic I am passionate about.
      Paul, I always respect what you have to say! And, I want to tell you here that the Hymn for the Year of Mercy is a favorite of mine! I listen to it all the time.

      In regard to the dismissal of catechumens, this is about the ritual expression of identity. It alerts the assembly that we have catechumens in our midst and we send them forth to continue the Liturgy of the Word. As the baptized we get to stay and this means something, even for those not in full communion. Then, we are all dismissed.
      Candidates can have the same rich experience in the extended catechetical experience if it is done appropriately.

  17. I don’t know about the kinds of candidates other parishes attract, but ours for the most part have little knowledge or practice of the faith in the tradition in which they happened to be baptized. During their first lent in the church they are coming to terms with doing penance and customarily celebrate reconciliation prior to Holy Thursday. It works beautifully even if it can’t get high grades from all devotees of RCIA.

  18. This is a marvelous discussion. Imagine if we were parishioners in a live community wrestling with these issues for a local situation.

    I have to confess a bit of curiosity about Confirmation on Holy Thursday. Reception of the oils. Washing of Feet. Transfer procession. Plus a sacramental ritual on top of the Eucharist?

    He doesn’t seem to realize it, but Fritz has, in my mind, the optimal situation. A parish too small to easily “program” initiation ministry into blandness. The drawback of large parishes who have “professionalized” ministry is that programs often eclipse people. Real ministry is done one-on-one. Or it starts there. There is no “program” that can bump involvement from 5 to 10 to 30 to 100 percent. Women and men aren’t computer programs that will obey. They are living, thinking, feeling beings who will respond to a relationship. And if there are few of us who realize it, deeper conversion will happen only a few at a time.

    1. @Todd Flowerday:
      My situation certainly doesn’t feel optimal to me–the resource squeeze is a constant nagging concern–but I do recognize that there are advantages to small, not least of which is that we can be flexible. Over the years we have met for RCIA before Mass, after Mass, and on a weeknight, depending on the needs/schedules of the participants. We often tailor the content of the catechesis to the background and experience of the participants. You can do that when you have 3-5 catechumens and/or candidates.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        If set up properly, the year-round model is actually less of a commitment for volunteers. It is important that the person in charge does the work of managing people as they move through the process. Mary Birmingham has the best set-up as far as nuts and bolts that I have seen. I was knocked off my rocker after attending her session at the MAC several years ago and immediately moved to put a year-round program in place. At a 2000-family parish, I ran the program with myself doing the managing and initial meetings, as well as purification & enlightenment during Lent. I had 2-3 inquiry catechists, and 4-5 catechumenate catechists. So their obligation was to lead a session about once a month. Everything happened on Sunday… dismissal, BoTW, a short break, and then about an hour after Mass on a liturgical-related topic. Remember, the year requirement is for unbaptized individuals only. Baptized individuals could be in the process for a variable length… this is why the manager is so important, someone to track each person’s progress. Best part is, it works so much better… almost 100% retention. We were making disciples of Jesus instead of teaching about Jesus. Go to one of Mary’s sessions or read her introduction to Formed in Faith (free on the WLP site), or read Year-round Catechumenate… if you care about this stuff and want to do it right, but don’t know how, it will blow your mind.

      2. @Jeff Rice:
        Thanks for this testimony, Jeff. +1

        I suspect the real difference from one community to the next is how seriously the parish leadership takes the ministry of initiation. And the involvement, empowerment, formation of ordinary parishioners to give extraordinary service to seekers.

        A DRE also saddled with youth ministry and RCIA … a music director with liturgy and RCIA … a deacon with Sunday preaching, weddings and baptisms, social justice, and RCIA–I would suggest these scenarios aren’t rare. I suspect the other ministries sharing time on those dockets would also get short shrift, at least now and then. No wonder some people heed the instinct to take the summer off.

        In these circumstances, it is difficult to take criticism of the rite or various universal or national directives very seriously. Like seekers, sometimes parish priorities need to be sorted.

  19. I can’t cite the chapter and verse, but somewhere it says that the catechumenate should be the model for all catechesis. How much different would our RCIA/RCIC programs look if this became the normal path for all families preparing for infant baptism? For all students preparing for First Communion and Confirmation? Or should I say, Confirmation and First Communion 😉

    How would my parish handle an RCIC program with 300+ students, much less one where readiness for initiation is determined on a case-by-case basis? It boggles the mind. But this may be a solution to the seemingly intractable problem with some school families who will jump through the hoops to receive the sacraments but then disappear after Confirmation.

    1. @Scott Pluff:
      Yes, both the General Directory for Catechesis (1997) and the National Directory for Catechesis (2005) state this throughout. The problem is that catechetical leaders can’t apply the principles of RCIA to general catechesis if they do not understand the RCIA.

      Careful, there is no such thing as RCIC!

  20. Also, over 30 years in this ministry we have had baptized Catholics who had not set foot in any church since their First Communion at age 7, an unbaptized Muslim woman who had taught in our children’s religious ed program for many years, life long active Protestants who discovered they had never been baptized, and every other possible combination of sacramental status and lived experience. How does anyone go about neatly sorting out this assortment of truly individual souls? We ended up taking whoever approached us and forming a “small church” with our 12 member team to journey together in faith toward the sacraments of the Easter Vigil. We took them as individuals, not categories, and each year was unique and holy. Maybe it helped that we started in 1976, when all we had was the Rites book, the lectionary, the other scriptures, the liturgical year, and our own combined skills and backgrounds.

  21. With zero religious upbringing, I went to my first Catholic Mass at neighbors’ invitation when I was ten. It seemed very strange—the priest in fiddleback vestments, back to the people, incomprehensible Latin.The only thing I saw that made any sense was the look of the faces of those coming back from Communion. Whatever they had, I wanted it. If I had had to explain the Real Presence, that would have been my answer. It still is.

    It took two years to convince my parents that I was serious; I “took instruction” for a few weeks (which was what one did then) and was baptized at age 12—hardly infant baptism but not exactly adult either.

    As a pastoral musician and liturgical composer, I’ve had a lot to do with RCIA over many years. But I don’t know whether I myself would have made it through a long, involved RCIA program, with its complicated and peculiar terminology—catechumen, elite, etc. I might well have found offputting all that jumping through linguistic and behavior hoops to be deemed “worthy” of baptism.

    But apparently God wanted me here, so here I am. I do think that’s the bottom line.

  22. I grew up Episcopal, in a sacramental, but not particularly bells and smells, parish. I married a Catholic; we were married in the Episcopal church (with a nuptial mass), and later had our marriage con-validated. I was active in ARCIC discussions, and eventually became organist in my wife’s parish. The priest who baptized our first child specifically invited me to receive communion. Then I was invited to RCIA. I hope that I did not overreact, but I felt so condescended to (“We don’t care where you are coming from – atheist, Baptist, Pentecostal – but now you will become Catholic”). It was made clear that I would be involved in a process of conversion, and would need to reject the errors of my past. I left RCIA after the first month, and my wife and I have worshipped in our different communities ever since, although when we do worship together – usually when travelling – we each receive in the other’s churches (yeah, I know – not legal). Neither of our children – now in their 30s – are active in any church, because in their minds churches divide. I fear that the greatest failure of our respective churches in terms of ministering to multi-denominational, or multi-faith, families, is just this effect on the following generation.

    1. @John Schuster-Craig:

      Assumng that a non-catholic is uncatechized is probably the worst way to implement the rcia. Someone like yourself should be welcomed as a fellow Christian and received into full communion quickly. A key point of the rite comes from the earliest days of the Church, that there be “no greater burden than necessary.” acts 15:28

      As long as you don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols and stay away from unlawful marriages, we won’t circumcise you. We shouldn’t burden you beyond that.

    2. @John Schuster-Craig:
      Dear John,

      First of all, I am sorry you had that experience. We are all, always, in need of continuing conversion to the Lord, but for you to be subjected to an attitude of disdain for your (authentic) Christian experience outside the Catholic Church is not only poor RCIA practice, it’s also a failure of charity which is the root of all the virtues. I hope you have found it in your heart to forgive those who met you with so much arrogance and so little understanding.

      Second, sad to say, many now in their 30s have left the practice of their faith because “in their minds churches divide.” (The other side of this coin is the rise of religious fanaticism and boundaries, with a vengeance.) This has little or nothing to do with RCIA, I daresay, in most cases. Everything divisive is cited by those who identify the church as “the” problem: communion practices, political positions, sexual issues, birth control, abortion, gay marriage, you name it. Yet churches on each side of every divided issue, and those who take no “hard” position, have experienced decline. I suspect the sea change in this age group with regard to church is more fundamental.

  23. Interesting discussion, so far.

    I’m fortunate (depends on how one uses the word) enough to be in a setting outside of a parish that has an RCIA process: university. Besides the Gregorian and liturgical calendar, we also have the academic, which is on the quarter system, not semester! Add all the social events going on around campus, plus class many students spend a lot of time in the classroom. We follow, and adapt, what is asked for in the Ritual Text, following paragraph 75, in conjunction with paragraph 4, honoring one’s “gradual process”.

    I look at the university as a whole for the content of formation: events, service, and community building. School breaks, like summer and christmas, tend to be a rich time for our catechumens: we continue to have dismissals at sunday liturgy, we go to various churches to seek out community and see what being catholic is like outside of the school. In the past, I put in the extra work to connect with near-by parishes of catechumens who “go home” for breaks and encourage them to connect. We have “lost” some to parishes because of this, but it is a joy to realize that a parish can be welcoming enough to the “other”: in this case, a young adult seeking faith in community.

    We have students all over the ‘spectrum’: seekers, candidates and catechumens, the joys of sorting fish. I rarely give a time frame, e.g. sign up at the club fair and you’ll be initiated in the spring. Over coffee, I am upfront and say that this process takes time. I see my role as a catechist in the university as one of hospitality: of creating space for the other – the inquiry and the catechumen – in the community so that the community can thrive and do its work of evangelization and living their baptismal call.

    To bring about a year round process is not easy, and I don’t want to say that I have come up with the solution. All I know from my experience is that this process is less school, and more about falling in love with Jesus.

  24. …. The catechumenate serves as a model that is rooted in formation, rather than information. My staff and I have come to see that ongoing conversion is the goal, not just of RCIA, but in everything we do. There we take initiation ministry seriously. I am supported my collegaues who help me envision a year-round process in a school setting. They do this because they see that everyone has a part in it. It is not solely my domain. I guess you can say that we are just beginning the journey towards an initiating campus ministry department.

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