Let us pray for our Catechumens and Elect

Once again it is that great season when catechumens (they’re the “elect” during Lent after the Rite of Election) are preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil. We stand before great and awesome mysteries. Throughout this Lent, let us pray for those preparing for baptism.

One of the graces of the Second Vatican Council is the revivial of a sacramentally-based program for the initiation of adult converts, the RCIA. By now the catechumenate is being developed in many denominations and traditions. The North American Association of the Catechumenate includes the Anglican Church of Canada, Episcopal Church, USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, and the United Methodist Church. The North American Forum on the Catechumenate is the Catholic organization. And TeamRCIA (thanks, Rita) gives great helpful resources for running the RCIA.

Some rough statistics for the US: Catholics baptize about 45,000-75,000 adults each year; the ELCA baptizes about 7,500 adults a year; and the Episcopal Church baptizes about 5,500 adults a year. But the US Catholic Church is huge, and that number of adult converts is less than 1% of adult members. ELCA Lutherans are at a bit over 1.5%, Episcopalians at almost 2.5%.

But you know, it’s not all about numbers. It’s about our faithful response to God who is all-loving and all-inviting.

Father of love and power,
it is your will to establish everything in Christ
and to draw us into his all-embracing love.
Guide the elect of your Church:
strengthen them in their vocation,
build them into the kingdom of your Son,
and seal them with the Spirit of your promise.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

–Prayer over the Elect, Rite of Election


  1. Just an FYI: Per the Pew 2008 US Religious Landscape Survey, those joining Catholicism make up 2.6% of the American adult population which would mean that there about 6.5 million “converts” to Catholicism in the US. Which in a Church of 68 million, is about 9.5% of the total membership.

    Of course, what percentage are actually in the pew on Sunday is another question!

  2. Indeed, let us pray for our Catechumens. In many places formation in the Faith is so dismal that it is a miracle that they don’t run away. Most of my local RCIA classes were hugely disappointing. I vastly preferred small-talking over dinner with my PP – he was openly heterodox but at least he was funny!

    There may be locales where RCIA works. But based on what I have heard from so many, on a whole it needs a massive overhaul. It needs material and well-formed catechists that actually teach Catholicism, systematically. I would never have learnt the tinsiest bit about Catholicism if I hadn’t taken initiative to read the Catechism. In fact, I still had considerable holes that didn’t begin to be filled until I started attending the TLM.

    1. I will comment not on the quality of your formation or conversion, Gideon, but on something which is repeatedly emphasized in the RCIA official documents: the purpose of the catechumenate is TOTAL conversion of heart, conversion of morals, conversion of attitude, conformity with Christ, and NOT just correct intellectual understanding of doctrine (although that too is important). In the way you overemphasize doctrine and only that, I have the distinct impression that you’re setting the bar way, way too low. And maybe missed some important points about the purpose of the Catechumenate in the mind of the Church.

  3. But Dom Anthony, the problem with the RCIA process in my locale (Denmark – not a typical setting but as far as I can gather not much different from that used many other places) was that it did not even attempt to bring about conversion of heart, morals, and attitude.

    In fact, when we came to the session on marriage, the (married) permanent deacon who held it did not say a single word about the graces of marriage and the family, the place of marriage in the plan of salvation, or Catholic teaching on conjugal love and procreation, but spent 2 entire hours talking about canon law! In fact he told me directly that he assumed that the only thing people who turned up wanted to find out was whether or not their marriage was valid.

  4. Say what you will about doctrinal understanding, but this has always been the mainstay of formation in the Faith (along with moral teaching). It was always presumed that when a person wanted to become a Christian, he had already had a conversion of heart and his decision to be baptized/received was an expression of an already existing desire to follow Christ and live in conformity with his will. What remained was to help him discern exactly in what that will consisted.

    This desire must of course be sustained and developed, and it may be true that formation formerly laid too much weight on the technical rather than the experiential. Anyway, the system is now clearly not working despite the good intentions of the ‘official’ documents.

  5. Fr. Anthony is correct here.

    Gideon, to generalize from one experience and some hearsay that the RCIA “needs a massive overhaul” or that “the system is now clearly not working” is unfair. For a better view of what is actually happening, read the study of the American Bishops, “Journey to the Fullness of Life” (2000). It’s on the USCCB website.

    The vision of the RCIA requires active involvement by the community, well-celebrated liturgical rites, moral conversion carefully cultivated and discerned, engagement with the scriptures as a living word, and doctrinal teaching by skilled catechists. Read the General Directory for Catechesis, and you will see the same thing. The catechumenate is the model for all catechesis (GDC #59).

  6. I’ve always wondered how other Catholics outside the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite view conversion. Eastern Catholics do not have RCIA. Those instructed in the context of an Extraordinary Form parish do not have RCIA. Are those who convert outside the Ordinary Form any better or worse for not going through this program?

    Recently two good friends of mine wed in the Extraordinary Form. They received their marriage formation directly from the pastor through private instruction. Both are very well informed of their faith and the pastor is very orthodox and rigorous in his instruction. Is the RCIA and corporate marriage preparation right for all Catholics? Could private catechesis be just as profitable for some people?

  7. My wife is a catechumen and I attend with her. The materials are sparse – lots of line drawings with little actual catechesis. It seems to be designed as a ‘starting point’ only and should not be confused with comprehensive instruction. Many in her class are soon to be former Episcopalians, who I think might benefit from a shorter more targeted course – surely they do not need to spend as long on the concept of the Holy Trinity as say a Buddhist? Also, my wife is doing much more reading by herself, the writings of HH BXVI, Chesterton, Waugh, etc. The RCIA instructor seems completely unfamiliar with these and other Catholic writers – this is not a criticism of the instructor but, I think, in my wife’s case she would benefit more from private instruction from a priest. Picking up on the previous commenter, my wife would dearly love to be baptised in the usus antiquior (we have it, Deo gratias, in our parish) but the Parish Priest is putting (gentle) pressure on her to go with the new form.

  8. RCIA is only for the unbaptized. Baptized Episcopalians should not be in the RCIA or in classes/sessions with catechumens.
    The text of the RCIA – the introductions and the rites themselves – do an excellent job of laying out the purpose and intent of it. Reading this would answer many of the questions and issues raised here – eg, why private instruction doesn’t fit too well with the purpose of the RCIA.

  9. Dom Anthony, thank you for your observation. In practice, where we live (So Cal), I know that a lot of parishes, whether due to lack of resources or otherwise, combine the classes – my wife’s class has unconfirmed Catholics, other Christians and unbaptised all in one class, which may result in a lack of targeted instruction.

  10. The combined approach of baptized and unbaptized is due to a number of “pastoral” and “practical” reasons. We always make clear in public ceremonies (and we do them all) that there is a clear distinction between candidates and catechumens. Where appropriate, I do take baptized Christians individually–last year I had a Presbyterian Minister who knows more about the faith than I, but he doesn’t know about our cultural nuances. This year I have an Episcopal priest I’m privately working with. Other Christians though are often very unchurched and on some levels know less than the unbaptized–many pastoral and practical concerns here in the south anyway. When combined, the Holy Spirit seems to take charge in terms of conversion.

  11. The 1962 Rituale has a 7-stage catechumenate rather than the 4-stage one we now possess. I wonder if anyone using the EF is using this?

  12. “something which is repeatedly emphasized in the RCIA official documents…”

    “The vision of the RCIA requires…”

    “Baptized Episcopalians should not be in the RCIA…”

    All this referencing to how things ought to be is somewhat amusing.

    Ms. Ferrone, thank you for the reference to the USCCB study. I read the executive summary on the website. Very few concrete figures. The most noted weakness happens exactly to be “inadequate study and explanation of doctrines”.

    And there’s this gem: “[The participants] generally appreciate the feelings of community more than they appreciate specific teachings.”

    The general state of the Church today?

    1. Gideon, there are problems with the RCIA in terms of those who cease practicing the Catholic faith very soon after being baptized or received into the full communion of the Church. When priests privately prepared “converts” I do think that statistics show a higher level of remaining practicing Catholics. At any rate, taking the “purist” route or a more “pastoral” route should incorporate sound doctrine and fine moral formation, not just good feelings. But the communal nature of the Church needs to be experienced. Ultimately Catholicism is caught not just taught, inhaled, not just exhaled. All of this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

  13. “In the way you overemphasize doctrine and only that, I have the distinct impression that you’re setting the bar way, way too low.”

    You really have a curious way of judging people from a few sentences they write, Dom Anthony. I have no intention to overemphasize doctrine – any impression to the contrary is a result of your somewhat low comment length limit. As a former Protestant I fully know the importance of the experiential aspect of the Faith. And I also fully know what happens when this aspect is allowed to obscure all the others: confusion, disorientation, disunity, loss of faith. All the things I fled from in my former denomination and have found most alive and well in the contemporary Church.

  14. “The 1962 Rituale has a 7-stage catechumenate”

    Thank you for that too, Ms. Ferrone; I didn’t realize that. I actually do think it was a worthy goal to revive the catechumenate process – priests and catechists should just have stuck with the old catechisms such as the Baltimore. I also believe that every session ought to begin with an exorcism of all the catechumens, as it happened in former times. I am in fact a proper traditionalist; I don’t believe that the apogee of Christian civilization was reached in 1962 (rather 1262).

    And I agree with Dom Anthony: baptized persons should not be in the catechumenate; the nuances between different Christian groupings are too subtle. They should be instructed privately by priests.

  15. Rita Ferrone :

    The 1962 Rituale has a 7-stage catechumenate rather than the 4-stage one we now possess. I wonder if anyone using the EF is using this?

    Thanks Rita for bringing this up. I’m interested in reading the texts for the old catechumenate. Maybe the extraordinary form orders could edit and reissue texts and rubrics. Small EF catechumenates might be unsuited for a large program.

  16. I’m a baptized-Christian-was-instructed-with-catechumens. My RCIA program was excellent, and did ritually distinguish catechumens from baptized Christians. More importantly, however, they emphasized communal formation, giving good instruction and pointers to more good instruction, but constantly reminding us that the journey of conversion only began at the Triduum.

    Most powerfully of all, they saw both catechumens and candidates as making the Holy Spirit’s call to conversion alive in the church, and treated them as witnesses from whom they could learn about discipleship as well.

    Not too surprising, then, that there are several former RCIA catechumens and candidates from that parish with graduate degrees in theology.

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