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);
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.