In an excellent book called ‘He loves me!’ by Wayne Jacobsen describes how he once prayed each day that God would bless his plans. The turning point came when he realised that it was a case of waiting and listening until the Lord said to him ‘I’m going to reach out to touch some peoples’ lives today – would you like to come with me?’.
I became involved in RCIA in our parish over 16 years ago by which time it had already become established through the vision and insight of two nuns. When the sisters left the parish our Parish Priest invited me to join the catechetical team of which he was a member himself. My previous experience had been as a catechist and parish co-ordinator of the Confirmation programme. I think it’s a privilege to be a catechist and I enjoy being there as people grow in faith and God does things in their lives. I never know what He will do next!
I am in the third of my three year stint on the RCIA national executive. I hope I have made a useful contribution as an ordinary lay person involved in parish RCIA but I have certainly enjoyed the experience and learnt a great deal.
In our parish we have always sought to follow the spirit of RCIA but I can’t say we have followed all the detail of the Rite as specified in the book. I think that this is true of many parishes. What happens is often a compromise between the ideal and what the people involved are comfortable with. In our parish 2010 to 2011 programme we have tried to move deeper into the RCIA process. In our enquiry phase we continued with our existing practice of looking at topics in order to explore what it is to be a Christian in general, and a Catholic Christian in particular. Part of this involved providing a kind of tool kit for enquirers, helping them to find their way around the Scriptures, sharing experiences of personal faith and starting to explore different forms of prayer.
In Advent 2010 we went lectionary based. We had not done this before but, despite some disruption of our meetings by snow just when we were getting used to the idea, this proved much easier and more successful than we had expected. The exploration of themes in scripture in the Enquiry phase probably did help but enquirers and catechists alike were led, through the lectionary, deeper into the wisdom of the Church’s year. After Christmas it was exciting to hear candidates and catechumens reflecting on how it now had so much more meaning to them than it had had before.
We have continued to use the lectionary-based approach and intend to continue to do so until Easter – what better programme can one have? The choice and combination of scripture readings in the lectionary is amazing, the connection between the Old Testament and the Gospel, and their rather more subtle connection with second reading. We have tried a little of the Lectio divina approach but we keep the period of silence very short at the moment. It will increase with time as people get more familiar with it. Some of our candidates find ‘Wednesday Word’ a useful preparation for the next RCIA session, based on the following Sunday’s readings. ‘Wednesday Word’ was the result of the vision of a member of our parish and intended to encourage families to pray and reflect on Scripture during the week to prepare themselves for Sunday Mass. It’s now used in many parishes and Catholic schools in England and Wales. We can always find spare copies for RCIA.
We effectively passed from the Enquiry phase to the Catechumenate at the beginning of Advent when the transition to lectionary-based catechesis represented a step-change in the character of the programme. The disruption of meetings due to snow meant that we weren’t sure that the catechumens and candidates were all ready and fully prepared for the Rite of Acceptance. We have this planned for mid February. We shall have two catechumens and two candidates and we shall emphasise the distinction according to the Rite much more clearly than before. As we have a smaller number of candidates than we sometimes have, sponsors this year are all members of the catechetical team whom the candidates have already got to know by now. They seem to be very content with this arrangement.
Our parish priest is very supportive of our RCIA programme although he can’t be with us every week. He will be able to join us during Lent to provide some teaching and pastoral input. Our parish has also just been joined by another experienced priest who has started to come to RCIA. He has enriched our sessions by the spontaneous way he engages with everyone. I am hoping to persuade him to lead the group from time to time, but he seems to be comfortable doing a double act with the catechists.
One aspect of the Rite we haven’t yet implemented is the practice of dismissal of Catechumens (and candidates if appropriate) at the end of the Liturgy of the Word. As a parish and as a catechetical team we didn’t to be ready for it this year. We are, I am sure, going to consider this issue thoughtfully with respect to next year’s programme.
We have moved deeper into the Rite this year and it’s been good. The Lord is touching people’s lives and it is a great privilege to be invited to come along with Him.