On Saturday I took part in one of the Bishops’ Conference ‘Crossing the Threshold’ days (this one was in the Archdiocese of Birminham – others will be in Crawley, W Sussex, Westminster and Cardiff see www.catholicchurch.org.uk/Catholic-Church/Home-Mission ) This was a day to pray and reflect on those four-and-a-half million Catholics who are not practicing their faith. My own reflection – how can RCIA help? The Rite itself, and the wisdom held within its pastoral guidelines, came about in response to bishops from all over the world during Vatican II, calling for a catechumenate – a formation process for initiation – that would be suited to contemporary missionary activity in all regions. (see Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (64-66), Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (14), and Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops (14) . We all have our stories that would recognse England & Wales as a place of missionary activity in 21st C! The Rite is described as ‘the examplar and rule for all Christian initiation’ – it provides a foundational vision for all of us on the journey of faith – and if we are seeking God, we are on it! When we as parish communities accompany those who cross our thresholds, for whatever reason, we find that our own conversion to Christ is renewed. We discover who we really are as disciples, and what our purpose is! And what has particularly inspired me over many years of accompanying enquirers is that the doors of faith and belonging are always open – it is Christ who is the ‘door’ and who invites us all to ‘come and see’ and ‘follow’, entering the way of faith and conversion as the Holy Spirit opens our hearts. (see RCIA 1) The truth is, we are seeking God together with those who come.
Part II of the Rite, chapter 4, helpfully describes principles when welcoming returners to the practice of the faith – have a look, and you will find:
- Respect for Baptism already received – vital! Their conversion is based on this, the effects of which they must develop.
- Journey for returners corresponds to that of catechumens – same pattern, with welcome, listening, evangelisation, discernement, catechesis attuned to the liturgical year, and deep reflection, through ritual steps and formation stages, within the heart of the community, its life, liturgical celebrations, Word of God in Scripture and Tradition, and service in loving outreach, developing the habits of a Catholic Christian – and for the many returners who have never been evangelised or catechised or fully initiated, this is a powerful experience, relational rather than programmatic, made holy by participation in simple liturgical rites and reflection(Welcome, Celebrations of the Word, Liturgy of the Word in Sunday Mass, blessings, anointings, prayers for healing and strength, presentation of the Creed, the faith into which they were baptised, and the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of the family to which they already belong, moving towards reconciliation within the community, normally during Lent, Confirmation and Eucharist at Easter, reflection on the experiences, and a life-long process of deepening faith thereafter.)
How do encourage returners? Use the parish website and newsletter and bulletin board in the Church
‘Been away? We miss you – a warm welcome awaits you. At your own pace, and in your own time, we’d be interested to hear your story and learn from your experience. You are important and much loved member of the Body of Christ. Come.” (Cardinal Corman Murphy O’Connor)
and an invitation to make contact……
Have a welcome/enquiry group that meets regularly, to listen, share stories, and share the Gospel. All community members be on the alert for newcomers, wherever they are going about their daily lives – engage in conversation, befriend, and invite them to an event.
Non-Churchgoing Catholics is nothing new – in our families and amongst our friends and colleagues. The key to our ministry is that people find love through us and our communities.