In the forthcoming gospel (28th OT) we hear how a rich man who has kept all the commandments, is made sad because the ultimate task of selling everything he owns to give to the poor is just too challenging. Like the rich man it is going the extra mile that sometimes challenges us. Being a committed RCIA team member is quite demanding. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing the regular sessions that are held for the candidates and catechumens, as well as planning for the liturgical celebrations: why would anyone want to add to the workload?
Well sometimes it doesn’t take an awful lot of effort to try something new, and long term it can be easier on the whole team and liturgically fulfilling. This applies to two particular practices: the first avoids having RCIA meetings during school holidays, and the second is celebrating the Sacraments of Initiation as well as the Reception of Baptised Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church at the Easter vigil, in the combined rite found in the Appendix of the Rite ( 418 E&W).
So what links the two? It has to do with the liturgical year. As Catholics, we celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday, following the lectionary as it leads us through the scriptures. There is a gentle progression of themes and issues covered through the different church seasons.
Imagine not going to Mass during any of the school holidays (including half terms) and have a look at the Sunday Missal to see what you would be missing.
Well of course you wouldn’t dream of missing mass short of an emergency, but if you follow a lectionary based scripture programme, how do you justify missing out one third of the liturgical year for the catechumens? Doesn’t it involve a lot of hard work planning a programme that cover all the ‘topics’ but in a shorter period of time. What about concerns later on that you didn’t cover everything you planned to do.
Similarly, combining those being fully initiated, with those being received into full communion is quite a timely task. There is the job of getting everyone to the right stage at the same time; there are the logistics of combining both in one celebration, and the adaptation necessary to ensure that the sacrament of baptism is properly recognised, and that the already baptised are received appropriately.
Yet the rite offers a choice: of Reception into Full Communion within Mass #475 (389), or outside Mass #476 (390) when what is stressed is the need for it to be ‘a celebration of the Church and have as its high point Eucharistic communion.’
So I return to the comment about going the extra mile. The combined rite was initially used at a time when unbaptised candidates were rare, but that isn’t the situation now. When you have unbaptised as well as adults being received into Full Communion, it makes for a very lengthy service, often meaning that the Liturgy of the Word is cut short, or that the balance isn’t quite right in stressing the baptism. Perhaps the renewal of baptismal promises for the faithful are less structured or lose emphasis.
I don’t know about others, but I often feel on the night that something didn’t quite work: it was just a bit messy. Well, running the catechumenate all year round makes it easier to structure celebrations throughout the year. Yes full initiation will take place at the Easter vigil, as the usual time (#23), but it becomes easier to celebrate the reception into full communion at other times during the liturgical year, at a time that is most appropriate for the individual.
What does it entail?
- Starting now and evaluating the different celebrations and combined rites from the rite of acceptance through to the Easter vigil
- Having early planning meetings for the next year.
- Map out the liturgical year noting possible alternative dates.
- Have the co-operation and agreement of clergy, team sponsors, helpers.
- Inform the whole community of the proposed changes and explain why.
- Use it as an opportunity to engage more of the community into assisting with RCIA