If the Rites of Initiation have a ‘new year’ perhaps it is now. Back in the cycle of Ordinary Time; Easter is now a memory.

One of the difficulties of RCIA is that feeling we could always be more whether it is celebrating more of the rites, providing a year-round catechumenate, identifying sponsors, distinguishing between catechumens and the baptised — and the list could go on.

Les Girls by James Fitton, Manchester Art Gallery One of the dangers of this is that it can create a ‘checklist of smugness’ — ‘did you hear he said programme doesn’t everybody know that it’s a process’. My guess is that this is one of reasons that the Rite has not yet found its proper place within the Church in England and Wales. It is that we, the practitioners, can give the impression that it is a complex and secret mystery, a true ‘disciplina arcana’, which other mere mortals may never attain. This is not to say that it isn’t complex but at its heart it requires commitment to a vision of Church, a Church of mission which meets people where they are and invites them to share a journey.

Before this gets too down hearted it is worth noting some basic signs of life:

  • diocesan Rites of Election are steadily growing in numbers present
  • the Easter Vigil is at the heart of initiation
  • there is a gradual shift towards welcoming the unbaptised, something which we may not have conceived 20 years ago.

That’s on a large scale you may have other things you would add from your own experience.

An interesting book I read in the last year was Real Stories of Christian Initiation published by Liturgical Press. It tells the story of five parishes in the States where the authors stay with the RCIA group over a year. The parishes though in the same area are quite diverse in their approach and an impression it corrects is that in the US there are many wonderful parishes doing a wonderful RCIA. Here are 5 ordinary parishes doing there best; none of them were perfect (it might even inspire the ‘checklist of smugness’ in places!). What makes the book interesting though is that these are ‘real stories’. Sometimes what we need is not to be told how to do something but to see that it is possible. This was particularly true about the parish that offered what is referred to as the ‘3 ring circus’ — recognising that the needs of enquirers, catechumens and the elect are different and have to be met in different approaches.

It was question of the dismissal of catechumens that I found most surprising. All five of the parishes dismissed their catechumens after the Liturgy of the Word even if this meant only during Advent and Lent. This was another example of seeing that it is possible. More than that was the implication that this was normative practice — a necessary part of RCIA — if you ain’t dismissing you ain’t doing RCIA. In England and Wales my impression is that for the majority of parishes (though not all) dismissal of the catechumens is paragraph quickly passed over as ‘complex’ and not how we do things here.

Throughout this entry I have mentioned aspects of the Rite that make it what it is: not just dismissal but distinguishing between catechumens and the baptised, responding to the needs of enquirers when they come etc. There are probably many others my question is which one might you pick as your ‘new year’s resolution’. Whatever it is it may take a year to develop: understanding as team why and working what might be involved, maybe finding new people or communicating with others. Through such a process you will grow and you will better respond to the needs of those who come to you — the journey will be richer as you discover new paths.