This summer, I had the privilege of attending one of the conferences on RCIA. The main speaker of the conference was the internationally acclaimed author, Fr. Paul Turner a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City, Missouri. The theme of the conference, The Way We Welcome, reflects the fact that although the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) has been an important feature of the Church since Vatican II, recently people have questioned the suitability of the RCIA to meet the needs of today’s enquirers.
Fr. Paul introduced his series of three talks by summarising the three stages of the RCIA process:
Pre-catechumenate – proclaiming the living God;
Catechumenate – providing suitable catechesis;
Purification & Enlightenment – spiritual preparation; and,
Mystagogy – participation in the sacraments.
Fr. Paul explained the catechumenate is not just about teaching of doctrine, but about exploring what it means to be a follower of Christ. We are of course not called to be just followers but to be disciples. This partly reflected a tension our own parish RCIA team experienced in trying to balance the need to instruct with the process which enables people to share their own faith journey experience. As I sat there listening to Fr. Paul I was reflecting on what I consider to be true of everyone on the RCIA journey, (unbaptized as well as baptized) namely that we all have divine DNA and have all been touched by the Holy Spirit. Being in touch with this core part of who we are and helping other people to also discover it is for me a vital element of catechesis. We are not merely echoing what we believe, we are sharing our faith in the living God. As a priest once asked, “Do you know Christ or do you just know about Christ?” As people progress on their faith journey they walk with other believers in the faith community thereby deepening their understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Introducing people to parish groups such as St Vincent de Paul, the Legion of Mary, and welcoming them to liturgical services are practical measures that might help to integrate people. Another practical measure that is recommended is the use of the lectionary as our basis for catechesis. The latter would make a year round RCIA programme a more viable option. Fr. Paul said the catechumenate period can be summarized as faith: believed; celebrated; lived and prayed. The faith believed is about providing suitable catechesis for the catechumens, which should be gradual and linked to the liturgical year, hence the need for liturgical based catechesis. This is also underpinned by celebrations of the Word. It is faith lived with the support of sponsors, godparents and the entire Christian community. It becomes a faith prayed, where the catechumen looks to Christ, prays more, gives their lives and concerns to God and has a greater awareness of love of neighbour.
Following the conference a number of us responsible for RCIA in our parish got together to plan for the coming year. We agreed it is ‘Process’ not ‘Programme’ and we should rely on God’s help from God’s people. We are endeavouring to be lectionary based in our catechesis and center it around the liturgical year. It is the liturgy that enriches us and draws us all together. We want to deepen and share our profound sense of the mystery of salvation.