The beginning of Lent marks a significant stage for many on the RCIA journey. Those who are ready are ‘elected’ to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the coming Easter Vigil. This happens on the first weekend in Lent at the diocesan cathedral with the Bishop. For all who participate this is a celebration of great joy. Often for those taking part, catechumens (unbaptised) and candidates (baptised into another Christian denomination), this is their first experience of the wider Church that people from across the diocese are on a similar journey.
For those looking for a story in the figures it is quite diffuse. We like a simple narrative where everything is either up or down – and then we can connect it with this or that national or global theme. In reality people seek to join the Church not because of front page headlines but because the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives and they find in their local Catholic Church a place where that begins to make sense and where they are welcomed. Comparing the total figures with last year 5 dioceses show an increase, 3 diocese are about the same – but this is not the whole story.
One development the figures do reflect is the continuing increase of the number of catechumens to candidates. In some dioceses (e.g. Cardiff, Nottingham, Southwark) the number of catechumens is the larger group. This may represent a demographic change – fewer people are baptised as infants – but is also a sign of an awareness of parishes to look outwards.
It is too simple to look for cause and effect in the figures – they are not an opinion poll on the state of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. What such stories miss is that the journey of faith takes time. The growth in catechumens is shaping how parishes approach and understand the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Parishes understand better that there is a distinction between those who have been baptised and those who have not — and that the length of their time of preparation may therefore be different. Someone may be received into the Church throughout the year whereas for adults to receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) this happens once a year at the Easter Vigil. This year Easter is relatively early (27 March) and so some will discern that they are not yet ready for baptism and will choose to wait.
For those at the Rite of Election this journey of faith has a goal, the Easter Vigil, which is not an end-point but a new beginning. We journey with then through Lent, praying for them, reflecting on our own baptism. As is said in another context they are a ‘reason for the season’. The questions which the bishop asks the godparents about the catechumens may also provide a Lenten examination for us as we respond to the call for continuing conversion.
Have they faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the Church?
Have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence?
Have they shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer?
The RCIA Network provides a number of Resources for Lent.
Rite of Election Statistics
Each year the figures for the Rite of Election are collated. They may not represent the total number of all who will become Catholics this Easter but it offers an annual snapshot.
|Diocese||Adult Catechumens||Adult Candidates.||Child Catechumens||Child Candidates||Unknown||Total Catechumens & Candidates|
|Arundel and Brighton||66||88||154|
|Hexham and Newcastle||16||56||72|