I often wonder why some communities ignore the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate and the Rites of Welcome for candidates, perhaps for fear of imposing a burden on people, but they are missing some exciting opportunities in the process. Our parish looks forward to celebrating these rites each year. At our recent combined Rite of Welcome and Acceptance held at the beginning of a Saturday evening parish Mass, there were so many people that we worried that our RCIA group, their families and sponsors and the parish community would not fit into the church. A recent Sunday Gospel reading from Luke 5:1-11 with its abundant image of bursting fishing nets full of teaming fish seemed rather apt.
Whereas we normally have three or four adults, plus a few children for RCIA and CICCA (Catholic Initiation of Children of Catechetical Age) in our city parish here in the West country, this year we have twenty-five adults and children coming forward to be baptised and received at Easter, including seven adult baptisms and six adult receptions. This has brought its own logistical problems in our small church, one of three, which make up our small parish, where the total combined Mass attendance across three parishes, numbers no more than three hundred.
Although we had described the Rites briefly to the members of the RCIA group, – the danger of revealing too much could detract from the actual impact of the experience on the day, there was much excitement on the day of the event. The group had had two questions to consider “What do you ask of the Church and why?” Each had agreed to give an individual, personal answer. Responses were written at a previous RCIA session, to act as an aide-memoir in case adults and children were nervous on the day.
When this was tried last year, as a result of a suggestion made by the parish priest, but greeted with a little scepticism by hard bitten catechists, the catechists had been surprised that the adults had agreed to it and secondly, how deeply it had prompted the group to think about their responses. The third surprise was the witness that it gave and the impact it had had on the parish communities, who had strained to listen to every word of the moving answers. There was even a tear or two. This year a microphone was used!
On Saturday morning, the phone lines were busy, as catechists phoned and checked that people were OK and knew what they were doing, reassured those who were nervous, listened to question responses that had been changed, reminded people to arrive early. Both individuals and families shared how nervous and excited they felt. Some parents were busy listening to their children’s answers. Some could not but help mention at work, what was going to take place at the weekend. Some had spoken to others in the group and compared notes. Some shared how this had made them think very seriously about the step they were taking. It seemed the very act of preparing for the rites had brought the whole group together.
Even our parish priest, who enjoys celebrating these beautiful rites – he himself came into the church through the RCIA process – was becoming a little apprehensive, less he fail to remember which part of the rite applied to each adult and child. There was a master spreadsheet which showed all the permutations, which became translated into colour coded cards with names. The complication came when families had members who were to be received and baptised and where parents had to speak not only on their own behalf, but on behalf of younger children not old enough to be part of CICCA.
One of our parishioners, who normally directs the traffic in our local, large ferry terminal to make sure that all the lorries and cars are correctly loaded onto the ferries, made short work of organising the movement of prospective candidates and catechumens, adults, children and babies, sponsors, catechists etc., as they were greeted at the door at the back of the church at the beginning of Mass and then moved around our tiny church, so there was room for catechists and sponsors to continue with the signing after the priest etc., and the rite could be celebrated in a dignified manner.
After the homily, gospels were presented to each person. The Mass was a long one, but no one seemed to mind, as the excitement felt by the RCIA and CICCA groups was communicated to parishioners and reminded those who had been received in previous years of their own experience.
When entered into enthusiastically, these rites provide a profound experience for those standing at the threshold of their new Christian journey or encouragement for those already on their journey, they mark the next step, they give visible witness to the building of community and give heart to all of us who are on the self same journey.