The RCIA Network (North) collaborate across the Pennines, those hills separating Lancashire and Yorkshire, where blood has been spilt over the centuries where faith and traditions are concerned! Our partnership together is creative and energetic. When we heard Paul Turner was coming over to talk about RCIA, we ‘nabbed’ him for two separate days for Priests, to give them the opportunity of reflecting on their role in initiation of adults and older children. Some of the issues coming from priests were:
- How do we understand and use RCIA? Make no assumptions – basic formation for clergy, or a ‘rough guide’ to the Rite is still needed!
- Content of the Catechesis? Default setting for some, if not many, can be to privatise the initiation of adults, with one-to-one instruction, without seeing the grace of God working through community involvement, and encouraging the other dynamics of catechesis (community life, Liturgy/the Word, service/outreach) involved in forming the habits of a ‘disciple’
- Practical issues? The perceived need for a ‘schedule’ or ‘timescale’ and trying to fit the enquirer/catechumen into that programme, rather than a gradual process at the pace of those coming
- Why bother? Is there a win:win impact in the community?
- Clarify how you adapt RCIA for those who are already baptised – we can ‘get this wrong’, and need to discuss how we can be flexible according to their former experience of Christianity.
A variety of clergy came, and in between sessions, shared their own experiences with RCIA, some speaking from many years engagement with the Rite, and others somewhat beginners. It was a chance to go over old ground for some, and think afresh. Fr Paul drew on his parish practice and his time on the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, and in his presentation, enabled clergy to explore their own experience and practice through the lens of the Rite.
Quite some time was spent looking at the distinction between (unbaptized)catechumens and (already baptised) candidates seeking Reception. In the original Latin, reference to the latter category, ie those already baptised, appears only in the appendix to the Rite, more or less saying: Huge respect required for those who are already baptised and come from another denomination! Journey with these Christians, and receive them as and when they are ready, at any time of the year.
Fr Paul gave insights into celebration of ritual moments for the catechumens – in particular, the first step, Rite of Acceptance. In the ‘First Acceptance of the Gospel’ (RCIA 52) moment, he, as Parish Priest, asks the enquirer to take hold of the Parish’s Processional Cross, present there in the midst of the Sunday Assembly (where this ritual takes place) and make his or her first acceptance of the Gospel. The Priest, as leader of the community asks: ‘Are you prepared to begin this journey today under the guidance of Christ?’ ‘I am’ – I am ready to follow the path of the Gospel and commit my life daily to his care, so that I may come to believe in him with all my heart’. This is a powerful symbol to the whole community as well as to the enquirer – this is the processional cross, behind which we walk. Will you walk with us… I will. Other ideas included gathering the Catechumens closely around the Ambo for the Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer. This normally takes place during the week after the 3rd scrutiny in Lent. The invitation, as in the Rite ‘Let those who are to receive the Lord’s Prayer now come forward.’ ‘Listen to the gospel reading in which our Lord teaches his followers to pray’ – this becomes a powerful sacramental moment, where Christ is speaking: ‘Say this when you pray: Our Father….’
What follow up? The clergy asked for:
- a session on mystagogy, and on-going support of new Catholic Christians
- a presentation on any research done in evaluating the impact of RCIA on individuals and communities
- parishes should work together in clusters – but how?
- basic formation – easy basic guide to ‘hand’ to new, under-confident catechists
- explore lectionary-based catechesis
The RCIA Network (North) group continue to meet and plan workshops and study events to support parish practice of RCIA, and will include the needs as expressed by the clergy over these two days. All in all, useful, enjoyable, clear, refreshing, worthwhile…
By the way! RCIA Network Conference sessions were recorded by Agape Ministries, and can be ordered from www.agapeministries.co.uk The power-point slides to accompany the audio recordings are also available, from our own RCIA Network website.