The Goal of the RCIA

I’m writing this on the First Sunday of Lent. Today is typically a hectic day in many catechumenate ministries. The candidates for election are stressed and may show up late for the parish Mass and the Rite of Sending. The catechumenate director or liturgist has a thousand details to attend to. There are friends and families of the candidates wandering around, perhaps sitting in the wrong pews. The pastor got an emergency call right before last week’s rehearsal and may be doing the rite “blind” today. And then, after it’s all over, you’ve got to get everyone together again at the cathedral for the Rite of Election, find the right seats, remember how the ritual goes, and not let your nervousness show. It can be like herding cats in a rainstorm.

So today might seem like an odd day to call to our attention the vision of the rite. On the other hand what better time than Lent to refocus and renew ourselves in what the RCIA—and the Spirit of God—call us to as catechumenate ministers?

Today, all those who will write their names in the Book of Life will move to a new stage in their journey. In a sense, you and the catechumenate team are handing them over to their godparents who will be their primary spiritual guides from now on. You might be thinking the godparents just flew in yesterday and have no clue how to continue the formation of the elect. Nevertheless, your discernment that these catechumens are now competent to live the Gospel means they are moving beyond your maternal care. It is time to look forward, to the future, to what the Spirit is asking of us.

I’d like to encourage you to look forward to Easter Sunday. If stress or fatigue or insecurity ever causes you to question what it is we do and why we do it, look forward to the day St. Augustine describes as the day the newly baptized “who a little while ago were called competentes—are now called infantes. They were called competentes because they were thumping in their mother’s womb, begging to be born; now they are called infantes because they—who had first been born to the world—are now born to Christ.” (Harmless, 314)

Augustine, weary from the Vigil the night before, would often drastically abbreviate his usual three-hour homily and simply point to the neophytes standing in their white robes. If you want to see the scriptures enfleshed, he would tell them, look there. Augustine made clear to his parishioners that the neophytes were a living enfleshment of the Word.

The vision of the RCIA is that day, that moment, that miracle, when we can point to the newly baptized and say, “There is Christ made flesh.”

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