15 ways RCIA teams can catechize this summer

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAOne of the questions that is often posed about the catechumenate is “What about the summer?” Then follow a number of reasons why it simply isn’t realistic to expect ongoing catechesis throughout the summer months. After all, it’s vacation time, the Team needs a break, people don’t show up, etc.

Perhaps a reflection on the purpose of catechesis and its methodology as prescribed the the Rite of Christian Initiation itself will help sort out these issues and support the ongoing catechetical formation of our catechumens and candidates. There really isn’t room for vacation from conversion and discipleship!

The General Directory for Catechesis #80 tells us that the purpose of catechesis is to “put people not only in touch, but also in communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ.” The primary place for that communion is in the Church’s liturgy. Sunday after Sunday, catechumens belong at the Table of the Word just as the fully initiated belong at the Table of the Eucharist. We belong there because we belong to Christ and to each other, and the liturgy is the “source and summit” of all the Church’s activity. Liturgy is our first theology, the experience through which we enact our faith even without prior systematic reflection on and articulation of that faith. In other words, the Liturgy itself forms and catechizes us: we believe and therefore we celebrate, we celebrate what we believe, and we go forth to live what we celebrate and believe.

The answer to the “What about the summer?” begins with trusting the liturgy as intrinsically linked to catechesis. It is not a question of whether or not to catechize during the summer, but of how we understand catechesis. Then we can ask how we might approach catechesis during the “lighter” months of summer. While we live and minister in a culture driven by the traditional school year calendar, it is true that as people of worship we have a commitment to liturgical practice and discipline year round. And while it is true that the usual formal gatherings of catechumens for extended catechesis may not take place every week during the summer, it is also true that together with the entire assembly, they are called to live the Sunday to Sunday rhythm of life that belongs to all the church.

Another perspective on the summer question is rooted in Paragraph #75 of the Rite. We must remember that catechesis in the catechumenate has four apsects. All too often the emphasis is on the more formal catechetical aspect to the detriment of community, liturgy and mission. Summer is a wonderful time to emphasize these and provide opportunities for catechumens to participate in liturgical and social events with members of the parish and to participate in special outreach programs together with their spouses and children. It is a time when they can actually experience the four dimensions as an integral whole as they learn to live out their discipleship and mission in the midst of the community.

Paragraph #78 challenges us to ask what we are doing to provide formation which, while presenting Catholic teaching, enlightens faith, directs the heart toward God, fosters participation in the liturgy, inspires apostolic activity and nurtures a life completely in accord with the spirit of Christ. This paragraph alone could serve as a template for creative summer planning for catechumens and candidates.

Be sure that at the very least, your parish celebrates the Dismissal Rite during the summer months and invites catechumens to gather to break open the Word. On occasion, even if a dismissal catechist is not available, catechumens who are familiar with the basic methodology can lead the group in their reflections through questions such as:

  • What did I/we experience? See? Hear? Notice?
  • What does that mean? What do I/we believe?
  • So what? How shall we live?
  • What questions need further explanation from our catechetical team?

Paragraph #78 challenges us to ask what we are doing to provide formation which, while presenting Catholic teaching, enlightens faith, directs the heart toward God, fosters participation in the liturgy, inspires apostolic activity and nurtures a life completely in accord with the spirit of Christ. This paragraph alone could serve as a template for creative summer planning for catechumens and candidates.

Some practical suggestions:

  • Take no vacation from Dismissal and breaking open the Word every Sunday!
  • In situations where a break from the usual format for extended catechesis is unavoidable, engage Sponsors in planning and special support for catechumens and candidates during the summer break.
  • Ask the catechumens and candidates how they will continue to take responsibility for their formation and what support they need during the summer months. Assist them in meeting their goals.
  • Include catechumens and candidates in the General Intercessions every Sunday as a reminder to the assembly that the catechumenate is ongoing and depends on their ongoing prayer and support.
  • Ask your presiders to keep catechumens and candidates in mind during their homilies, especially in smaller parishes during the few weeks when there may not be an opportunity for guidance from a catechist.
  • Write a letter of introduction for catechumens and candidates to take to the parishes they may be visiting during summer vacation/travel.
  • Via the web, do some research on parishes that catechumens and candidates will be visiting to learn when their dismissals take place and whom to contact about participating.
  • Invite catechumens and candidates visiting your parish to join in the dismissal and breaking open the Word.
  • Give the catechumens and candidates a summer journal in which to record their summer experiences and the reflections and questions that arise.
  • Ask team members to take turns being in touch with catechumens and candidates who are away for the summer and to be available for questions and support, especially if formal gatherings outside of liturgy are actually not possible for a period of time.
  • Set up a chat room for catechumens, candidates and Team where summer experiences and questions can be shared.
  • Invite small Christian communities in your parish to sponsor a catechumen during the summer months and include her/him in their activities.
  • Plan for a summer project with catechumens, candidates and families to contribute to the quality of life of others; follow up with a theological reflection on the experience.
  • Plan a summer social, swim party, BBQ or other event.
  • Do everything you can to support ongoing catechesis in a creative and effective way and to avoid either a “summer school” or “summer off” approach.
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