One of the reasons often given for doing only a partial RCIA process is a lack of volunteers. So let’s look closely at how you can redeploy your current volunteers more efficiently. I’m going to imagine you have a team of three people, plus sponsors or godparents as needed. You may have fewer than that, but these principles will still work. Certainly if you have more than that, they will work.
Limit the inquiry process to true seekers
Let’s look at inquiry. What is the inquiry period in the first place? Flip open your RCIA text to paragraph 36 and underline this sentence:
It is a time of evangelization. Thus those who are not yet Christians, their hearts opened by the Holy Spirit, may believe and be freely converted to the Lord.
So inquiry is not a place for Christians. Usually. It is sometimes the case that a person baptized as a child was never raised in the faith and has never “freely converted to the Lord.” That Christian could be in inquiry. But the faithful Protestants who are married to Catholics, who believe in Jesus and go to church, do not belong in inquiry. Where do they belong? That’s a subject for another post, but the short answer is, if they believe in Jesus and they are going to church, they are not our first concern.
To see what I mean, flip open another book, if you have it: the General Directory for Catechesis. (You can also read it online.) Turn to paragraph 46:
The Church “exists in order to evangelize” that is “the carrying forth of the Good News to every sector of the human race so that by its strength it may enter into the hearts of men and renew the human race”.
The period of inquiry is for those who have never heard the Good News, or who have only recently heard it, and have felt something stir in their hearts.
In many places, if you start dealing with only the unconverted in the inquiry stage, you will be dealing with many fewer people. If you are used to having something like a six week “precatechumenate,” and you go from perhaps 20 “inquirers” to three or four true seekers, the psychic workload is less. But you still have those six weeks to cover. And I’m sitting here urging you to turn that into 52 weeks. How is that going to work?
Two steps to a continuous inquiry
Let me suggest two steps. First, take your six meetings and spread them out evenly over the course of a year. If you can manage to meet once a month, great! But if not, stick with every other month for now.
Next, go round up all those folks you would have gotten anyway to be sponsors for the Protestants. Ask them each to take a week of the year to invite the inquirers to dinner, or coffee, or their kid’s soccer game. They don’t have to do any teaching. They just have to “be Catholic” in front of the inquirers. Get them to commit to as many weeks as you need to fill the year. If you would have had 20 sponsors, they would each need to commit to three or four weeks out of the year. Ten would-have-been sponsors means each of them picking up eight weeks. Not doing anything extra except setting out more plates. If you can’t get enough help to cover all the weeks of the year, cover two or three weeks out of each month.
The great part of this is, inquirers can start at anytime of the year. Someone shows up in July, you send them to Shirley’s house for dinner. Someone comes in October, they go with Joe’s family to pick out pumpkins. Meantime, you are holding your monthly or semi-monthly sessions with the inquirers to discover what their questions are and what they are learning about Catholics.
Obviously, this is all going to be a lot easier with more help. So don’t settle for this plan; use it as a starting place. Always be asking folks to help you and to take on more responsibility. Eventually, the Spirit will lead you to future team members. But for now, you can take your current workload and redistribute your energy into a continuous inquiry process.
In a future post, I’ll discuss how you might try a similar method with catechetical sessions for the catechumens. In the meantime, chime in on the comments and let me know why you think this will or won’t work in your particular setting.
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