Here is a pop quiz. Catechumen A is traveling at 90 mph on a train from St. Louis to Chicago. Meanwhile, Catechumen B is traveling by bicycle from Seattle to Miami. Supposing each catechumen participates in the liturgy of the word every Sunday for the duration of their respective trips, which catechumen will reach conversion first?
Answer: Catechumen B will reach conversion first.
(Show your work: Catechumen B had cycled through the Sundays of the liturgical year, which is the primary encounter with the Mystery of Christ; Catechumen A had many fewer, if any, encounters with the Mystery of Christ.)
How many catechists do we need?
Okay, it’s a silly example, but it has a serious point. An abbreviated RCIA program does not provide the complete conversion process required of the catechumens. Of course, everyone agrees with that, don’t we? Most of us know that a complete catechumenate process—one that extends through the entire liturgical year—is going to provide a deeper experience of conversion for the catechumens. So what’s stopping us from providing catechumens with the fullest possible encounter with the Mystery of Christ?
There are several roadblocks, and the one I hear about most often is a lack of catechists. If a parish is currently barely able to offer weekly catechetical sessions in an abridged RCIA program, it is difficult to imagine expanding to a complete catechumenate process that spans 52 weeks of the year. In most of our parishes, we just don’t have enough catechists to provide an ongoing process, do we?
Well, in fact, we do. How many catechists does it take to provide an ongoing catechumenate? Count up the number of catechists you have on your team right now. That’s how many it takes. If that’s you and you alone, that’s how many it takes.
Let’s look at how you can expand your current, condensed RCIA program into a complete, ongoing catechumenate process with only the team members you have now.
For a small team, moving to a full and complete catechumenate process and providing weekly catechetical sessions for 52 weeks of the year seems overwhelming. So let’s start by agreeing that for this first year, we aren’t going to add any more catechetical sessions beyond what the parish is currently offering. However, we’re going to spread them out over all the seasons of the liturgical year.
Let’s imagine your Rite of Acceptance is scheduled for the first Sunday in October and you plan to meet weekly with the catechumens after that. So that’s four sessions in October. There are five Sundays in November in 2008, but you probably aren’t meeting Thanksgiving week. Nor Christmas week in December nor New Year’s Week in January. So that means, between October 5 and Ash Wednesday (which falls on February 25 in 2009), you might have 18 catechetical sessions with the catechumens.
If you changed that schedule from meeting once a week to meeting once a month, with weekly spiritual gatherings in Lent for the elect, you would still be meeting the same number of times and “covering” the same amount of material.
Cycling through the liturgical year
Just because you are not meeting for weekly sessions does not mean you will not be interacting with the catechumens, however. They will still be participating in the liturgy of the word every Sunday with their sponsors and the rest of the parish. And they will be attending parish events and meeting lots of parishioners—your primary team member.
Most importantly, like Catechumen B in our word problem, your catechumens will be cycling through the entire Mystery of Christ as it unfolds during the liturgical year.
Lack of catechists is just one of the obstacles to a full and complete catechumenate. What are some others you’ve encountered? If you’ve overcome an obstacle, how did you do it?
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