Should inquirers be joining “the RCIA”?

creative design with butterfly, rainbow and stars (photoXpress)

One of the things I love about the catechumenate is the sense of community that happens within the formation group. The team bonds more closely together, inquirers take that “leap of faith” together in the Rite of Acceptance, baptized candidates share their common love of Christ and how they find the fullest expression of that love in the Eucharist, and sponsors come to a level of faith they never thought possible.

It is an amazing and awesome process to be a part of. It humbles me and fascinates me still, after more than 30 years of doing this.

Cocoon-based conversion

But for the last few years, something has troubled me. It seems to me that the teams I’ve been a part of have been very good at creating a “faith cocoon.” We created a safe place where all of us in the process—no matter where we are on the faith journey—can share and grow more deeply in our faith. We experience conversion.

The problem is, the rest of the parish isn’t undergoing a similar ongoing conversion. Would that they were, but that’s not what is happening in most places. What often happens, then, is that neophytes and new Catholics are set free from that safe warm cocoon sometime after Easter. We shoo them off into the larger parish that is, by comparison, somewhat cold, large, and unfamiliar. Sometimes the new Catholics feel disoriented. Sometimes they want to stay in the catechumenate. Sometimes they drift away. Sometimes they find another congregation—often Evangelical or Pentecostal—because they feel a strong sense of welcome and vibrant faith there.

What has bothered me about the way I have led teams in the past is that I began to feel like the inquirers were joining the “RCIA” more than joining “St. Flocellus Parish” or the “Roman Catholic Church.” Of course what they are actually joining is Jesus Christ. The problem is that while they learn to find Christ in the small-group experience of the catechumenate, they have difficulty finding Christ in the parish church or the universal church.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Do your neophytes and new Catholics immediately feel at home in the parish after their initiation or reception? Do they feel lost without the catechumenate group to support them? How have your sponsors and godparents been helpful with all of this?

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  1. Our inquirers/neophytes are taught from the beginning that our group is a subset of the parish community and we continually stress our missions and ministries. We introduce them to previous RCIA participants who are now lectors, Eucharistic ministers, catechists, ushers, etc. They learn that we are but a part of the bigger family and look forward to being more fully a member in the parish as a whole… Parishioners are also welcoming the newcomers.

  2. Nick, You have expressed my feelings exactly! But I would perhaps be even more blunt in saying that after the Easter sacraments, it is more likely that we are throwing our neophytes to the wolves! My experience shows me that very few of our neophytes come back for the Mystagogy period. And since they have so little connection with the larger community while they are in the RCIA, and we do not emphasize the importance and value of the neophyte Masses, they are basically on their own. We also do not have any program at all for neophytes for the year after they complete RCIA. We almost need a new group called “RCIA+” or “RCIA-2”! Bob Ulicki (Queen of Apostles parish)

  3. Nick, this is one of our struggles as well. I inherited an RCIA that operated so much on the absolute importance of the “community” of the RCIA small group that the notion of integration into the parish was practically anathema. After attending a workshop last year by Mary Birmingham, I realized what we were missing and began to introduce small steps towards the year-round process.

    We are just now moving to the Year Round RCIA but it has been a challenge to get my team on board. Some were actually angry at me for proposing that we’ve been misguided into “keeping the group together.” They accepted the move to integration of each individual into the parish itself, but are not sold on it. I have used the examples used in what past neophytes have commented on this website, but to no avail. Does anyone have any guidance how to handle this delicate issue? As I am a one-person department of all Adult Formation, I rely heavily on volunteer support.

  4. Hi Debbie,

    I don’t have any solutions that you probably haven’t thought of.

    *I’ve tried having one-on-one conversations with individual team members.
    *I’ve asking those who are angry if they would feel more fulfilled in a different ministry.
    *I’ve tried inviting new members onto the team who weren’t bound up with “the way we’ve always done it.”
    *I’ve tried getting the pastor’s support.
    *I’ve tried doing “both/and” where we keep doing things pretty much the way we always have and also add on ways to get the catechumens more involved in the parish.

    Some of these strategies have been more effective than others, depending on the time and place and personalities involved. I wish I could be more helpful. Keep praying and keep trying until something clicks.

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