Why is it important to involve the whole parish in the RCIA?

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAAlmost every catechumenate team I talk with wants the parish to be more involved with the RCIA process. When I ask them why, however, their answers get a little fuzzy.

What is the number one purpose of the RCIA?

Sometimes their answers focus on the practical. They need more sponsors, more catechists, more help on the team. Other teams focus on the benefit to the parishioners. They would learn so much or they would get so much out of it.

And some teams focus on the benefits to the catechumens. The catechumens would learn more about what we do as a parish and how the parish works.

All of these are great reasons for involving the parish in the RCIA process, but I don’t think they get at the heart of the matter. Ask yourself, what is the number one purpose of the entire initiation process? The answer is in the very first sentence of the RCIA. The rite of Christian initiation is a process for those who are seeking the living God and who wish to “enter the way of faith and conversion” (RCIA 1).

Loving Jesus means loving Jesus’ family

Now let’s translate that into a real-life experience. Suppose you grew up in a white, middle-class, suburban neighborhood in the Midwestern United States. That is your culture and background and everything you know about life is filtered through that experience.

At some point you move to the West Coast and you meet someone who grew up in an urban, Filipino family in Los Angeles. You fall in love, and you want to become part of this person’s life, including her family. But you don’t know anything about Filipino culture and customs. How are you going to make this work? What is the best way to “enter the way” of her family?

My friend, Fr. Andy Varga says, “You can’t become part of a family any other way than by being and living with them and them being and living with you!” It is only by having the catechumens become part of the life of the parish—and having the parishioners become part of the lives of the catechumens—that they will “enter the way of faith and conversion.”

Parishes, like families, are not perfect

Now I’m pretty sure I know what your parish is like. I bet it’s a lot like my parish. I bet it is a lot like the parish of another friend of mine, Terri Pastura, who says: “There are fringe members to every family, but ownership of the parish identity is more than the parish school’s successful sports programs. The 20% that come to Mass on the weekend are leaven to the dough.”

Wow. If only 20% of the parishioners are coming to Mass and if the most active members of the parish are those whose primary concern is the league championship this year, how will I ever get the catechumens to “enter the way of faith and conversion” by involving them with this group of barely-involved Catholics?

Well, here’s the thing. Your parish is the Body of Christ. It is not going to be the Body of Christ someday. There isn’t some ideal Body of Christ you can go visit with your catechumens. The Holy Spirit led them to you and to your parish. You can’t give them back, and you can’t ask for an extension.

Keep imagining the family of the person you fell in love with. It doesn’t have to be a Filipino family. Any family will do. Imagine your first introduction to the family is at their annual Christmas party. Denise Anderson, a friend from Minnesota says, “You would never welcome someone into your home and then watch them flounder around. You would get to know them, offer them food, find out their story, share conversation, and perhaps become friends. Some ‘at the party’ might do so more than others, but everyone would seem to be compelled to help them feel welcome and be hospitable. It is all part of living in the house—or the parish as it were.”

This is the most important thing we do—but can we do it?

Welcoming seekers into “the way of faith and conversion” is the most important thing we do. It’s why parishes exist. Fr. Bill Burke, a friend from Canada, says, “Community is coded into the DNA of creation. It is Trinitarian to the core.” Integrating the catechumens into the Christian community is the biggest, most essential challenge that the Holy Spirit has set before our parishes. It can seem overwhelming.

But it doesn’t have to be. There are some simple but powerful methods we can use to involve the entire parish in this great work. Before we explore those, however, we have to first define what we mean by parish involvement in the RCIA. That will be the topic of my next post.

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Share your thoughts

I would also like to know what you think. I asked several people to share why they think it important to involve the whole parish in the RCIA process, and you’ve read some of the responses they generously shared. Now I’m asking you:

“Why is it important to involve the whole parish in the RCIA process?”

Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

See also these related articles:
  1. Discover a simple way to help the whole parish catechize the RCIA way
  2. How to use your parish as your RCIA textbook
  3. How to reduce hoop jumping in the RCIA
  4. Is your RCIA team cooperating with God’s grace?
  5. How to completely transform the way catechumens learn in the RCIA

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  1. I agree with you completely that the whole parish community should be involved it the RCIA process. One of the things that we include in our process is schedule a ministry night with for the catechumens. This gives them the opportunity to learn about the different ministries that are offered at the parish as well meeting of parishioners. During the season of Advent we involved them in the Mass by allowing them to place the candles in the Advent wreath. Also, during the season of Lent along with other parishioners they participate in the Stations of the Cross. These are just a few of the things that we do to get the community involved in the RCIA process.

  2. I think the most important reason to involve the whole community in the RCIA process is to help the community members recall that, by virtue of their own baptisms, they opened their lives to any and everyone else in the family of God and they have a responsibility to provide support, encouragement, example, and prayer to those who are seeking to join the family. The RCIA process is essential to their own renewal and deepening commitment to faith.

  3. RCIA Rites should include the active participation of the assembly, not just be observers.

  4. If Eucharist is the last Sacrament of Initiation, then we are all continually being initiated into the Body of Christ, the Church. Initiation is a life-long process, which includes everyone in the parish.

  5. Nobody in my parish would agree with: “Welcoming seekers into the way of faith and conversion is the most important thing we do.” The most important thing is parish preservation — Mass, confessions, CCD for children. There is no interaction between parishioners at Mass, let alone with those who have disappeared to break open the Word. After Mass everyone is running for their cars. What are ways/events to bring catechumens together with parishioners? What are ways to interest parishioners to interact with each other?

  6. Hi Paula. It’s hard to give a definitive answer since I don’t know your parish. However, let’s just look at the top three things you listed and brainstorm a little.

    -Ask the catechumens to be greeters at the doors
    -Once in a while, have a catechumen give a 2-minute witness just before dismissal
    -Create 3×5 cards with the name and picture of a catechumen on each one; ask parishioners to take one home and pray for that catechumen daily.

    -Bring the catechumens to the parish reconciliation service. They can’t go to confession, but they can pray with the parishioners
    -Ask the parishioners to do one penitential thing for the catechumens during Lent. For example, give up table salt or give up chocolate.

    -Bring the catechumens to some of the sessions the children have. Introduce them to the children and the catechists.
    -Ask the children to create prayer posters for the catechumens
    -Ask the children to write letters to the catechumens
    -Invite the catechumens to a parent meeting; introduce them to the parents

    I’m sure you must do other things in your parish besides just those three things. Gather your team and brainstorm some ways to involve the catechumens in those events also. Let me know what you come up with. I’ll pray for you.


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