Do you have a list of texts, catechetical resources, or other material you recommend to teach catechumens in the RCIA?
Whenever someone asks me this question here at TeamRCIA or at a TeamRCIA Institute, I feel a bit like I’m entering that story in the Bible with Jesus and the young rich man. In the end, I’m guessing one of us is walking away disappointed.
I certainly have a list I can give you. I’ll share it here in this post. You’ll see it’s pretty comprehensive, systematic, and substantial. Any catechumen—even any of us!—who goes through this list and learns everything on this list will be strengthened in their faith, will know the foundational teachings of the Church, and will be equipped to live a life of discipleship. It’s the best list of resources I could find for teaching catechumens, because it’s the list the Church gives us for this task.
Still, it’s probably not the kind of list those who ask this question are looking for. But if you really want to teach your catechumens what they need to know to be baptized and to follow Jesus long after their baptism, then read on.
What your catechumens need to know
The list of resources you need to teach catechumens is described in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), paragraph 75. Let’s start with what the first part of that paragraph says:
The catechumenate is an extended period during which the candidates are given suitable pastoral formation and guidance, aimed at training them in the Christian life.
The catechesis that unbaptized adults need is a “training” in Christian life. Confession time. When I’m traveling, I often stay up late and end up watching those infomercials on the hotel room TV. You know the ones that promise you a beach-ready body if you buy their video program. We’ll I have two of those programs, still in their original boxes, sitting by my bed. Every morning, those boxes remind me that if I want a beach-ready body, I have to do more than just have the videos or open them up and watch them; I have to actually do the exercises in the video. More than that, I have to do them every day!
Are your catechumens disciple-ready?
The Church basically says the exact same thing, but without the annoying sales pitch. If you go to your RCIA text and look up that first sentence of paragraph 75, you’ll find a footnote at the end of it. That footnote refers you back to paragraph 14 in a document from Vatican II called Ad gentes, which is the Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church. Part of paragraph 14 of Ad gentes says this:
The catechumenate means not simply a presentation of teachings and precepts, but a formation in the whole of Christian life and a sufficiently prolonged period of training…
(Pro-tip: Your RCIA study text includes excerpts from Ad gentes and other important documents, including the Code of Canon Law. Go check it out in the back of your RCIA book.)
There, going all the way back to 1965 when Ad gentes was promulgated, the Church tells us that catechesis for catechumens is not merely a list of books and texts you can teach from or give your catechumens to read. The catechumens, along with you and all their catechists, need to turn off the DVD, put away the text book, get out of the classroom, and, as Pope Francis says, smell like the sheep if they want to be formed “in the whole of Christian life.”
One might be able to receive information about the Christian life through lectures, presentations, or catechetical books, but a catechumen—a person new to the Christian faith—cannot learn how to actually practice and live the Christian life by going to a lecture, watching a video, or studying a catechetical text. In other words, you learn the Christian life by hands-on doing the things Christians do.
Furthermore, this training is “sufficiently prolonged.” That is, it’s going to take time. I’d really like to be able to put on a bathing suit next week to show off my beach-ready body because I binge-watched all the videos in the program and did all the exercises twice every day this week. But muscles don’t work like that. Neither does discipleship. Christian disciples, like muscles, need practice, exercise, and time to grow strong.
Returning to the RCIA, paragraph 75, the Church gives us the list of things Christians do. These are the training exercises—the list—you need to use to teach your catechumens.
The Church breaks them down into four main resources or areas for training: word, community, worship, and witness.
RCIA 75.1: Training in the area of word
This first area of training is typically what we think about when think of catechesis, that is, a presentation of teachings and precepts. So we put together our syllabus, our schedule of lessons, and gather up our slides, videos, and handouts. And we’re good to go!
But be careful. That’s exactly what Ad gentes said is not a complete catechesis. That’s because a catechumen needs to learn not only the teachings of the Church but also be guided “to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate” (RCIA, 75.1). “Mystery,” “desire”—those aren’t things easily handed on by information given in a classroom. It requires being in the company of other Christians who live their faith joyfully and can communicate to others why that faith matters and has made a difference in their lives. It also calls for a training in loving the Scriptures and making it a daily part of a person’s contemplation on Christ. Lastly, you can’t cram for this kind of knowledge and training. It has to be “gradual and…accommodated to the liturgical year” (75.1). Only by meeting Christ every Sunday of the entire year and his companions—the saints and the People of God who venerate them each day—will the catechumens receive a complete and systematic training in this area of the Word of God.
RCIA 75.2: Training in the area of community
In the area of community, a catechumen needs to learn how to live in community with people they might not agree with. The training required of this area can only be attained by spending significant time within the Christian community, meeting many different people in the parish and hearing their stories. Most importantly, living the Christian communal way of life is primarily learning how to forgive others and asking for forgiveness, especially of those we find it difficult to love. This area of training challenges catechumens to show the Christian spirit in their attitudes and actions in their own homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods, especially when it is difficult or may lead to rejection or persecution. This is not an easy area of training for anyone, but it’s absolutely necessary if we are to be known by our love for one another, even our enemies.
RCIA 75.3: Training in the area of worship
In this area of training, a catechumen needs to learn how to pray actively, consciously, and fully in the Sunday gatherings of the community, in the week to week opportunities for communal prayer with other Christians, and in their own daily lives. The kind of training needed to learn this aspect of Christian life can only be attained by gathering with the community to pray, by learning how to participate fully in prayer, even when they do not want to or it might not be their preferred style of prayer or music or any other aspect of communal prayer. Catechumens also need to learn how to meditate on and share with others the joy they have received in their spiritual experiences. That is why part of their training in this area is to be sent out or dismissed before the celebration of the Eucharist—so they can practice talking about their faith and sharing their joy. (Note, dismissal is not a time for yet another lecture or presentation. See this article and RCIA 67).
RCIA 75.4: Training in the area of witness
Finally, a catechumen needs to learn how to profess their faith by words and deeds publicly to the world and to work with other Christians for justice and peace, for reconciliation and care for those who are poor and marginalized. The kind of training needed to help a person put this into practice is opportunities for them to spend time with those who are on the fringes of society, those who are oppressed, and to get their hands dirty working with other people of goodwill to ease the suffering of those most in need.
So that’s my list. I can see the disappointed droop on some of your faces because you’ve already spent a good portion of your budget on a whole set of videos or textbooks and lessons plans arranged by topic and neatly scheduled for the next 10 months, and you’re wondering if you can get your money back.
I promise you, one day I’m going to open up those videos and get to work on my beach-ready body. So I’m keeping them right there by my bedside for now. The thing is, resource programs, textbooks, and videos, even weekly breaking open the word sessions and doctrinal lessons plans are great resources to have…but only if you use them with the right kind of person.
Right now, I don’t need a workout video. I need someone to inspire me to get off my butt! I won’t find that in these videos. In fact, I’d only feel depressed watching them because my body isn’t ready to do the exercises in them (I bought the really insane program because, well, at 2:00 a.m., their marketing ploy really works!)
Be complete and systematic
Packaged programs that direct you to transmit information about our Christian way of life through a lesson plan or video presentation or chapter section, no matter how well done or thorough can never provide that complete and systematic catechesis required by the RCIA for those who are just beginning to live the Christian way of life. These catechumens are at a second level, or an “initiatory level” of catechesis, as the General Directory for Catechesis calls it in chapter 2. (Read more about these levels of catechesis here.) That is, they need some very basic training exercises and an “appropriate acquaintance” with Church teachings (75.1) to help them do those exercises well.
More advanced programs and catechetical resources are better suited for those who are at a third level of catechesis, or “ongoing catechesis.” People at that level of catechesis are those who are already baptized and are already living the Christian life in all the areas of word, community, worship, and witness. They are seeking deeper understanding of what they already believe and practice.
So don’t get rid of your programs. Instead, use them for ongoing formation for your catechists or for preparing those Christians becoming Catholic who are already living the Christian life and are already deeply in love with Christ. Use them for your Bible study or small-faith group, with parents who have children preparing for First Communion or Confirmation, adults who are baptized and catechized and are preparing for Confirmation or Marriage, for those on parish council or parish staff—basically, anyone who is already living their faith in the areas of word, community, worship, and witness and want to deepen their faith and understanding about the Christian way of life. But don’t use them for catechumens who are just beginning to live the Christian faith.
These other TeamRCIA articles might be helpful:
- Why is a suitable catechesis important for RCIA seekers?
- What kind of catechesis is suitable for RCIA seekers?
- How to provide a suitable RCIA catechesis
Got a question? Click here to ask TeamRCIA.