6 reasons you need to read the RCIA

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIA

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This is going to shock you. I don’t like to do it, but somebody has to tell you. There are a few of you out there who are “doing the RCIA” without having read the book!

What book? The RCIA. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The book.

How people learn how to do the rite

So if you haven’t read the book, how do you know what to do? Here are the top six answers people give. (Okay, I don’t really know if these are the top six, but they are the ones I hear all the time.)

  1. Gloria taught me. (Gloria is the former RCIA team coordinator or DRE or Very Important Person in the parish.)
  2. Father taught me. (See “Gloria” above.)
  3. I went to a workshop.
  4. I read a book by a Very Important Person.
  5. I read a magazine article by a Very Important Person who didn’t have time to write a whole book.
  6. I went through the RCIA myself, and I just do what they did to me.

Now, again, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but relying on Gloria (or any of the other resources on the list) is not enough. How do you know Gloria was implementing the full vision of the rite? How do you know if she ever read the book? How do you know if what she was doing is really what the rite (the church) asks us to do? Only one way. Gotta read the book!

Why people don’t read the RCIA

So then, let’s look at the top six reasons most catechumenate team members have not read the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

  1. It’s really long and boring.
  2. That’s it. There are no more reasons.

I get that. I’m sorry it’s long and boring. I wish somebody would write a “plain English” version of it. But you still have to read it. Here’s why.

1. Reading the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the only way to understand the big picture.

This is a big deal. The RCIA process is meant to help people through a profound conversion experience. It is the most important thing that will ever happen to them. It’s more important than getting married. It’s more important than having a baby. It’s more important than losing your job. It’s more important than losing a loved one. “Conversion” means meeting Jesus for the first time and giving your life over to the mission of the Gospel. Everything else in life is well, everything else. So if it is that big of a deal, all of us who serve as catechumenate ministers have to be committed to understanding as much as we can about how the process works. And there is only one way to do that. You gotta read the book.

2. Reading the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the only way to understand the small picture.

One reason the RCIA is “really long and boring” (besides the lack of a good editor) is there is no “one size fits all” conversion process. Each person is different and each faith journey is different. Catechumenate teams have to be flexible and versatile in adapting the rite to the specific needs of each individual. There is only one way to know what all the possible variations and adaptations are. You gotta read the book.

3. Reading the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the only way to speak with authority.

If you have spent any time at all in initiation ministry, you have probably been challenged about something you are doing. Someone doesn’t think he or she needs to come to all the sessions. Someone on the staff, maybe the pastor, doesn’t think all the steps of the rite are necessary. Someone on the team thinks we are imposing too much on the initiates. Someone thinks this is all fine and good for people over 18 but it doesn’t apply to children. How do you stand your ground if your source of authority is “some workshop I went to last year”? In order to speak with the voice of the church and to ensure the best possible pastoral practice in your parish, you gotta read the book.

4. Reading the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the only way to be able to train new team members.

Right off the bat, you want to empower the members of the catechumenate team to understand the vision of the church and to be able to implement the fullness of that vision in your parish. Only one way to do that. (Fill in blank here.) You _____ ____ ___ ____.

5. Reading the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the only way to remember what you forgot.

I have read my copy of the rite so many times the cover fell off. I got my current copy almost 20 years ago, and I’m still reading it. Every time I read it, I see something or remember something that hadn’t stuck in my head before. Now, those of you that have more brain cells than I (which is most of you) won’t miss or forget as much as I do. But you will miss some things and forget some things nonetheless. In order to really absorb the subtleties, fine points, and beauty of the rite, you need to read it. Lots.

6. Reading the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the only way to get me and people like me to stop bugging you.

I don’t want to bug you. I really don’t. I know you are busy. But think of this as a discipline. Like playing the piano. Or daily prayer. This ministry is something we were called to do, and part of the call is self-sacrifice. Let’s just put on your calendar a 15 minute time slot everyday when you will sit down in a comfortable chair with a nice cup of tea and read a page or two of the rite. For now, let’s just say you are committing to reading the introduction and Part I: Christian Initiation of Adults. In my version of the rite, that’s 152 pages. If you read two pages a day, that’s about 11 weeks. You have to read the small red type too, so no cheating. But some pages are mostly blank so that makes up for it. You can write notes on those pages.

I can help. E-mail me

Once you start reading it, I’ll bet you won’t find it as boring as you thought. Some parts are really, really exciting. Even so, some parts are also really, really confusing. It’s like my high school chemistry text book in places. I had to read and re-read some paragraphs to get it. If you hit one of those spots and need some help, e-mail me. I’ll be glad to help out. And if I can’t help, I’ll find someone who can. Good luck. Let me know how it goes. (If you don’t have a copy, click here to order one.)

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  1. The director of our Archdiocesan Office for Divine Worship sent me info about “teamrcia” and am I grateful! Having “read the book” I was fascinated by this article because I KNOW I MUST REREAD IT! Thanks for the nudge.
    Jim Hargadon
    Director of Faith Formation
    St. Catherine of Siena/St. Lucy Parish, Oak Park, IL

  2. Thank you for this article. I believe this with all my heart, as when I was putting in place an RCIA adapted for Children ministry at my church, the adult coordinator at the time was very helpful with information, but alwasy told me to read The Book. I also learned this from attending conferences on RCIA. Other resources are always helpful but the Manual is always the best source. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this article, and the website! I’m a recent convert, and went through a very enlightening RCIA program two years ago, which was lead and supported by a small group of dedicated ministers. As I begin my participation in this important ministry, I plan to use the resources you’ve put together to help become as effective as possible. In this thread you’ve mentioned the The RCIA book, but did provide a link to the store. Is there a specific publisher that I should search for?

  4. I’m a former RCIA Director (14 years ago) and I still speak of my experience as the best conversion experience of my life. I just recommended READING the BOOK to someone who is beginning in our parish. I wish I had seen your article before I spoke! I’m going to refer the new Team to this site.

  5. Nick, this is my detour from your recent article on the 6 things doing wrong in the RCIA article.
    I’m totally with you on this principle of getting to the source first and not be content with intermediary sources! As director of our diocesan Pastoral Institute, I apply this principle to our faith formation courses in that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the text and lecture for them, etc. Our ministry formation course on the RCIA is based on the RCIA text! The whole book (RCIA study edition) is to be covered and explained throughout the course with the help and guide of the instructor.

  6. NIck,

    My mind is frequently boggled as I talk to RCIA team members who’ve not read the Book! Thanks for the constant prod.

    Losing mine would be like losing an appendage; In my original classes with Max Johnson, I started adding notes and that has never stopped in 14 years! I’ve added a spiral binding from Kinko’s and lovely tabs from ACM, and it looks – and is – well-loved.

  7. This is one of those articles where I think, “Gosh, I hope he is worng, because I don’t want to have to go and do that.” But let’s face it, Nick is right. That said, I’m going to go back and read, cover to cover, the RCIA and I’m willing to bet that doing so will open up new possibilities for what is offered to our parish. Thanks!

  8. My husband and I went through RCIA this past year, and we did read the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and utilized the study guide. We felt very positive about the structure of the RCIA program at our Parish, and frankly, have missed the weekly interaction with fellow RCIA candidates and our group leaders. It was awesome and well organized. We had different leaders each week which we felt was an effective means of introducing us not only to life-time Catholics but also to others who have converted to Catholicism. This was a means to expose us to a number of different experiences and teaching methods.

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