I was in a parish outside my diocese recently, and I read a bulletin announcement similar to one that appears in thousands of parishes every Sunday. The announcement invited all those who had never been baptized, or who had been baptized in another tradition, or who had been baptized Catholic but not received the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist, to “join the RCIA.”
The RCIA is a rite
Asking someone to join the RCIA is a little like asking someone to join the sacrament of penance or the sacrament of anointing. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a rite. A sacrament. It isn’t a group or a program or even a process that can be “joined.” I understand the good intentions behind such announcements, and that’s exactly why they bother me. I fear that all the good energy behind such messages is missing the key audience they are intended for.
So who are these announcements intended for? Primarily, the people in need of initiation sacraments are unbaptized adults who have had an initial experience of God. For the most part, these people are not in our parishes on Sunday. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invite them to come, but the parish bulletin is probably not the best medium.
Who sees RCIA announcements?
The next audience is baptized Protestants. In most parishes, these folks make up the vast majority of the participants in our catechumenate groups. On any given Sunday, there are probably a good number of baptized Protestants in Catholic pews. Why is that? Usually because they are married to a Catholic and a parent to one or more little Catholics. The bulletin can be an appropriate way to invite these folks into full communion, but the process for most of them is not the RCIA. They do not lack initiation and many of them do not lack catechesis. They lack full communion. The proper rite for them is Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church, not the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
There are exceptions. Some baptized Protestants have never been catechized, and a catechumenate-style process is exactly what they need. However, like the unbaptized, these folks are usually not in the pews on Sunday. And if they are, they have little understanding of terms like “RCIA,” “sacrament,” “confirmation,” and “Eucharist.”
The third audience is baptized Catholics who have not celebrated either confirmation or Eucharist or both. The majority of these folks are adults who missed confirmation when they were teens. They are usually going to church regularly, and they are sharing in Communion when they are at Mass. These folks are not candidates for the RCIA. The proper rite for them is the Rite of Confirmation.
Baptized Catholics and the RCIA
There is also an exception here. Like some baptized Protestants, there are some baptized Catholics who never celebrated first Communion and who have never been catechized. These folks are candidates for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. There are probably not a lot of them at Mass on Sunday, but on any given week, someone may be trying to find his or her way back home. An announcement in the bulletin is appropriate, but it needs to be tailored more to their own situation. We need to use words like “welcome” and “return” and “home.” They are not likely to know what “RCIA” means, and they may be put off by being asked to “join” something they are already a part of through baptism.
So where are we? If the Sunday bulletin is the medium we are using, the largest audience is faith-filled Protestants who are already in relationship with us. We need to find other media to attract other audiences. Given that, here is a sample announcement to try in your Sunday bulletin next week:
Why do Catholics do that?
Are you interested in learning more about the Catholic Church? Perhaps you’ve been thinking of becoming a member of [PARISH NAME], or perhaps you are just curious about what Catholics believe. Please join us for coffee and dessert on [DATE, TIME] for a 30-minute question-and-answer session. We’ll meet at [PLACE], and all are welcome. If you’d like more information, e-mail [NAME] at [E-MAIL ADDRESS].
What do you think? Do you have other examples of announcements you’ve used that have been effective? Click on the comments link and share your ideas.
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