I know. There are supposed to be seven deadly sins. I did think of seven, but one of them isn’t deadly. So this will be the six deadly and one not-so-deadly sins committed during the Rite of Acceptance. These are not based on the standard seven that you’ll find in the Catechism. Rather, these come from the ancient Celtic book of Aelwais Dunethet Way.
1. Celebrating on the First Sunday of Advent
I’m told there are still lots of parishes that do this. I’ve asked and asked, and I can’t seem to find out why. Someone once told me they do it because then the catechumens can start their journey at the beginning of the “new year.” And then I asked if the catechumens are, in fact, spending a full year in the process in that parish. No. And so head scratching resumed.
Here are three criteria for picking a Sunday for the rite:
- When the readings are appropriate (read ahead a little and find a good day; First Sunday of Advent is not)
- When the parish is ready (meaning you don’t have a gazillion things to distract the focus from the catechumens like lighting and blessing wreaths, making announcements about the Giving Tree, and begging people to sign up for the Christmas choir)
- When the inquirers are ready (see Sin 2)
For more, read: When to schedule the Rite of Acceptance
2. Accepting people who haven’t completed the preflight checklist
The RCIA is very clear about the criteria for readiness. Marking time in the precatechumenate is not on the list. If you knew your pilot had been to flight school twice as long as any other pilot, would you feel good about getting on the plane? What if the reason he’d been in school so long was he just couldn’t figure out how to fly, but he’d been there so long they finally graduated him? It’s the same with inquirers. If someone has been an inquirer for six weeks or six years, they cannot move on to become catechumens until they show evidence of:
- first faith
- an initial conversion
- an intention to change their lives
- a desire to enter into a relationship with God in Christ (RCIA 42)
For more, read: RCIA Discernment: How do you know if they “know enough”?
3. Accepting people into the Order of “Catholichumens”
Many parishes celebrate a combined Rite of Acceptance and Rite of Welcome (of the baptized candidates). While the team members think they are making the distinction clear, they always fail Communications Theory 101. What you say isn’t necessarily what’s heard. To anyone who isn’t reading along in the ritual book, it looks like these are all the folks are the same—people who are going to become Catholic this year.
There is one really, really easy way to solve this. Celebrate the two rites on different Sundays. And when you do celebrate a welcoming ritual for baptized candidates, don’t use the one in the RCIA (which is optional). Instead, use a modified version of the “Order for the Welcoming of New Parishioners” from the Book of Blessings.
Or, download this Alternative Rite of Welcome that I wrote.
If you simply must celebrate the two rites together, then begin with the baptized candidates inside the church, while the unbaptized are waiting outside the church. Call the baptized candidates forward, introduce them to the community, and then all process outside to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance with the unbaptized.
4. Knock, knock, who’s there?
Gosh, I was floored when I heard this one. Some parishes are making the inquirers bang on the church door at the beginning of the liturgy. My, what kind of symbol is that? Our doors are closed; you have to bang on them to get in. We are saying they have to come to us instead of us going out to them. Let’s knock off the knocking and stick to the flow of the rite.
5. Keeping warm and cozy
What’s the flow of the rite? It’s very simple. We, the insiders, go out to get them, the outsiders, and bring them in. The rite says some of the faithful gather with the unbaptized outside the church. When the priest goes out to meet them (from inside the church), the rest of the faithful can join him, singing a song of welcome or joy (see paragraph 48). This isn’t what happens in many places, however. What often happens is, every good Catholic is in their own pew that had been specially reserved for them by their guardian angel before they arrived. It would be a huge inconvenience to ask them to now get up and go outside. They just came from there. What’s the point of going back out now? So instead, we pare down the ritual a little (who will notice?) to cut down on the grumbling.
Well, it’s true no one will notice. And that’s what’s wrong. The point of this rite is to notice that something new is happening. These are not just people who are joining the parish. They are turning to Christ for the first time in their lives. It’s worth standing up and going outside for.
6. Sticking to the script
Okay, are we all outside now? Great! What’s next? First the seekers are introduced to the community, and then the presider asks them why they’ve come and what they want. The “deadly” part is, thousands of seekers across the country this year will say they have come for the same thing and want the same thing (faith and eternal life). How is that humanly possible? It’s not. They don’t really say what they want. They say what we tell them they want. They say the words exactly as written in the RCIA—which they have never even seen! People! Let’s make this real. The text given in the rite is only an example. How do I know? Read the little tiny print just before the dialogue in paragraph 50. It says so, right there in black and white. (Well, it’s red and white in my book, but you know what I mean.)
For more, read: Why catechumens shouldn’t ask for faith
7. Dismissing the children
This is the not-so-deadly-sin. Once, when I was visiting a parish in another diocese, the pastor dismissed the baptized children for their own liturgy of the word service before celebrating the Rite of Acceptance. It’s not deadly to the rite itself, but it sure doesn’t help the children much. What could possibly be going on in the little room over in the parish hall that would benefit the children more than witnessing new people being brought into the church? There’s lots of processing, and gestures, and singing, and other cool stuff kids love. So this year, let the children stay and participate in welcoming the newcomers.
Now I have to come clean and admit I’ve been guilty of more than a few of these deadly sins. But never more than once. Okay, maybe twice. The point is not to be perfect. The point is to get a little better each time. A good challenge for your team would be to choose one thing about the Rite of Acceptance to improve the next time you celebrate it. And then another the next time. And so on. Once you’ve got it down perfectly, let me know. I’m still trying to get there.