Reimagining catechesis for RCIA

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAIn the past few weeks I have had two very discouraging experiences. First, I learned that a diocesan catechetical director refused to include in an adult formation program a guided tour of the cathedral, led by a liturgist. The reason? It would take away from the time allotted for catechesis.

Second, I learned that a parish coordinator, who had designed a whole-community, family-based faith formation program, sent an email saying that catechumens and candidates would no longer be participating in the meals, activities, and outreach that were part of the program. The reason? The RCIA director determined that these activities took away from the time that was needed for lectures.

I’m afraid that this assessment of what is most important in catechesis is all too prevalent. However, we know that according to the documents of the church, catechesis in general and initiation catechesis in particular have as their goal the formation of disciples for mission. The goal is to facilitate a process whereby those who seek initiation into Christ’s paschal mystery learn to walk the talk.

A walk in faith

Let me share a personal experience. In August I underwent surgery that has required me to avoid walking for the past two months. I think I know how to walk. I want to walk. Right now, I can’t walk. Getting back on my feet is a process. It’s taking time.  I’m dependent on others to help me. I have all the information I need about how to walk, but I can’t do it yet! To get to my goal, I have to rely on the expertise of others who know the mechanics of the body, who can encourage and inspire me at each phase of this process, and who give me perspective when I get discouraged.  There is a team of people who have been contributing to my recovery, each with a different gift, talent, educational background, professional vita, and personal relationship. My team is challenging me to move forward, but in no way are they accelerating my program of recovery until I am ready to move into a new phase. Without this multi-faceted process, I might be able to get on my feet again. But I wouldn’t be walking well, and my whole body would suffer the consequences. Lectures about walking will not get me back on my feet!

I hope the analogy is clear. Our catechumens and candidates are learning to walk the path of faith and discipleship. Information about faith and discipleship is helpful and necessary. However, catechumens need—and we have a responsibility to offer—the expertise and mentorship of those who are already walking the walk, including sponsors and the company of Christians in the faith community at large. They deserve—and we have the responsibility to offer—a variety of ministries and experiences that will gradually form them into disciples who know the Gospel path and are able to walk it with strength and fidelity. They deserve—and we have a responsibility to offer—a process that honors the individuals’ needs and pace while incorporating them into the life of the community including worship and apostolic action.

RCIA reflection

I offer a question for catechists and initiation teams to ponder and discuss: How are you spending the time you have for catechesis?

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  1. 2 hour catechumenate session:

    15 min: Celebration of the Word (according to RCIA 85-89, choosing readings according to the doctrinal topic at hand) with blessings/anointings

    15 min: Social time with food

    35 min: Instruction, building upon what was proclaimed in the readings, which were a part of the Celebration of the Word

    25 min: Small group discussion/fellowship

    15 min: Social time with food

    15 min: Closing prayer that ties together with the theme of the doctrinal topic.

  2. I’m afraid what you share is almost the norm. Each year around this time someone tries to get us back on the right path…..Sept. to Easter , one size fits all. We are year-round and so never really know how many will be where more than 2 or 3 weeks down the road. We have made recognizing and encouraging the total community to see themselves as primary ministers. We are supported by the four pillars of the process (prayer/liturgy, study, “apostolic action” with the wider parish community and social/community moments. I’ve been thinking this week that I would like to write something about RCIA as the RIGHT of Christian initiation for adults—-their right to apprentice (thank you Jerry Gallipeau) and our responsibility to companion them

  3. Thank you, Marge, for your contribution. Your two “social time with food” segments make this most attractive! Seriously, you have presented a fine schema that draws in many of the aspects called for in RCIA #75, and I hope that will inspire others to take a look at their own formal catechesis time.
    For all of us, we might also look at how we define “the time we have for catechesis” and wonder if it is contained in defined hours or if it is moving toward a model where we consider the life of the community (word, worship, community and service) to be effective “times of catechesis”. If so, how are we facilitating that catechesis?

  4. Bonnie,please write! It will encourage anyone who knows that cycle of people trying to “go back” to the academic year model. I think we too often equate adult initiation with adult faith formation programs. Clearly, they are different even as they share some of the same formational principles. And, as you so eloquently say, the catechumens have a right to the Rite.

  5. Dear Miriam,
    I too have encountered some parish level pushback for an RCIA-Adaptable Childrens model. I was asked by the DRE to work with the “RCIA Team” to develop an adaptable model for older children for my parish. I went so far as to working with the the Diocesan Director of Worship and Catechesis to assure that it met the guidelines established by the Diocese. After month of preparation, I was told by a member in the team that the timing was not right! (They are stuck on the academic year model, and i presented my model in September.)Needless to say I was quite disappointed but continued to show it to other parishes. Thanks God, three parishes liked to adaptable model enough to have me present it to them.Their teams realize that inquiry does not always happen at the appropriate academic time!) As my spiritual director reminded me, “Sometime a prophet is not accepted in his own town.” My advice is someone, somewhere can alsways use a good idea. This website proves it!

  6. I just want to thank God for this ministry and the clarion call to journey with people toward discipleship. It is SO frustrating to me when RCIA turns into a classroom with a book, raise your hand, right answers, please, have you filled in the blank AND the only people you know are the ones in your little classroom. WHY do we keep doing this?? I loved your analogy on walking, and I hope you heal soon, all the way. I totally identified because I broke my shoulder in three places almost two years ago, and if I had been forced to do what I wasn’t capable of, it would have been awful. I’m discouraged, too, by your recent experiences. Keep on calling! Some will respond!

  7. At St Michael in Canton, OH our director has shaken up the schedule a bit (Yay!) The first two weekly mtgs of the month are media on concepts Catholics believe with small table discussion, reading relevant documents, socializing, snacking,and questions. The third week everyone attends the monthly Social Justice meeting with speakers from groups who help the hungry and homeless, questions answered, and instruction on signing up for the many social volunteering ops. The fourth week is a prayer experience for all in the parish. We are also using mentors for ea. inquirer to help them with the Social justice activities and to introduce them to parish members whose faces they see regularly at masses.

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