In this article, I want to offer you a challenge. If you are currently running a time-limited RCIA, I want to challenge you to take one baby step toward an ongoing, year-round catechumenate process.
Why is a year-round process important?
There are a lot of reasons why a year-round process is important, but I’m going to focus on just one. If catechumens do not experience the full liturgical year, they have not been immersed into the full mystery of Christ. It is through the celebration of the liturgical year that the church “unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 11).
The purpose of the catechumenate is to bring the catechumens into intimate communion with Christ. And the celebration of the liturgical year is the means by which we bring them to that intimacy. If we shortchange the catechumens by not giving them the experience of Christ throughout a full liturgical year, we have not done our jobs as catechists.
What do we mean by “year-round”?
Some teams might resist moving to a year-round process because of some misunderstandings of what “year-round” means. To have a process that extends throughout a full liturgical year does not mean you are having catechetical sessions 52 weeks of the year. There are two significant implications of a year-round process that must be in place to truly say we are fulfilling the requirements of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
- We welcome inquirers whenever they come to us; we do not tell them they have to “wait until September”
- Once someone becomes a catechumen, they are on a conversion journey of unknown duration. That journey must travel along the path of your parish’s celebration of a full liturgical cycle. But we cannot know ahead of time when the journey of the catechumenate will end. Only the Holy Spirit knows.
How do we implement a year-round process?
The “how” has as many variations as we have parishes. At a minimum, however, you need two people (besides the pastor) to serve on your team.
- Every team must have someone who is focused on the journey of the catechumens. The question on this person’s mind is always, “What are the individual needs of each catechumen to help them take the next step on the conversion journey?”
- Every team must have someone who is focused on the inquirers. The question on this person’s mind is always, “What is each individual inquirer’s story?”
If you think of leading the catechumens like raising children, some things about the process become more clear. What do parents need to do to successfully raise their children? About a million different things that are often different for different children. For a two-parent household with two sets of grandparents living close by, who are raising two children, the burdens are shared, and the resources are greater. For a single mom with five children and no grandparents nearby, the questions and the strategies are the same, but the stress is greater.
In neither case, however, can the parents say, “We only raise children from September to Pentecost.” You do what you have to do with the resources you have.
For the team member who is focused on the inquirers, think of the process like dating. Dating is a getting-to-know you process. It’s possible to date a lot of people at the same time, as long as we aren’t getting too serious. When the inquirers want to get serious, that’s an indication it is time to move into the catechumenate. But until they get serious, we are dating. We are asking questions, telling a little about ourselves and the church, and discovering if we are a good fit. Some inquirers might date for a long time. They might never want to get serious. Some might get serious really fast.
But here’s what won’t work. It won’t work to say, “In our parish, all the inquirers have to get serious by November because that’s when we celebrate the Rite of Acceptance.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way. People are different. They will be ready at different times.
There is a lot more we can say about how a year-round process works, but for now, let’s just focus on those two key elements: what do the catechumens need to grow in faith, and what are the stories of the inquirers?
What would happen if we did this?
If you can make the shift to a process that is centered on those two questions, I promise you will be blown away. House-rattling, earth-shaking, Pentecost-like fiery Holy Spirit blown away.
More importantly, the inquirers will become true seekers of faith instead of jumpers of hoops. The catechumens will become other Christs instead of absent neophytes.
And your parish will be renewed. They will become infected and infused with the powerful faith of these new initiates into your community, and they will be transformed.
The baby step
So here’s the baby step. If you currently have a precatechumenate that begins in September (or any other time of year), make this the last year that it “begins.” From now on, it never ends so it can never again “begin.”
Find a new team member or change the job description of one of your current team member to be an “ambassador of welcome.” The job of the ambassador of welcome is to constantly welcome inquirers and start to learn their stories. The ambassador of welcome is on call all year round, but she might delegate her role to others for a time while she goes on vacation or takes a break. In that way, you never again have to tell someone to come back when you are ready. With an ambassador of welcome on your team, your parish can be ready whenever the Holy Spirit is ready.
“Walking Barefoot On The Beach” by Daniel St.Pierre courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net