The first time I heard about the RCIA, it was like a “should’a had a V8” moment. I got it. I understood the pontential power of this collection of progressive rites to transform not only seekers, but entire parishes. Or at least I thought I did. In those early days, my insight was focused almost completely on the liturgical aspects of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is a rite after all.
What I completely missed was the game-changing catechetical impact of the rite. At the time, I equated catechesis with education. Sure, I knew that catechesis was more than education, but more in the sense of “better” or “super.” As in, “A Ferrari is more than just a car.” But at it’s core, a Ferrari is still a car.
RCIA catechesis is not the car; it’s the race
Catechesis isn’t like that. It’s not the Ferrari of education. Catechesis is the Grand Prix. It is an event. You might need a Ferrari to get into the race, but the point isn’t owning Ferrari. The point is racing.
Learn how to use the RCIA to train for Christian life. View the recording of our online workshop. Click here for more info.
If we are going to teach catechumens how to race, it won’t happen in a classroom. It happens in a car, on a race track. In the 1980s, when I was starting out, almost all of the catechumenate programs began in September and ended in May—just like school. All of them took place in a classroom setting. Some of them included textbooks. Most included overheads and handouts. And there was a defined curriculum.
“RCIA is not a program”…or is it?
In the 1990s, more and more parishes began to say that the RCIA is a “process” and not a “program.” But from what I could see, many were still operating as educational programs.
I should point out that I’m speaking about ideals here. The full liturgical impact of the RCIA—the ideal—has not been realized. Nor has the full catechetical impact reached its ideal. But the way they each fall short is different.
Most parishes seem to be striving toward a liturgical ideal as envisioned by Vatican II. What they are doing liturgically makes sense to me, even if it is not perfect. It is on the right track.
However, at least within the catechumenate, many catechetical process often do not make sense to me. It seems that parishes are striving for educational excellence in their catechetical processes, which is not the same thing as catechetical excellence.
In other words, they are trying to turn their Volkswagens into Ferraris instead of learning how to race Volkswagens.
My aha moment about RCIA catechesis
I had another “V8” insight one night when I was leading a diocesan training program for RCIA leaders. I was describing how the RCIA process is supposed to work, ideally. One woman said she believed her parish had done all that the RCIA required. They had a year-round process, they celebrated the rites well, their catechetical sessions were tied to the Sunday experience, and they had a good discernment process. Yet, one of their neophytes left the parish a few months after the Easter Vigil and joined a large non-denominational mega-church.
The neophyte later told the RCIA leader that she left because once the neophyte was no longer in the RCIA process, she felt lost in the parish. When she went to Mass on Sunday (at a different time than the RCIA group), no one knew her and no one talked to her. She didn’t know how to get involved in the parish activities. And no one invited her to be involved.
At that moment, it clicked for me about what on-the-ground catechesis is. It’s not so much about knowing the seven sacraments or the ten commandments or the social teaching of the church.
- It’s about knowing how to pray sacramentally with the parish.
- It’s about knowing how to live a moral Christian life within a community.
- It’s about knowing how to write a letter to a congressperson or bring a pot of soup to a hungry person as a member of a gospel-based community.
Learn how to use the RCIA to train for Christian life. View the recording of our online workshop.
St. Paul says we are running a race, and that we must run to win. If we fail to train the catechumens as spiritual athletes, they won’t win. They probably won’t even enter the race. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is ideally designed to provide exactly this type of catechetical training. We will look at how it does so in future posts.
What is your experience?
How did you first recognize the liturgical potential of the RCIA? How did you first recognize the catechetical potential?