Sometimes I fantasize about being the RCIA Czar. I don’t really want to be a czar. I just wish parishes could get closer to the vision of what the Second Vatican Council had in mind when it called for the restoration of the catechumenate.
Now you might be wondering how I know what the Council had in mind. After all, I was only eight years old when they wrapped up their final session. Well, I know because they told us. In one of their final documents, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, the Council fathers wrote:
The catechumenate is not a mere expounding of doctrines and precepts, but a training period for the whole Christian life. It is an apprenticeship of appropriate length, during which disciples are joined to Christ their Teacher.
In most parishes (not readers of TeamRCIA of course!), it seems to me that the catechumenate is mostly “a mere expounding of doctrines and precepts.” There is, as far as I can see, little or no “apprenticeship ” taking place. And because of that, we are mostly turning out nominal Catholics instead of “disciples [who] are joined to Christ their Teacher.”
So what can we do about this? How can we get closer to the Council’s vision of an apprenticeship that makes catechumens into true disciples of Christ? Here are six essential changes we would have to make in most parishes.
1. Read the RCIA and master its six principles
My first act as czar would be to require every RCIA team member to actually read the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and to master its six fundamental principles. I regularly encounter team members who don’t even know there is a ritual book. This is not their fault. Whoever volunteered them for the team is responsible for training them.
For more on why it is important to read the RCIA, start here: 6 reasons you need to read the RCIA
2. Stop putting baptized people in the catechumenate
Alright, there is some wiggle room here. You can put some baptized people in the catechumenate. But most of them do not belong there. The U.S Bishops told us this 25 years ago. It’s time to start paying attention:
Those baptized persons who have lived as Christians and need only instruction in the Catholic tradition and a degree of probation within the Catholic community should not be asked to undergo a full program parallel to the catechumenate (National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 31).
For more on this, see: Why your candidates might not belong in the RCIA
3. Stop using PowerPoint slides
And stop using handouts, videos, textbooks, and “guest speakers.” Because I am a friendly czar, I want to grant a little wiggle room here also. But I am afraid to do so because RCIA teams almost always use these kinds of props to shield themselves from sharing their own faith. If we stop putting baptized people into the catechumenate, we are left with people at the very beginning stages of faith. They do not need college-level or even high-school level catechesis. They need what the General Directory for Catechesis calls “initiatory catechesis.” Or, they may still be in need of the prior step: evangelization. The General Directory for Catechesis identifies three levels of catechesis: evangelization, initiatory catechesis, and ongoing formation. If we ever use a textbook or videos in catechesis, it is usually only during the third and most advanced level, ongoing formation. The first two levels of catechesis are about developing a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, not with Father So-and-So who sounds smart on TV.
For more on the three levels of catechesis, see: RCIA training level one: evangelization
4. Stop talking
One of the biggest mistakes we make as RCIA catechists is that we talk too much. Initiatory catechesis is mostly mystagogical. That means it is a recalling and exploring of the experience of Jesus Christ that the inquirers or catechumens have had in the past week. In order to explore that experience, we have to actively listen to what the inquires or catechumens experienced. It’s hard work. It’s difficult. It’s also absolutely necessary.
For more on active listening, read this: Five reasons to stop talking to catechumens
5. Stop kidding around
Most RCIA teams I’ve encountered teach adults as though they were kids. Adults learn differently than children. The pedagogy we use for children just simply won’t work with adults. If we are going to be serious about RCIA catechesis, we have to get serious about learning how adults learn.
For some principles on adult learning, read this: What research says about teaching adults in the RCIA
6. Put on your big-girl shoes
Or your big-boy shoes. Most of us are waiting for the perfect leader to come along to show us what we are supposed to be doing, to find us more catechumens for us, to recruit more team members for us, to make decisions about the future. The fact is, you are that leader. I know you aren’t perfect; who is? I know you might not want to be a leader; neither does the pope. The Holy Spirit gave you the gifts you need and chose you to be a leader in your parish. You have two choices: say “no thank you, Holy Spirit” or become a better leader.
For more on leadership in the RCIA, check out this article: Start changing your RCIA process now—before it’s too late!
I know all of that seems like a lot. But think of it as a year-long plan. Make a schedule for yourself to improve just one thing in your RCIA process this month. Work on that for 30 days. Then choose another thing to improve, and work on that for 30 days. And so on for 12 months. If you do that, you will be amazed at how much you have grown by this time next year.
You can do it. You have the gifts, and you have the talent. And we’re always here to help.
What do you struggle with?
Please take a moment to share with the rest of us the first thing you are going to tackle and how you are going to do it.