Six things that are probably wrong with your RCIA — and how to fix them

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5 thoughts on “Six things that are probably wrong with your RCIA — and how to fix them”

  1. your ideas and suggestions are ideal and call for a perfect RCIA process. I would like that also, However we live in a real world and some of what you suggest is difficult. depends a lot on committed team and sponsors. this is my goal for this year, more training/discussions for team and sponsors.
    we are beginning to have a near year round process and 2 years for catechumens, especially those from other faith communities.
    thanks for all you do, God Bless you. Margaret

    1. Hi Margaret. Wow, that sounds like a terrific goal. And congratulations on beginning to move toward a year-round process. I agree that some of the steps I suggested are difficult. I also know that all of them are doable, and most teams have the talent and commitment to accomplish them. The secret is to start small and go slow. It sounds like that is exactly what you are doing, and I’m very excited for you and your team. Thanks for chiming in. –Nick

  2. Nick, these are good points about typical things done wrong in the RCIA.
    1. I read the linked article to support the reading of the RCIA manual! I’m totally with you on this principle of getting to the source first and not be content with intermediary sources! As director of our diocesan Pastoral Institute, I apply this principle to our faith formation courses in that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the text and lecture for them, etc. Our ministry formation course on the RCIA is based on the RCIA text! The whole book (RCIA study edition) is to be covered and explained throughout the course with the help and guide of the instructor.
    2. I know, but somebody else has this call.
    3. Is this so as to get media out of the way of preaching the gospel, a heart to heart communication of Jesus and his message of salvation, why you refer to evangelization on this point? I still believe media gets in the way as secondary sources from say, the Bible, when it comes to proclaiming and sharing about God, Jesus, etc.
    4. So, this is about intentional inquiry and intent listening?
    5. So how adults learn is initially by experience, but eventually by hearing and reading? Faith does come by hearing the gospel preached. Would that be an experience in itself? The Emmaus experience (Lk 24) tells us that in order to recognize the Risen Christ they had already learned what the Scriptures prophesied, etc. What about the conversion of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-) who was reading the Scriptures but converted because he was helped by Phillip to understand and come to faith. I don’t know… this point with its linked article seems inconclusive (the last March 2012 comment by Jay was not responded to) as to how adults really learn “based on research”. Instead of bringing back the 70’s methods, I’d rather look at Scripture as to how God teaches and how people come to faith. I do see a first approach to get the attention of the person, like with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4), but I also see teaching the message (doctrine) in the process and in its objective to bring people to faith. The linked article to this point implies that adult learning is about experiencing the Risen Christ, but we cannot elicit or provoke that other than by “preaching” or teaching the Word of God the message or “doctrine”. If faith truly comes by hearing what is preached, then the doctrinal message can help experience the Risen Christ. Doesn’t the faith act need a faith content, namely Jesus, to believe? Presenting or teaching about God and Jesus, is already teaching “doctrine”, yet it seems this is not what you are saying, or what you are actually wanting to say?
    6. So, the point is to take responsibility and be up to the challenge of leadership and get to work in finding out or making sure you know what you are supposed to be doing, find more catechumens, recruit more team members, and start to make decisions about the future, or rather how to insure some future for the ministry. Is this correct?

    1. Hi Rey. Wow, thanks for such a detailed response! Let me just deal with the point about adult learning. Learning Christianity is an apprenticeship process. Like learning to cook, play baseball, or dance, you don’t need to go to school to get the basics. If you want to be a master chef or a pro ballplayer, you will need more in-depth training. In the RCIA, however, we are dealing with beginners in the faith. They learn by doing. This is scriptural, and it is the way Jesus taught. He had the disciples out doing the work of discipleship. Pope John Paul II told us the primary content of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ. So, especially for inquirers and catechumens, our primary task is to introduce them to Jesus and help them develop a relationship with Jesus. According to the RCIA, we do that through four cornerstone lifestyle conversions: a conversion to Jesus as the living Word of God, a conversion to Jesus as found in the gathered community (the Body of Christ), a conversion to Jesus as sacramental celebration, and a conversion to Jesus manifest in the poor (see RCIA 75).

      Knowing the doctrines of the faith is necessary but not sufficient. If all we do is deliver doctrine, we are missing the primary content of the faith–the person of Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict said so in his apostolic letter on the Year of Faith. I wrote about it here:

      I hope that clarifies some. Thanks again for chiming in.


  3. Thanks, Nick. I read your 2012 commentary about content not being sufficient. I think I get you and do not disagree with you in essence, though that “WE are the content” may be confusing. I think it’s dangerous to blur the distinction between the end and the means, as if between the Master and the disciple, the Gospel Message and the gospel messenger. Wouldn’t this make the catechist a criteria of faith unto him or herself. This may form catechumens into cafeteria Catholics that pick and choose, etc. I didn’t get to read the comments below that article, so I may be jumping on an obvious question that was already responded to.

    But back to your recent response here, you know that the “heart” in Hebrew biblical terms is not mindless nor blind but rather includes the mind (a Greek concept) with its openness to the beauty of Truth, the Truth of Jesus and His Gospel, that leads to Jesus as our Way of Life in following and imitating Him, as a way of living the Truth and living in the Truth of Jesus.

    I think we catechists should stop giving the term “doctrine” and “dogma” such a bad wrap and reputation, as if it was bad news. Hello! This is the Good News! And this Good News should not be shared and taught in a heartless or mindless way as if not inspired by the Word God and as if the Word of God itself was not inspiring- and life changing! This disconnected way of presenting doctrine with no link or relation to the mysterious reality of God and his grace does not form but rather deform in discipleship.

    I think we should stop this false dichotomy between heart and mind, between loving and knowing Jesus, between experience and understanding, etc. There is distinction but not separation in the teaching and learning dynamic of discipleship.

    RCIA 75 states that the candidates are to be “given suitable pastoral formation and guidance” to train them in the Christian life and bring them up to maturity. The first way, it says, is a “suitable catechesis” that is “gradual and complete” that leads to “an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate”.

    As I read it, catechetical formation is key to what follows: community life, liturgical life, and evangelization. Your reference to the poor is only an implication of a part of this fourth point that I see rather as part of community life in line with what Acts 2:44-45 depicts of the first community. But actually, RCIA 75.4 says catechumens are to “spread the Gospel and build up the Church” by witnessing and professing their faith. This is not just about doing community service hours! It is about evangelizing by word and deed. Besides, we know that faith grows when it is lived and shared with others. But there must be a faith to live and share in the first place.

    My point is that deep faith formation can give the candidates the interpretative keys, the Christian lenses, the eyes of faith, to believe and “perceive” that Jesus is truly and really present in His Church, His sacraments and in our Christ-given mission to make disciples. Recall that after sending us to “make disciples”, He assures us, “I am with you always” (cf., Mt 28:19-20)!

    Without sound faith content the other experiences may lack true Christian significance. Faith formation must be “an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts” that leads to appreciate the “profound sense of the mystery of salvation”! Without this faith content, community life is just a being part of a “family” of nice people or “friends”; liturgical participation would be just going through the motions of religious rites with these nice people (Oh! And they get to shake hands at one point!); evangelization is replaced with social work and just doing nice things for other because that is what nice people at church do.

    I think that without an obedient faith to the Content of Faith (God and Jesus, and His saving message revealed in words and deeds), there cannot be a meaningful love experience (Charity) of Christ’s sacred, loving and life-changing presence in community, liturgy and mission.

    Even if we start by going through the motions of community life, liturgical rites and missionary practice, in order to lead to a deeper comprehension and theologically meaningful experience of the mystery of Christian life, we must inevitably form in the faith as mentioned above.

    Wouldn’t this be mystagogy? It seems to me that mystagogy pervades everything before, throughout and beyond the process.

    It is exciting to be in touch with people that are passionate about making disciples. Please be patient with me as I’m just coming in and joining the conversations. I appreciate whatever reference links you can give me of what was said before.

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