“Your ideas sound great for big city parishes, but I come from a small rural parish. Our parish doesn’t have any activities.”
Jane was responding to a point I made last year at one of TeamRCIA’s Making Disciples institutes. I was pointing out what the U.S. Bishops said about catechesis:
In addition, learning by Christian living is an essential component of catechetical methodology. The active participation of all the catechized in their Christian formation fosters learning by doing. (National Directory for Catechesis, 29.G)
I had just given several examples of the kinds of parish activities that RCIA teams should be taking their catechumens to so that the catechumens could learn by doing, as the U.S. Bishops suggest. Unfortunately, Jane’s parish had none of the activities I used in my examples.
Your parish is already a center for discipleship
However, it cannot be true that her parish—or yours, no matter how small—has no activities. If you have enough people who are contributing time, talent, and treasure to keep the lights on and the doors open, something must be going on.
At the very least, even tiny parishes have Sunday liturgy, funerals, communion for the sick, anointing of the sick, possibly weddings, probably parish dinners or socials, maybe a communal Rosary, adoration, parish council meetings, maybe a choir, finance council meetings, Stations of the Cross, church cleaning and decorating committees, communion ministry, lector ministry, preaching, probably infant baptism, probably first communion, reconciliation services during Lent, access to diocesan workshops and retreats, maybe a quilting or knitting circle, maybe a men’s group of Knights of Columbus chapter, a priest with a story to tell, a long-time married couple with a story to tell, new parents or grandparents with a story to tell, access to services from Catholic Charities, fasting, maybe a Thanksgiving food drive or Christmas clothing drive….
If your parish exists, something is going on there.
The secret to making disciples is to get them out doing what disciples do. Your parishioners may not think of themselves as disciples—many Catholics don’t. But that doesn’t change the reality that every Catholic parish is a center for discipleship. Every parish is engaged in the disciplines of the faith.
RCIA is not school
Many of our RCIA process are run like schools. We speak of holding classes and teaching a curriculum. We schedule topics and make lesson plans. But if you think back to your high school and college days, how many of those classes you took are having a direct impact on your life today?
Contrast that with some of the disciplines you learned when you were younger. My grandmother taught me to bake bread, which I still do today. Some people spent hundreds of hours learning a musical instrument that they still play. Former high school athletes pass on their well-honed skills to their children and grandchildren. None of these or similar disciplines were learned in classrooms. They were learned, and mastered, by mixing some flour and water and yeast and kneading the dough and failing and trying again, and again, and again until it was right.
In another document, the bishops of the world (not just the U.S.) described the “fundamental characteristics of initiatory catechesis” (RCIA catechesis). They said:
This comprehensive formation includes more than instructing: it is an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life. (General Directory for Catechesis, 67)
How to teach the faith to RCIA candidates
The way to teach to the faith is to move the catechumens out of the classroom and into an apprenticeship process. In a previous post, I talked about five significant moments along the way of faith during which the catechumens need the support and guidance of the parish community.
By way of example, I’m going to list one parish activity for each of those five moments in which you could involve seekers in order to apprentice them in the faith. But don’t worry if your parish doesn’t do these exact activities. Look around and ask yourself what your parish does do. And then use those activities—those disciplines—to apprentice your seekers.
Period of evangelization
Find one parish volunteer for each seeker. The volunteer’s task is to invite the seeker to sit with him or her during the parish Pancake Sunday Breakfast (or your parish equivalent).
Period of the catechumenate
Before the Rite of Acceptance, schedule a team meeting with the pastor to brainstorm best ideas for the homily. Bring the catechumens to the meeting.
Rite of Election
Schedule all-parish retreat day well before the Rite of Election to discern who will be chosen for baptism. Ask the parishioners to come prepared to give a short statement about how they have seen God acting in the lives of each of the catechumens. Make the testimonies part of the retreat experience.
For those parishioners who cannot attend the retreat, invite them to fast and pray for those who will be discerning.
Period of purification and enlightenment
Be sure the elect and catechumens participate in the Ash Wednesday liturgies, and include them in the intercessions. Also include the elect and catechumens in the parish Stations of the Cross devotions.
Period of mystagogy
Ask some of the parish organizations (youth group, school, religious education, Knights of Columbus, etc.) to invite the neophytes to come to one of their meetings or classes to have the neophytes reflect on their experience of the Easter Vigil.
For lots more ideas on how how to involve your parishioners in the RCIA process, enter your e-mail below, and I’ll send you a list of 100 possibilities.
What are your ideas?
I’d love to hear how you are apprenticing seekers into the faith. Please share your great ideas in the comments box below so others can be inspired by them.
Check out this webinar recording: “Is your RCIA process slow enough? “ Click here for more information.