A question that keeps popping up for RCIA teams is how to get more parishioners involved in the initiation process. The best answer to this is the liturgy.
If you think of where most of the parish gathers most often, it is the Sunday liturgy. So it makes sense that would be the place to engage a large percentage of the community. In addition, when liturgy is celebrated well, it moves people’s hearts. When participants become emotionally engaged in worship, they are more deeply connected to their fellow worshipers and to the dynamic love of Father and the Son.
How your liturgy forms your Catechumens
Because of the centrality of the liturgy in the faith lives of your parishioners, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults says:
At the celebrations belonging to the period of the catechumenate, the faithful should seek to be present whenever possible and should take an active part in the responses, prayers, singing, and acclamations. (RCIA 9.2)
During the period of the catechumenate, there is one major rite: Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens (see RCIA 48). This rite can be celebrated several times a year, so you parishioners may have multiple opportunities to show their support for those who are seeking to be initiated into Christ.
In addition, there are several minor rites (see RCIA 81). These are optional and may be celebrated outside of Sunday Mass. On occasion, however, you might decide to incorporate a minor rite into the Sunday liturgy, giving your parishioners still more ways to participate in worship with the seekers.
The power of active participation in the Sunday liturgy
The foundation for all of these rites, however, is Sunday liturgy itself. Once your inquirers become catechumens, they will be expected to participate in the liturgy of the word every Sunday. It is here, in the Sunday-to-Sunday rhythm of worship, that the seekers will learn a great deal about what it means to be Catholic. And they will learn that not so much by what you tell them after they are dismissed, but within the liturgy itself. The formation of your catechumens will come primarily from the example your parishioners set for them. (This is also true, to varying degrees, for the baptized candidates.)
My fear is that most of us underestimate the power of worship to teach our seekers how they are expected to live as Christians. And I worry that we do not put enough emphasis on the example our parishioners need to give when they are participating in the liturgy.
I’ve heard Catholics say that Mass is their personal time with God. I’ve heard some say that they participate by singing “silently.” I’ve heard some say that they don’t really need to pray and respond out loud because God knows what’s in their hearts.
And all that would be fine if the purpose of liturgy were the same as a retreat. But, at least as far as forming the newcomers is concerned, the liturgy is not primarily about my spiritual benefit. It is a time for me and all my fellow parishioners to give example and support to the catechumens by actively responding, praying, singing, and acclaiming.
Help your parishioners “get more” out of Mass
I know it can be difficult to involve more parishioners in the initiation process. However, one small step toward more participation might be to encourage the members of your community to participate more fully in the Sunday liturgy. If you offer them gentle and consistent reminders that their participation is a crucial for the formation of the catechumens, you will soon see a growing commitment among more and more parishioners to the faith formation of the seekers among them.
To help with that, Diana Macalintal has written “Five Ways to Get More Out of Mass.” This is a free bulletin insert that you can use to catechize your parishioners about the importance of their participation in the liturgy. Just click on the orange button to get your free copy.
Share your ideas
How have you involved your parishioners into a deeper, more active role in the liturgy? What effects have you seen on your Catechumen? Please share in the comments box below.