Many RCIA teams know that the time for formal catechesis for the elect ends on Ash Wednesday. (If you don’t know that, see “Don’t catechize in Lent.”) But if you don’t catechize, what do we do?
Of all the moments in the RCIA process in which we rely on the involvement of the parishioners, Lent is one of the most important. The RCIA doesn’t really assign much for the team to do. But it does assign a crucial role to the faithful:
During Lent, the period of purification and enlightenment, the faithful should take care to participate in the rites of the scrutinies and presentations and give the elect the example of their own renewal in the spirit of penance, faith, and charity. At the Easter Vigil, they should attach great importance to renewing their own baptismal promises. (RCIA 9.4)
Are your parishioners paying attention?
In my experience, parishioners do not usually perceive that they have an active role in the scrutinies and presentations. If they pay attention to them at all, they tend to see these rites as experiences that happen to the elect and that the faithful merely observe. Sometimes they even see these rites as interruptions to the Mass. Liturgy planning teams, in an attempt to be sensitive to disgruntled parishioners, may then respond by shortening or combining the rites. Unfortunately, the result of this kind of pastoral adaptation is to diminish the symbolic power of the rites to do what they are intended to do and diminish the opportunity for assembly participation in the rites.
Parish leaders will sometimes complain that parishioners will not tolerate anything that lengthens the liturgy. And this is, in most cases, simply untrue. Some examples of liturgies that extend beyond the one-hour time limit include Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Easter Vigil, and special anniversary or commemorative liturgies. Masses at which we celebrate the scrutinies and presentations, if planned well, take less time than any other “big event” liturgy. The problem is not so much the time they take. It is more that, even 30 years after the restoration of the catechumenate, these rites still mean very little to most parishioners.
How to get your parishioners involved in the Rites
The solution is not to shrink the rites, thereby rendering them even more meaningless. Rather, we should strive to celebrate these rites to full, drawing on the best of all our liturgical skill – especially Spirit-filled preaching and soul-stirring music – to bring these rites to life.
Parishes that have been successful in doing this have a better chance of not only increasing the participation of the faithful in the scrutinies and presentation but even making these rites a “draw” that parishioners look forward to annually.
It is crucial that we begin to celebrate these rites in a way that causes enthusiastic participation by the assembly. The rites are not magic. The elect won’t be strengthened for their journey of purification and enlightenment simply by having the priest say the words that are in the ritual text. The elect also have to be surrounded by the love and prayers of an engaged assembly. I think if our parishioners realized how crucial their role is to the preparation of the elect for initiation, they would show up for these rites ready to do their part.
Share your ideas
How have you invited your parishioners to fully participate in the Lenten Rites? What effects have you seen on your elect from this level of participation? Please share in the comments box below.