If you’ve been following this series, you know that we recommend throwing out your syllabus and using the liturgical seasons of the Church as your guide to catechesis. So… what might that actually look like? Here are some practical ideas:
Don’t plan your schedule in a bubble
A big part of becoming Catholic is becoming part of a community, so we need to give due consideration to what’s going on in our community so we can work within that community. To borrow from Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World from the Second Vatican Council,
“We must now consider this same Church inasmuch as she exists in the world, living and acting with it.” In other words, we as RCIA teams need to recognize that we exist in the context of our world, including our parish community.
Now when we plan our schedule, I make sure to have the following items in front of us:
- The liturgical calendar
- The Sunday lectionary
- The parish calendar
- The diocesan calendar with holy days of obligation, special feast days, and other important events (like the Rite of Election).
- The school calendar (if your parish has a school)
- The religious education calendar
- Other community calendars (like local colleges and universities) that may impact your group
Plan your schedule for the full calendar year
As we have discussed, the RCIA process cannot be fully implemented on a September to May calendar. Instead, plan at least a full calendar year in advance. From Advent to Advent, or Pentecost to Pentecost. Typically I will go even further than that. Our parish starts it’s planning for the next year around Pentecost, and we extend that calendar all the way to December of the next year (at the roll-over of the new liturgical year after Advent). That way when we begin our scheduling for the next cycle, we’ve already got a good head start.
Try to match your session topics with the season and the readings
A session on baptism works very well when we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. A session on the sacrament of reconciliation or prayer works well just about any time during Lent or Advent. There are any number of resources that can be used to help you find the themes for the seasons and in the readings for every week. When your session topics align with the liturgical season and the Sunday readings, your catechumens and candidates can begin to see how these smaller moments flow into the larger rhythm of parish life and of the church.
Incorporate the Sunday liturgy into your process — looking back
If your parish does regular weekly dismissals on Sunday, then you’re already probably doing some form of this, But if your parish isn’t following the dismissal model, and if you have candidates (who are not supposed to be dismissed with the catechumens), I recommend making time for reflecting on the Sunday liturgy during your regular catechetical sessions. This mystagogical approach allows catechumens and candidates to consider what they heard or experienced that Sunday. At my parish we typically open our sessions with a chance to reflect on their experiences… what they heard, what they felt, how they could see Christ working in their lives, or what questions may have come up. If your sessions are later in the week, it might be helpful to reflect back on the readings from that Sunday as a refresher. Not only can this help you bridge to your topic for the session, but can also help you bridge to the Sunday Liturgy coming up, which takes me to…
Incorporate the Sunday liturgy into your process — looking forward
Just as looking back at the previous Sunday’s liturgy helps the catechumens and candidates to see Christ working in their lives, preparing them for the coming Sunday also provides valuable context for them when they attend Mass for the coming Sunday. In our parish, after we’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on the previous Sunday’s liturgy, we take some time to prepare for the coming Sunday’s liturgy. We have the catechumens and candidates volunteer to proclaim the readings, and after each reading we reflect on what we all heard. Here also our facilitators take the opportunity to bring some context to the readings… not just to help them understand the passages, but how they fit into the overall season (including how they tie back to what they experienced the previous week). I have found that by taking some time to prepare they can enter the liturgy more comfortably and eagerly because they’re already familiar with the readings. The benefit I’ve seen is that it draws them deeper into the Word, the homily, and the entire liturgy.
Changing the pace
By letting the seasons guide our formation we need to understand that the overall pace of the process is going to change. We’re moving from “teaching” model where we’re trying to cram everything into a fixed timetable to a more relaxed pace where the seasons of the church provide the guide for our catechetical formation. Instead of preparing “lessons,” we’re sharing stories. The focus for our catechumens is not so much what they need to prepare for the next week’s lesson, but what they can expect and experience from the rhythm of the seasons and the narrative that unfolds in the Sunday readings. This slower, liturgical pace allows our catechumens and candidates to enter more fully into the life of the church (and the rest of the parish), and through that Christ will reveal himself to them in due course.
More practical tips to come…
I didn’t think I would need to extend this topic to a third part, but I have several more ideas to share when it comes to planning your schedules and sessions around the seasons, so look out for that next month.
In the meantime, what tips might you have? What has or hasn’t worked for you in moving to a more liturgically based catechetical process? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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