It never fails… whenever I talk with fellow RCIA catechists about our year-round process, I inevitably get the question, “Does that mean you run your sessions all year round?” My answer is always a definitive “no!” Running a year-round process does not mean you have to run catechetical session all year round.
Instead, it’s understanding that the RCIA process doesn’t revolve around a calendar or a schedule, it revolves around the people in the process. It comes from an understanding that the RCIA doesn’t happen only in the room where you host your catechetical sessions, it happens in the pews every week at Mass… it happens at various parish event and gatherings… it happens whenever our catechumens and candidates take part in the full and active life of our parish communities.
My experience has been that the biggest obstacle to having your RCIA open all year round isn’t so much with our communities or our pastors… it’s with ourselves. Change is difficult… but in this case, it’s not just a change in process, it’s a change in perspective. It’s understanding that the RCIA isn’t a group process ruled by a calendar of events, but rather, individuals who sometimes get together to share their faith experiences while they pursue their individual goals of Initiation (which will vary depending on their needs). And while that journey may involve some regular catechetical instruction, those sessions should form only a piece of the overall process.
What are we called to do, and how does it benefit a year-round RCIA?
The first step to having your RCIA open year round is remembering that we are called to attend Mass year-round… every Sunday, every week. But just because we’re called to attend Mass every week doesn’t mean we have to have catechetical sessions every week. Further, just because catechumens are dismissed from Mass after the Liturgy of the Word every week doesn’t mean we have to have to schedule dismissal sessions every week. The important take-away experience for your catechumens and candidates isn’t the catechetical session, it’s the celebration of the Mass itself (preferably with their sponsors) and their regular interaction with the parish community.
Now I understand that for your typical catechumen or candidates, you might feel that just having them attend Mass isn’t going to be enough. It’s a fair point and one with which I would agree. They should be provided with some guidance on unpacking their experiences. They should be provided with some necessary supplemental information on church teaching and traditions in order to better understand what they’ve experienced and why. But ask yourself… does that need to happen every week, all year round? The simple answer is “no.”
The real answer is figuring out what works best for your parish community. If your parish is like mine (a mostly family parish with a school and a university close by), we tend to follow a fairly academic calendar for our catechetical sessions… holding them on a weekly basis while school is in session and taking time off when school is out. It works well both for those who have kids in school or for those who are college students themselves. But your parish might be different. You might want to schedule catechetical sessions for every other week, or once a month. I’ve seen some parishes that break catechetical sessions into “modules” that run for 6 to 10 weeks at a time. The best method is what works best for your parish.
You don’t have to go it alone to have a year-round RCIA
Another mistake we make is thinking that we need to do everything ourselves. I remember years ago sitting with other team members as we brainstormed all sorts of activities: Prayer groups, retreats, setting up outreach and social justice projects, special sessions in scripture study to better break open the Word. All good things, but we never had enough resources among the team to do everything we wanted. But what we failed to realize back then was that we didn’t have to do all this ourselves… nor did we need to recruit other parishioners to help us do this. Just about every parish I’ve encountered has activities like these going on all the time. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There’s no need to stretch already stretched resources. Instead, we should be actively engaging with those who are already doing these activities in the parish and invite our catechumens and candidates to participate in those activities. It saves the RCIA team from having to do the work, and these other groups gain active and eager people to help grow their ministry. It’s the model of a win-win scenario.
The key point here is recognizing that their formation in the faith doesn’t all happen in your catechetical sessions. In fact, the bulk of their formation should be coming from their regular involvement in the life of the parish community. And if you need some proof of that I challenge you to look back at all your former catechumens and candidates. Chances are you will find what I have… that those who have been most successful were those who had the greatest involvement in the other aspects of parish life. Remember, becoming Catholic isn’t just agreeing to a series of theological ideals and precepts, it’s becoming part of a community of believers. Becoming part of the living Body of Christ.
What benefits have you seen when regular Mass attendance becomes an expected part of your year-round RCIA? How are you helping others use their gifts to benefit a year-round RCIA? Share your thoughts in the comments below.