Q: Could you give us examples of how the whole parish acts as the minister to welcome the candidates/catechumens and share the faith with them? What does it look like? How can we help the whole parish understand this mission?
A: When we want to welcome a seeker into our parish family, it looks a lot like welcoming a new person into our actual family. When I was first introduced to my wife’s family, it was a bit of a culture shock. Diana’s parents, aunts, uncles, and some of her cousins are all from the Philippines and moved to Los Angeles when they were young adults. Diana tried to prepare me, but there was really nothing she could “teach” me about being part of a Filipino family if I had never been part of one before.
The first time I came to a family gathering, everyone was hospitable to me, but no one sat me down and told me what it was like to be Filipino. They didn’t tell me the history of the Philippines or how to act around Filipinos. They didn’t try to teach me Tagalog (though they spoke a lot of it) or how to cook adobo. They just kept giving me drinks and food and went on with their party.
After almost 20 years, I feel like I’m starting to get it.
Carry on with the party
Similarly, when we take our seekers to our parish family, we shouldn’t expect parishioners to drop everything and start sharing faith with the newcomer. We shouldn’t expect them to be able to teach the newcomer about the history of the parish or the history of the church. We shouldn’t even expect parishioners to be able to say why they are Catholic. (Imagine if I had asked Diana’s uncle why he was Filipino.)
What we should mostly expect is that parishioners will give the seekers something to drink and eat and carry on with the party. In other words, most of our community welcome is going to happen at Sunday Eucharist. (The analogy limps a bit; newcomers cannot yet literally eat and drink at the Lord’s Table.) Sunday Eucharist is where we are most clearly ourselves. So if we want seekers to know what it is like to be Catholic, we need to be bringing them to Mass.
And then, we bring them to a few other things the parish does. Someone wrote to me recently to say he couldn’t find anything to bring his seekers to in his parish because his parish didn’t have a lot going on that would reflect Catholic teaching.
If you are thinking that way about your parish, remember my story of learning how to be part of a Filipino family. There were no classes for boyfriends on how to be part of the family. I just kept hanging out.
As catechists, part of our job is to make sure the hanging out that newcomers do has a pattern to it. The pattern is given to us in RCIA 75. According to that section, the pattern involves providing encounters with the Risen Christ in four ways that happen in our parishes:
- Encounters with the Logos, the living Word of God
- Encounters with the Spirit-filled community of Jesus Christ
- Encounters with the multiple presences of Christ we experience in worship
- Encounters with Christ in the stranger, especially those on the peripheries
Creating RCIA Encounters
The person who emailed me was having trouble finding ways that his parish did those four things. You might be thinking the same thing. So I looked up one of the bulletins from his parish website. (I chose one from prepandemic.) I could do the same thing with your parish bulletin. So can you. This is what I found.
Encounters with the Logos, the living Word of God
- Lenten book study/discussion
- Subscription offer to the diocesan newspaper
- Catholic Men’s Conference
- Women’s Conference
- Bible study
- Four years of Sunday homilies posted online
- Saint of the Day online
Encounters with the Spirit-filled community of Jesus Christ
- K of C breakfast
- K of C lunch
- Simple soup supper on Ash Wednesday
- K of C scholarship fundraiser
- Knitting group
Encounters with the multiple presences of Christ we experience in worship
- Sunday Mass
- Weekday Mass
- Masses on Ash Wednesday
- Eucharistic adoration
- Choir practice
- Prayer list for the sick
- First communion parent-prep meeting
- Communion to the sick and homebound
- Pre-baptism instructions for parents
- Sacristan ministry
- Divine Mercy chaplet
Encounters with Christ in the stranger, especially those on the peripheries
- Mission trip planning meeting
- Food pantry
- Food drive for Lent
- Fundraiser for Elizabeth’s Hope
- Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl Program for Lent
- Healing ministry
- Elder care ministry
If we are bringing our seekers to Mass regularly and if we are also asking them to hang out with parishioners in the four ways described in RCIA 75, they will learn how to be Catholic disciples. The community will teach them how by being examples of disciples themselves.
And once in a while, particularly during the Sundays of the Easter season as the neophytes are sitting up front in their white baptismal garments, you can say to your parishioners, “Look at what you did! You made new Christians by being exemplary Christians! Keep up the good work!”
What encounters are you facilitating in your parish for your seekers? How are these transformative for your parishioners, too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.