Is the pandemic making RCIA too convenient?

There are two dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first is the danger of serious physical illness. And the second is the danger of convenience. We will eventually overcome the physical danger. But the danger of convenience may linger.

Many pastoral leaders are already worried about what will happen to their Sunday gatherings when the physical danger has passed. All of us reading this post are anxious to return to normal. But how many more of our parishioners have grown comfortable with the convenience of streamed liturgy that can be watched on our schedule without having to leave the house?

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How much of the RCIA can be streamed?

Other conveniences have begun to tempt even us diehards who wouldn’t think of substituting online liturgy for the real thing if we weren’t forced to. How many of us have begun to wonder if all these extra rites for the catechumens are really necessary? For example, at TeamRCIA we’ve fielded questions about streaming the rites of acceptance, election, and scrutinies not just for the wider parish but for the subjects of the rites—the catechumens. 

Some of these concerns are health related, but there is often a strong undertone of convenience. Even before the pandemic, we would hear questions about what rites or what parts of the rites could be dispensed with to make life more convenient for the seekers.

I get it. I’m am a fan of convenience. I have an Instant Pot, a TV remote, an iPhone, and Alexa. Amazon and Safeway deliver to my doorstep at least a couple times a week.

But when we are talking about faith formation and the formative power of ritual, convenience is a danger. It is a danger to faith because faith is inconvenient. Pope Francis teaches us about inconvenient faith his letter, Fraternity and Social Friendship. Using the parable of the Good Samaritan, the pope says there are only two kinds of people: “those who care for someone who is hurting and those who pass by; those who bend down to help and those who look the other way and hurry off” (70).

In the parable, among those who passed by were the “religious, devoted to the worship of God: a priest and a Levite.” 

This detail should not be overlooked. It shows that belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God. A believer may be untrue to everything that his faith demands of him, and yet think he is close to God and better than others. (74)

Worship makes us who we are

We do not need liturgy in order to live “in a way pleasing to God.” Indeed, the pope says that sometimes unbelievers can do the will of God better than some of us believers. But our worship together, as members of the Body of Christ, shapes our identity. Pope Francis says the worship of God is what makes us who we are.

We believers are challenged to return to our sources, in order to concentrate on what is essential: worship of God and love for our neighbor, lest some of our teachings, taken out of context, end up feeding forms of contempt, hatred, xenophobia or negation of others. The truth is that violence has no basis in our fundamental religious convictions, but only in their distortion.

Sincere and humble worship of God “bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all” [Homily, January 14, 2015]. (282-283)

When we are accompanying seekers on the journey of faith, we don’t want to make life intentionally difficult for them. On the other hand, they have to discover that faith requires sacrifice. Full, robust ritual will help seekers change from being among those who pass by and into those who bend down and help up. 

As RCIA leaders, our job is not to offer convenience but to foster conversion.

Your Turn

What does your transition plan look like to get back together in person for worship and the RCIA? What steps can you take now to get ready when it is safe to do so? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Jerry Paré says

    The other convenience we need to resist is remote (i.e. Zoom) catechumenate meetings. This will be tempting as well. Zoom may seem the answer to “meeting” with some inquirers, catechumens and candidates who would otherwise not be able to participate in sessions. But so much of the catechumenate process is about the growth of trust and support among those traveling together. It will be better to continue to find other creative ways to accommodate those who are not able to meet during regular meeting days and times. Gatherings of the candidate, the sponsor and a catechist are one way. “Where two or three gather in my name,…”

  2. GingerHerrington says

    I offer RCIA for children every Saturday via Skype, but we meet in person for Mass and Class the First Saturday of every month, as well as meeting for the Rite of Election and the Rite of Scrutiny. We’ll meet again for Initiation rehearsal and for the Initiation itself. Our bishop has stated that the children in RCIA will not come in at the Easter Vigil; instead, we are bringing them into the Church on Easter Sunday. For the adults, I offer RCIA Thursday evenings via Skype and Sundays live on campus and via Skype. Participants choose one of those options; they do not have to come both Thursday and Sunday. We meet in person for their readiness assessment, for the Rite of Election, the Rite of Scrutiny, the retreat before Initiation, the Initiation rehearsal, and the Easter Vigil. Depending upon the COVID situation in Texas, we may meet in person for the Mystagogy lessons.

  3. Debra Vasquez says

    We started with Zoom and met physically on-site once a month. We still had an in-person, social distanced retreat for a day. One advantage of the Zoom was a teacher who joined the Zoom as an inquirer because she had family and it was very convenient. She then made a decision to become a catechumen and is awaiting the Easter vigil sacraments. She admits she would not have attempted this if she’d had to meet on-site weekly.

    We only have 4 Elect and we are doing the Rite of Dismissal, which had not been done the last 2 years, pre-Pandemic. This has made a difference.

    Zoom has its place, especially during inclement weather. It also has been great for weekly team meetings, which would have been a challenge if we’d had to meet physically on-site.

  4. Karen M Stockton says

    I am meeting in person, with pandemic protocols, with 3 seekers, one individually, and later, two sisters, one day a week. The individual started last Fall, and is baptized, but totally uncatechized. The sisters, started in January and are totally uncatechized. While these individual meetings are working for them, I see the lack of community connection that can develop if we continue much longer in this mode. RCIA becomes the old classroom model again, without identifying as a member of a community, and the community getting involved in the seeker’s journey. I have seen much written about the long-term effects of “working from home” and how work may look post-pandemic, even some talk of schools and the influence of online classes in lower education. I wonder how the convenience of all this is going to affect us post-pandemic. I have been working to implement the total parish model of RCIA, which abruptly ended with the virus. I hope to get it going again with the help of the Spirit!

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