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?
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.
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.
See also these related articles:
- Is the pandemic making RCIA too convenient?
- The pandemic and three unspoken RCIA assumptions
- Q&A: How do RCIA teams plan for the signing of the senses in the Rite of Acceptance during the pandemic?
- 50 ideas for RCIA teams during the pandemic
- How the RCIA will renew our parishes after the pandemic