The journey toward becoming an RCIA catechist

For a few weeks now, we have been exploring the ministry of catechist and specifically what the Directory for Catechesis calls for in the formation of catechists. If you have read the entire series—and especially if you read the sections of the Directory upon which I based the articles in the series—you may wonder who could ever be qualified to be a catechist. 

And I think the daunting feeling we get is a good thing. If we ever feel like we have mastered the ministry of catechist, we probably don’t have a true calling to the ministry. The best catechists are probably those who are always striving to “become” a catechist, never quite certain they have arrived. 

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The RCIA gives us clues for catechist formation

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the series, all of this extensive training is ground-level for any kind of catechetical ministry. For those who feel called to serve in catechumenate ministry, another level of formation is required.

There is no formal document of the church, like the Directory for Catechesis, that outlines the formation of catechumenate catechists. But we do have a document that shows us what is expected of those in initiation ministry. We have the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Knowing that we can find clues to our formation in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a good news / bad news sort of a thing. The good news is that many of us are already familiar with many of the outcomes the RCIA expects, and therefore we have a starting place to prepare ourselves and other RCIA team members for this ministry. 

The bad news is that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults can seem even more complex than the Directory for Catechesis. While many of us are familiar with the RCIA text, it can seem overwhelming to try and unpack all the nuances of formation that have to happen for RCIA team members.

How to make the RCIA approachable for catechists

At TeamRCIA, we think a lot about how to “un-whelm” the formation of RCIA ministers. The best thing any of us can do when faced with a big, complex task is to break it down into smaller pieces. For example, your team could spend an evening just discussing paragraphs 4 and 5 in the RCIA. These contain the six core principles of the initiation process.

You could ask:

  • Why are these principles important?
  • What does the church intend for each of these principles?
  • How would we implement these principles in our parish?
  • What would happen to our ministry and our community if we took these principles seriously? 

Or you could spend an evening discussing the ministry of sponsor. Ask yourselves the same four questions:

  • Why is this ministry important?
  • What is the ministry of sponsor?
  • How could we fully implement this ministry in our parish?
  • What would happen to our catechumens and candidates if we had the kinds of sponsors the church envisions for them?

That is the kind of process I used to learn everything I know about initiation ministry. I took one small part at a time and really looked at it deeply, trying to understand everything I could about that aspect of the ministry. And I’m still doing it. I don’t think I’ve arrived yet. I’m still “becoming” a catechumenate catechist. 

But my path has been disjointed and chaotic at times. It worked. I have a pretty good sense of the nuances of this ministry. But I wish there had been a clearer, more systematic formation process for learning how to be a catechumenate catechist.

What does a systematic training process for RCIA catechists look like?

Diana and I were discussing this a few months ago, and her story is similar. She learned through trial and error, studying small bits of the ministry at a time as different needs arose. As we talked, we began to write down each of those “bits” of learning and training on sticky notes. 

And then we started moving the sticky notes around into the kind of order we wished we’d have known was there when we started out. When we stood back and looked at it, we had a systematic training process for catechumenate catechists outlined in multi-colored squares sticking to our wall. 

What we imagined onto that wall was a training journey consisting of about forty steps. Each of the forty steps is a small, bite-size piece of training. We believe that if a catechumenate minister masters each of those tiny bits, one step at a time, he or she will be well on the way to becoming a true catechumenate catechist. 

The forty steps are divided among four cornerstones of training:

  1. Build a firm foundation
  2. Become a master evangelist
  3. Teach as Jesus taught
  4. Worship in Spirit and Truth

If you want to get started on the entire forty-step journey, click here.

Not all of us are called to serve in catechumenate ministry at the level of a true catechist. There are many gifts, and some of us dip into and out of initiation ministry at those moments when our gifts are most needed. 

For a few of us however, we have been called to serve as catechists—those with a deep understanding of this ministry and gifts especially suited for accompanying seekers along the way of faith. If that describes you, then you might want to consider developing those gifts to the fullest extent possible.

We’ll be developing this training process more in the future. Keep an eye out for upcoming newsletters for progress reports. 

Your turn

What do you think the catechumenate catechist training process should look like? What would you include? What would you warn against? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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