When the current translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was promulgated in 1988, we might not have been as prepared as we need to be. Because we weren’t quite ready, many misinterpretations and misapplications of the rite began to flourish.
The biggest difficulty is that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was never designed to be implemented in our parishes as they existed then. The rite envisions a renewed parish with the full, conscious, and active participation of the baptized priesthood active in the mission of spreading the gospel.
The new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults gives us a second chance to prepare our parishes for its implementation. The new translation is still several years away from being published, and now is the time to start getting ready.
These are some of the changes we will need to embrace.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults leads seekers into relationship with Jesus, not into a school
The most important thing we must do is let go of the “school model” of catechesis, a paradigm that Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, called a “chokehold” on effective catechesis (press conference, June 25, 2020).
In the school model, everyone follows a predetermined one-size-fits-all schedule and curriculum focused on presenting doctrine organized by topics. This methodology is so prevalent that many parish leaders believe it to be prescribed.
However, Pope Francis reminds us: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed.” Over and over, the pope urges us “to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” (Joy of the Gospel, 35).
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a process of conversion for unbaptized persons
The catechumenate is not for parishioners to learn more about the faith, baptized practicing Catholics preparing only for Confirmation, or faithful Christians becoming Catholic. They are all already living the Christian life. They may need more formation—as we all do—but they do not need to learn the basic disciplines of following Christ because they already are.
Most people we put into our parish adult initiation processes don’t belong there. But we put them there because it’s often the only adult faith formation happening in a parish. This results in catechumenate processes focused less on discipleship in Christ and more on information about Catholicism. The latter is important, but it is not the purpose of the catechumenate.
Conversion happens by encountering the entire mystery of Christ unfolding throughout the liturgical year
In life, there is no season for falling in love or deadline for getting married. Falling in love with Christ is similar. The Spirit doesn’t just work from September to May, and you can’t pre-determine God’s timeline.
We need to be ready whenever the Spirit opens a seeker’s heart. When that happens, we can immediately introduce seekers to Christ because the celebrations of the liturgical year are happening every day! And we share with them the entire mystery of Christ throughout the whole liturgical year, not just a part of it. This is why the rite says: “The time spent in the catechumenate should be long enough—several years if necessary—for the conversion and faith of the catechumens to become strong.” However, “the duration of the catechumenate will depend on the grace of God….Nothing, therefore, can be settled a priori” (RCIA 76).
Initiation is a ritual process
That may seem obvious, but often our practice and policies treat it more like a catechetical program with occasional prayers. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is first and foremost an official rite of the church. Therefore, it is not optional or simply one method of adult initiation among many.
Moreover, when the church prays, Christ is present, teaching us to become like him. The rites, as Pope Benedict XVI said about the liturgy, are “the permanent catechesis of the Church, the inexhaustible source of catechesis” (62nd Italian Liturgical Week, 2011) and, as the Catechism states, “the privileged place for catechizing the People of God” (1074).
Initiation is the responsibility of all the baptized
There is no mention in the rite of an “RCIA team” or “RCIA group.” This is because the process of conversion happens in the midst of the community of the faithful (see RCIA 4 and 9). Instead of having catechumens meet only with a catechist once a week, our “RCIA teams” can coach all our parishioners to be mentors and examples for the catechumens any time they are with them.
This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Parishes, by definition, are spiritual communities that manifest Christ in everything they do. So we can intentionally embed seekers into the parish community (and not merely into a separate “RCIA community”) where they will regularly encounter Christ and learn to live as disciples through the life of the parish.
Becoming a disciple is not an acronym
We have a decades-long history of referring to the adult initiation process by the initials “RCIA.” This is unfortunate because it’s insider vocabulary. And it’s too easy to think of those initials as an academic program to complete or an exclusive club to join instead of a relationship with Jesus Christ that changes everything. When the new English translation is approved by Rome (which has not yet happened), the title will be the “Order of Christian Initiation of Adults.” Now is the perfect opportunity to use language that is more descriptive of what the Spirit desires for all of us and more inviting to those who seek the living God.
We may not have been ready for the full implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in 1988. Let’s make sure we’re ready by the time the new translation is published in a few years.
What has your parish already done to get ready for the new translation? What are you planning to do in the coming year? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
(This article is adapted from an article that appeared in the National Catholic Reporter.)
See also these related articles:
- What is a rite and why does it matter for catechumenate teams?
- Are we geeky enough about the catechumenate?
- One Latin phrase that was not translated in the initiation rites
- FAQ: Everything you need to know about the new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
- How do priests learn about the principles of the catechumenate?