Thursday, October 24, 2013

RCIA Questions from a Priest-in-Training

A little breather from the extraordinary form conversation today.

Today I received an e-mail from a deacon, who is in the final stages of perparation for the priesthood. He had attended a session I gave last year to the clergy of his diocese, in which I talked about the RCIA and the model of apprenticeship formation espoused by the Church at the Second Vatican Council. Coincidentally, I am traveling to San Antonio, Texas tomorrowm his home diocese I found his questions to be right on target. So, today, I would like to share his questions and my responses with you. 

I am writing a paper on RCIA models and I want learn from him:

  • Apprenticeship model seems to be a better model to form Catechumens into disciples leadership of Jesus Christ but if it is a better model, why is it not being implemented in parishes within US?

This is a central question about initiation practice and there is no easy answer. From the RCIA’s very beginnings it seems that pastors believed that, instead of doing “instruction classes” themselves, they were being asked to invite others (deacons, catechists, and lay leaders) to learn about the RCIA and do the work that these “instruction classes” had done for years. Unfortunately, the apprenticeship model, espoused by the Second Vatican Council (Ad Gentes 14), was largely ignored or perhaps undiscovered. So, what has ended up happening in the vast majority of parishes throughout the United States and Canada is that the RCIA is nothing more than a series of classes on Catholic doctrinal elements, punctuated with the rites. Instead of placing the needed instruction squarely within a “learning by doing” model of formation, most parishes simply focus on handing on the doctrine, without paying attention to the other three elements of Christian formation outlined in paragraph 757 of the RCIA: formation in liturgical prayer, community, and apostolic service in an apprenticeship model.

I have heard from many RCIA ministers, who want to move their initiation processes more closely in line with the Church’s vision in Ad Gentes (and in the General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis). Unfortunately in many cases it is their pastors who pressure them to stick with the “class model,” concerned that catechumens and candidates are not getting the “meat” of the doctrine.

  • If the model seems to be ideal, how can we implement it in our parishes to form good, active and fruitful Christians?

I do not think that we need to jettison all that we are currently doing in the RCIA; we are handing on the sacred word of God and the tradition quite well. But that approach must be expanded if we are to embrace and implement a model that more closely resembles what Ad Gentes and subsequent catechetical directories have directed. I urge those in RCIA ministry to begin to add some elements of the apprenticeship model to their current practice. For instance:
- teaming up the catechumens and candidates with those who are bringing communion to the homebound
- having them team up with ushers and greeters and greet and welcome people at Sunday Mass
- having the candidates and catechumens attend prayer services (liturgy of the hours, Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, etc.,) when these events are scheduled in the parish
- assisting with the various social service projects undertaken by the parish

The list goes on.

Catechumens and candidates, while learning the doctrine, need a place to put what they are learning into action. For many, this means in their own marriages and families, at school, at their places of business, in their social circles. But the parish needs to give them places where they can practice their ever-forming Catholic faith in practical situations, which is why adding “learning-by-doing” segments in the catechumenate is so important.

  • And how can we make the community prepared to practice this model?

It doesn’t take much to move into a new model. The community must be constantly made aware that this kind of apprenticeship is occurring in the parish. Various parish groups and organizations should be invited to connect with the catechumens and candidates on a regular basis. Perhaps they should know that there are “Catholics in training” in their midst and that it is part of their responsibility to help and assist in this training.


NB: I request his insights and some reliable resources that can help me break through these questions.


The General Director for Catechesis (67) characterizes initiatory catechesis with these points:
         A comprehensive and systematic formation in the faith
         An apprenticeship in the entire Christian life
         A basic formation centered on what constitutes the nucleus of Christian experience

 In its introduction, the directory names the current problem as this:
“It is necessary, however, to examine with particular attention some problems so as to identify their solutions:
- the first concerns the conception of catechesis as a school of faith, an initiation and apprenticeship in the entire Christian life of which catechists do not yet have a full understanding” (GDC 30).

 Our own bishops, in #29H of the National Directory for Catechesis got it right when they said:
“Learning by apprenticeship is also an important human element in catechetical methodology. It links an experienced Christian believer, or mentor, with one who seeks a deeper relationship with Christ and the Church. The relationship that normally grows between a catechist and a catechumen provides a workable model of learning by apprenticeship.”

 And, of course, Allan, Ad Gentes 14 is the “magna carta” in this respect:
“The catechumenate is not a mere exposition of dogmatic truths and norms of morality, but a period of formation in the whole Christian life, an apprenticeship of sufficient duration, during which the disciples will be joined to Christ their teacher. The catechumens should be properly initiated into the mystery of salvation and the practice of the evangelical virtues, and they should be introduced into the life of faith, liturgy and charity of the People of God by successive sacred rites.”

Terrific questions from one of our future priests!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Adam Wood said...

I think there's a parallel here to yesterday's EF conversation.

Question: If X is best, why does Y keep happening?

Answer: Because X is hard.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Amen, Adam! Welcome to my many worlds!