A few weekends ago, I was asked to lead an RCIA training day for initiation ministers in the Archdiocese of Seattle. It was entitled "Rebuild Your RCIA." Kudos to the leadership in Seattle for this title.
I have been experiencing a sense of growing frustration with the way the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has evolved here in North America. The Church's vision for the catechumenate was clearly articulated in the inspiring words of paragraph 14 of Ad Gentes, the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity:
14. Those who, through the Church, have accepted from God a belief in Christ are admitted to the catechumenate by liturgical rites. The catechumenate is not a mere expounding of doctrines and precepts, but a training period in the whole Christian life, and an apprenticeship duty drawn out, during which disciples are joined to Christ their Teacher. Therefore, catechumens should be properly instructed in the mystery of salvation and in the practice of Gospel morality, and by sacred rites which are to be held at successive intervals, they should be introduced into the life of faith, of liturgy, and of love, which is led by the People of God.
This paragraph envisions a parish catechumenate that is like a "dynamic novitiate," as a participant at one of my workshops said a few years ago. He was a Christian brother who, he said, "finally saw the light," embracing the vision of the council and rejecting what he had inherited in his pastoral practice, namely an RCIA program that was little more than an "expounding of doctrines and precepts" in a classroom setting.
Yesterday, as I do about every six months, I did an internet search, using the words "RCIA Program." Here are a few of the descriptions of the RCIA I found on various Catholic parish web sites across North America:
Are you interested in learning more about Catholicism? Do you have friends or acquaintances who are questioning what Catholicism is all about? Do you have Catholic family members or friends who have fallen away from the Faith? Invite them to investigate the truth about Catholicism by joining the RCIA group here at St. ------’s. Our group meets once a week for the length of the school year, beginning in September. Practicing Catholics are encouraged to join as well – you are guaranteed to learn things about the Church you never knew! We have room for all ages groups, elementary school through older adult.
The RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program is the process through which interested adults are gradually introduced to the Roman Catholic Church. Do you know anyone who wants to learn about the Catholic Faith? Or has it been so long since you have been trained in the Catholic Tradition that you would like a refresher course? Then please join us!
We teach two ways:
By Topic – for example, Creed, Trinity, saints, Mary, moral law
By Sunday Liturgy of the Word – for example, we explain the Sunday Readings for the following Sunday in preparation for their attendance.
Our instructors are priests, deacons, religious, lay people with advanced degrees, and very experienced team members.
We meet only on Thursdays from the first week of September to three weeks after Easter.
The program is open to anyone – Catholics who want an update on Catholicism are welcomed.
update on Catholicism
series of classes
It would seem to me that in many Catholic parishes, the "RCIA" has morphed into something never intended by the Church. "RCIA Classes" is a term that is used to cover a multitude of educational opportunities, focused on teaching the dogmas and precepts of the Church. Now don't get me wrong. I am not anti-doctrine. I just think that these RCIA "programs" have simply missed the whole point. The unbaptized and baptized/uncatechized need doctrinal formation, no doubt. But when these classes become what the RCIA actually is in a parish, then I would argue that the parish simply is not doing the RCIA at all. You can definitely see this in those parishes that invite fully initiated Catholics to the "classes" so that they may update their faith through this "refresher course." How, pray tell, does this approach capture the originating vision, that the catechumenate is "a training period in the whole Christian life, and an apprenticeship duty drawn out, during which disciples are joined to Christ their Teacher."
There is a part of me that can slip into hopelessness with all of this.
Then I discover other parishes that describe their RCIA like this:
RCIA is a process, conducted in the context of learning about the Catholic faith and the spiritual life, through which a person is fully incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church. People involved in the RCIA process are either catechumens (those who have never been baptized) or candidates (those who are baptized in a different faith tradition or baptized Catholics who have not received the Eucharist or been confirmed). It is a journey to see how gospel values and the truths of the faith may be lived out. Candidates and catechumens are mentored throughout the process by a team of catechists and sponsors.
Or like this:
Becoming Catholic - The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA)
Welcome to our Faith community!
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the entry point for many into our faith community and goes back to the very beginning of the Church. In the first several centuries A.D., new believers entered into a type of apprenticeship for the length of at least a year. It is our hope that, much like those early apprentices, the RCIA process will let us grow as a community and be transformed by the person of Jesus Christ. Welcome to our Faith community!
Our lives are a journey to God until the day when we all join together in our eternal home and worship the Lord face-to-face. You are among friends. As we build community through our RCIA sessions, it becomes clear that we all have times of doubt, fear, and frustration. During RCIA, we come together to look at our lives in light of the Gospel so that we can embrace a fuller discipleship of our Lord, Jesus Christ. There are many reasons that people decide that they are interested in becoming a Catholic. It makes no difference if you have been raised in another denomination, have no church affiliation or experience or even if you were never baptized. You may have started out Catholic but never completed your initiation with the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation. RCIA is the process by which we welcome and prepare adults to enter the Catholic faith.
So, I live in hope of a slow and steady transformation from RCIA as classroom to RCIA as dynamic novitiate, a true apprenticeship.
Thanks for listening to my frustrations and hopes today!
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.