If you are feeling overwhelmed—or even just “whelmed”—with your responsibilities on the RCIA team, you may not be asking enough of the RCIA sponsors. The sponsors have a significant, three-part role to play in the formation of the catechumens. Among their responsibilities is to assist the catechumens on their faith journey.
The RCIA is silent on how exactly sponsors are supposed to offer that assistance. However, we find the formation process for the catechumenate outlined in paragraph 75 of the rite. The first undertaking of the four-part process is to provide a “suitable catechesis.” There are four qualities that make the catechesis suitable. It must be:
- accommodated to the liturgical year
- supported by celebrations of the word
The RCIA sponsors can play a significant role in this. They don’t have to be catechists in order to take some of the burden off of the catechist. If we ask the sponsors to be responsible for getting their catechumens to Mass every Sunday and spend some time reflecting with their catechumens on how they both experienced the presence of Christ in the liturgy, the sponsors will have significantly contributed to providing a suitable catechesis for the catechumens.
Change the “guest lecture” RCIA model
Let’s just imagine for a moment that you do not have enough catechists to adequately fulfill the mandate for a “suitable catechesis.” That happens in a lot of parishes. There are not enough volunteers, or not enough training, or not enough time. The result is that we do the best we can. We schedule as many catechetical sessions as we can. We ask a priest or a deacon or a former teacher to come in as a guest lecturer. These guests show up once or twice in the course of the catechumenate, but otherwise have no real relationship with the catechumens. The sponsors, if they’re available, sit in on these sessions. RCIA team leaders sometimes report the sponsors “learn as much as the catechumens” from these classes.
Let’s look at what might happen if we change that model. Instead of thinking of catechesis as a series of classes with a set curriculum that has to be covered, think of catechesis as an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. How does that encounter happen? Where does it happen? How can a relationship with Christ be fostered and deepened?
Obviously, the liturgy is the primary place of encounter. It happens through the ritual proclamation of the word in the midst of the assembly of God’s people. We can foster and deepen that relationship by preparing for the encounter, having the encounter, and reflecting on the encounter.
A three-part plan for fostering a suitable encounter with Christ
So here is a simple plan for relying less on guest lectures and more on your sponsor to provide a suitable catechesis—that is, a suitable encounter with the person of Christ.
- Ask the RCIA sponsors to prayerfully reflect on the Sunday readings before coming to Mass. Ask them to teach the catechumens how to do the same. And ask the sponsors to follow up to make sure the catechumens are actually doing the preparation.
- Make the sponsors responsible for the presence of their catechumens at Mass each week. If a catechumen has to be out of town, it should be the sponsor’s responsibility to help the catechumen locate a parish to attend that weekend. Or if there is a scheduling conflict, the sponsor will be sure the catechumen gets to one of the other Masses in your parish or a neighboring parish.
- Teach the RCIA sponsor how to ask three mystagogical questions about the readings:
- What did you see in the readings?
- What did you hear in the readings?
- What do these readings mean for your life?
The sponsors should also be able to answer those questions from their own encounter with Christ for the catechumens. They should reflect together on the readings each week.
If your RCIA sponsors are committed to providing this level of support (for the celebrations of the word) every Sunday (gradual) for one full liturgical year (complete; accommodated to the liturgical year), you can schedule fewer, but more meaningful formal catechetical sessions throughout the year.
That’s a lot less work for you and a lot more suitable catechesis for the catechumens.
What do you think?
How do you incorporate you RCIA sponsors into the catechetical formation of the catechumens? How do you delegate responsibility to them?
4 thoughts on “A simple plan for involving RCIA sponsors in providing a suitable catechesis”
Nick-This is brilliant. I’ve often told RCIA sponsors that they do not need to attend the sessions because my experience has been that the sponsors talk more than the candidates/catechumens and make them feel as if they shouldn’t participate in the conversation. I’ve struggled with where the sponsors fit into the RCIA model. The Pastor wants to dismiss the sponsors at Mass with the candidates, because he thinks the sponsors need to learn more. Your suggestion is an ideal way to involve them in a deeper way, doing what they are supposed to do- walk with the candidate/catechumen. Thank you! I’m going to implement this immediately!!!!
Thanks Michelle! Let us know how it goes.
Nick, I have been involved with RCIA for a number of years. I have used my sponsors as well as team members to Break open the Word at each of our sessions. They do a great job.
Great to hear Clara! Thanks for your commitment and dedication to this ministry.