Years ago, an RCIA team I was on encountered a woman who did not know that Jesus was the Son of God. And she had no understanding at all of the Holy Spirit. Not all that unusual, is it?
That same year, however, a Methodist man asked us about becoming Catholic. He was a good and faithful Christian. He knew Scripture better than many of us Catholics, he could speak intelligently about the Trinity, he knew the cycle of the liturgical year, and he had been participating in Sunday Mass for the last 15 years—ever since he’d married his Catholic wife.
These two seekers both found themselves in a catechetical process that I and another catechist were leading that year. And we had a half-dozen other folks who fell somewhere between the “uncatechized” and “catechized” seekers. The challenge we faced was how to shape a catechetical process that would accommodate the needs of people who were at very different places on their faith journey.
What does the church expect of RCIA catechists?
The first question my fellow catechist and I asked ourselves was, what does the church expect? In an ideal world, what kind of catechesis would we be providing for these folks? A couple of years after we were asking that question, the Vatican published a document that would have been helpful in answering our question—the General Directory for Catechesis.
The General Directory for Catechesis offers a very helpful insight about the different levels of catechesis required for the initiation process. There are three. But, the directory itself says we cannot treat these three levels as “watertight” compartments. There is a blending among them, and no individual ever fits neatly and completely into a given level. Still, it is helpful to RCIA teams to understand the three levels of catechesis. We’ll look at the first two in this post.
Level 1: Primary proclamation
The directory says:
Primary proclamation is addressed to non-believers and those living in religious indifference. Its functions are to proclaim the Gospel and to call to conversion. (61)
While not putting her into a watertight box, we might say that the woman who did not know that Jesus was the Son of God needed primary proclamation. She wanted to be a believer; she just wasn’t clear about what she was believing in. Someone had already proclaimed the gospel to her, at least enough to get her to show up at our parish. But she still needed a little more evangelization to move her fully to the next level of catechesis.
Level 2: Initiatory catechesis
Regarding the second level, initiatory catechesis, the directory says:
The link uniting catechesis and Baptism is true profession of faith, which is at once an element inherent in this sacrament and the goal of catechesis. The aim of catechetical activity consists in precisely this: to encourage a living, explicit and fruitful profession of faith. (66)
The goal for our RCIA team had to be to provide our uncatechized seeker with a very basic understanding what it means to profess faith in the Risen Christ. We did not need to bring her to the level of our Methodist seeker in order for her to be initiated. We simply needed to provide for her a full understanding of what it meant to both believe in and live the gospel. One we were sure she knew what she would be saying yes to, we would be able to initiate her into the faith.
Initiatory catechesis is addressed to:
- those who have been converted to Jesus
- those who require a basic apprenticeship in living a Christian lifestyle
- those who have not yet grasped “the most fundamental certainties of the faith" (GDC 67)
So once the seeker has mastered the basics, what next? We’ll look at that in another post. In the meantime, please share your thoughts. Is your RCIA team accounting for the different levels of catechesis? What accommodations do you make among seekers who are at different levels? Please take two minutes to share your insights because it will help the rest of us become better catechists.