If you want to effectively prepare inquirers for the Rite of Acceptance, you might need to rethink your precatechumenate process.
In a previous post, we talked about why it is important to prepare the inquirers for the Rite of Acceptance. We can think of preparation in two ways. One way to prepare them is through rehearsal. We show them where to stand, what to say, what to do—much like a director of a play.
Deep preparation is required
However, there is a deeper, more important understanding of preparation that we sometimes overlook. If you turn to the “Outline for Christian Initiation of Adults” (just before paragraph 36 of the RCIA), we see there that at the “Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens,” the inquirers “declare their intention to respond to God’s call to follow the way of Christ.”
For them to be able to do that, we have to prepare them to authentically declare that intention.
If we take this goal seriously, it will radically change the way many of us organize the precatechumenate. Someone told me recently the precatechumenate in their parish is one session. Someone else told me they purchased an eight-session precatechumenate program from a publisher. If you Google “precatechumenate,” you can find precatechumenate “lesson plans.”
All of these are misunderstandings of the purpose the period before the Rite of Acceptance. Look again at the “Outline for Christian Initiation of Adults.” It says there that the precatechumenate “is a time of no fixed duration or structure.” RCIA 36 says the precatechumenate “is a time for evangelization.”
We must first evangelize
Here is the bottom line. To effectively prepare the inquirers for the Rite of Acceptance, we neither rehearse them or school them. We evangelize them. However, tread carefully here. Many inquirers come to us already evangelized. If they are already evangelized, they probably don’t need a precatechumenate period, or they would only need a very short one to discern their level of conversion and the type of catechesis they might need.
How do we know if someone is evangelized? The RCIA gives us several criteria. We need to look for:
- an initial conversion
- a feeling in the inquirer that he or she needs to turn away from sin
- an attraction to the mystery of God’s love (RCIA 37)
In order to prepare the inquirers for the Rite of Acceptance, we must give them opportunities during which they can develop these signs of first faith. This is the whole purpose of the precatechumenate.
Our faith brushes off onto the inquirers
So how do we do this? We cannot do it by sending the inquirers to class. Instead, send them to dinner. Or to the parish picnic. Or to Sunday Mass. Or any other place Catholics gather. The idea is to introduce them to lots and lots of Catholics and begin to intertwine the inquirers’ lives with ours. As they tell their stories and hear our stories, they begin to experience all of the things we need to look for in an evangelized person.
There is a caveat however. The RCIA process assumes our parishioners are evangelized and are living a life of intentional discipleship. We know that is not universally true. However, there is a core of parishioners who are living an active gospel-based lifestyle. We have to bring the inquirers to these active disciples and let their faith “brush off” on the inquirers.
No fixed structure or time for the precatechumenate
A preparation process like this obviously cannot be scheduled into a set number of weeks or meetings. How can we know when the Spirit will catch hold of an inquirer? It will take longer for some than for others. That is why there is no fixed duration or structure to this part of the process. Nevertheless, it is a tremendously important first step. If we do not prepare the inquirers well, they will not be able to authentically celebrate the Rite of Acceptance. And they will have a more difficult time during the more intense formation process of the catechumenate period.
What is your experience?
Does your precatechumenate look for the signs of evangelization listing in RCIA 37? How do you prepare your inquirers so they come to that level of first faith before they celebrate the Rite of Acceptance?
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4 thoughts on ““Destruct” your precatechumenate to prepare RCIA inquirers”
To all who are invested in the RCIA process, to all who have numerous questions about the process and the “what to do and what not to do’s,” to all who may be new to the process and have been given this ministry by a pastor who twisted your arm, please make sure your attend a workshop that is presented by Nick and Diana. I promise it will be the best investment your parish ever makes.
I appreciate the criteria listed to determine whether one has been evangelized (or “re-evangelized”). However, I think there are two criteria missing — some sense of church and the spirit of the parish; and, the beginning of calling upon God in prayer. The former is so crucial since they will become part of the visible Body of Christ that the Rite itself says that Catholics should even invite inquirers/candidates/catechumens into personal conversation (for a ritual, this is a pretty detailed instruction). The latter about calling upon God in prayer made be implied in some sense of the mystery of God’s love; but I feel it needs to more clearly expressed.
I came up with a pre-catechumenate strategy that has turned out to be very effective. After the intitial conversation with a potential candidate, I send them on an “adventure” that I call “4 Masses – 4 Questions.” I ask them to simply go to Mass 4 times, however long it takes (sometimes 4 weeks, sometimes 4 months, sometimes longer) and come back with 4 observations or questions. I give them a sheet which explains this adventure, and also lists other things that are coming up in the parish that they might want to take advantage of (liturgy, prayer, education, social). I ask them if they’d like to make a date right then and there to get together again, or if they’d prefer to call me when they’re ready. If they choose the latter, I wait two months and then give one follow-up call to see where they’re at. After that, it’s up to them.
This has done a number of things: it lets them know that “the main class is Mass” and that this is indeed the source and center of our lives as Christians. It weeds anyone who wanted to be baptized/confirmed but was not interested in going to Mass. AND, withthose who pursue it, I have had the most AMAZING conversations upon their return. It has served as a wonderful springboard for whatever is next for them. Depending on how that conversation goes, they may choose to just continue and meet with me again in a month. If I perceive they’re ready, I invite them to come and sit with the catechumens and candidates and go as a “guest” to break open the Word to see if they’re attracted to it. I might connect them with some service or learning opportunity if they’re so inclined. If they follow through on any of this, then we have the talk about discerning readiness for catechumenate or candidacy. Really simple – really effective!
Would you be willing to share this worksheet?