Diana and I have just returned from a three-month Spanish language immersion process in Panama. In all that time, we saw no evidence that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults exists there. Yet, the church in Panama seems to be thriving.
The first Sunday we were there, we went to what we thought was Mass but turned out to be an infant baptism liturgy. Twelve or more babies were baptized. Another parish, the one we called “home” while we were there, baptized at least one baby almost every Sunday. The last Sunday we were there, they baptized five babies.
That same week, I saw a Facebook thread from someone complaining about how long it takes to baptize an adult. He grumbled that a baby, who knows nothing, can be made Christian with no preparation. But, an adult, who presumably has more knowledge of the faith than a baby, has to go through a year-long process.
That led me to wonder, what would happen if we didn’t have the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults? Would the church in the U.S. thrive without it — as the church in Panama seems to?
What are our tools for making disciples?
My answer to that question is, of course. The church is not a set of rules or a system of sacraments. It is a community of disciples. As long as there are disciples who have faith, the Holy Spirit will gift those disciples with the passion and ability to make more disciples.
If we believe that, then the question is not about the need for RCIA. The question is this: what is the best tool we have for making disciples? For those of us who live where there is a functioning catechumenate (US, Canada, Australia, for example), the answer is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Nothing else comes close.
In Panama, it’s different. They have other tools for making disciples. The culture of Panama is still heavily Catholic. For example, Diana and I attended a live Nativity play in a public park, funded by the City of Panama. The event began with a liturgical blessing by a Catholic priest.
Many of you know that World Youth Day will take place in Panama in January 2019. Much of the initiative to make that happen came from the federal government of Panama. And the Panamanian treasury has minted special $1 coins to commemorate the event. (The treasury had also minted commemorative coins for the Year of Mercy.)
Besides secular culture, there is also a strong family culture. All those babies are not getting baptized on their own. Each baby showed up with a retinue of family members and friends who promised to raise that child in the faith. Our families in the U.S. make those same promises at infant baptisms. Yet, there seemed to us to be a more authentic intention behind the promises we heard over these last few months in Panama.
What are we preaching?
Another tool the Panamanian church is gifted with is strong preaching. We heard a dozen homilies from six different priests, including the archbishop, while we were there. Every single preaching event (and they were events) focused on the need for us to be more like Jesus. For the Panamanian church, that means loving others, especially the poor. And very often the preacher would say that he most of all needed to be more like Jesus, along with all the rest of us. Every homily offered a sense of encouragement, joy, and challenge. Maybe we stumbled across the only six priests in Panama who can preach like that, but I don’t think so.
Most of us who read this blog are not in places that have all those powerful gifts for making disciples. Or, we have them, but they’re not as strong as we’d like them to be. But we have other gifts. We have RCIA leaders like you. If there was no need for the ministry you do, the Holy Spirit would not have raised you up and set you down where you are.
If you started catechumenate ministry yesterday or if you have been doing this for thirty years, you are here because the Holy Spirit wants you here. The Spirit has gifted your community with a powerful tool for making disciples. That tool isn’t just the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the hands and hearts of disciples who have the passion and ability to make more disciples.
Yes, we need the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But more than that, we need you.
What are the tools that your community uses best? What gifts are you lifting up for the community? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
7 thoughts on “Do we need the RCIA?”
Greetings Team RCIA,
Thank you for this article and your wonderful website of resources.
I live in the Middle East and we have an RCIA program in place. We also have sacramental preparations for Infant baptism, Marriage prep and Adult Confirmation.
We hold 22 Masses per weekend, 15 in English + other languages and thriving. But when it comes to preparation of sacraments everyone wants the “fast track.” As your article states about the complaining adult of baptismal prep.
Most of the reasons persons wanting to receivie sacraments are for the purpose of Marriage. Sacrament of Confirmation (and if a non Catholic for Sacraments of initiation) is seen only as a requirement for marriage, and they complain of the “process.”
Some of our priests have allowed civilly married couples to have their children baptized in the church and if they want their marriage blessed must undergo the “process.” Sponsors/Godparents were also not given background checks and found to be friends of other denominations even if its a minimum requirement of one.
As you say we are to make disciples not give them rules and regulations. Our struggles have been in the approach, cultural, curriculum and recruitment of catechists. Most catechists are intimated by adults and would rather teach children.
But the Holy Spirit is merciful and our program is still alive!!
Your site gives encouragement and helpful approaches in learning and training.
Nick, I think the common thread with Panama and here is that there are people who are willing to be disciples and to be used by God to bring others to Christ. The methods are different in different cultures but the desire to bring others into a relationship with Christ is the same. The Holy Spirit is present!
You mention that we need the RCIA but more importantly, you need us. I would add that we in the RCIA need Team RCIA. I cannot imagine being involved in RCIA without the amazing tools that you and Diana and your team have provided over the years. I’m very grateful. Blessings as you continue to serve our Lord.
This article should be shared with those working in Hispanic Ministry. Maybe this is one reason why it is so hard to get Hispanic kids to CCD on a regular basis, to have participants for the RCIA process for Hispanic adults, to get Hispanics to come forward to their other sacraments. Their faith, their love of the heart of Jesus is very strong at home and with each other.
I asked a high school graduated Hispanic male and his 8th grade brother in our RCIA evening program what their prayer life is like at home. They answered that every time they leave their house they stand at their home alter and pray to the statue of Mary. I asked why this prayer? They said it is for protection as they go out into the world. Their mom taught them this when they were very young. I asked what else is on this home alter and they told me holy cards and a rosaries.
Is it right to make them come to months of classes? Something to ponder…
Nick and Diana, Welcome Home. I am sure that your time in Panama has inspired, nurtured and enlightened you that You are needed here and it is the Spirit that has gifted you and works through you to walk with Catechumenate Ministry Leaders who give themselves wholeheartedly to the process of making Disciples.
Over the years that I have been involved with the RCIA, which goes back to the seventies, I have always been a strong supporter of the RCIA as a process. I have worked diligently over the past 20 years, I believe successfully implementing this process in my present parish, and I have to admit that every years brings on new challenges and direction inspired by the Holy Spirit. I have gone from insisting that all participants must participate in the RCIA for at least one full year to letting go and letting the Spirit do the work. I have realized that most of the Candidates we work with are already catechized and need little preparation to receive the Sacraments. Once we stopped combining the Rites and only had Catechumens at the Easter Vigil it became clearer to us that the Profession of Faith throughout the year was the right way to proceed. Messy, yes; rewarding, by all means, knowing that it is the work of the Holy Spirit and not myself who is in control.
I could write a book on the stores of the many Candidates and Catechumens who have journeyed through this process and thank God for the gift that He has entrusted in me to walk this journey with his people.
Keep up the good work. You are a valuable asset to your parish community.
Diana, thanks for all of your work and this good article. What a radical calling Christ Jesus sets before us as we live into making disciples of all nations.
Wow! Thanks for the affirmation, Nick! I do believe the Holy Spirit has put me at St. Ben’s.
I think one of the tools we have is the liturgical rites. I think we do the rites well and that helps form disciples. Along with that we have good preaching. As you said, good preaching is key!