It’s no secret that the life in most parishes follows the old-school academic calendar. So it’s at this time of year when parish schools, groups, and ministries begin to awaken from their long summer slumber. For most every parish I’ve encountered, that includes the catechumenate formation process.
The fact that those of us in catechumenate ministry tend to ramp up activity in the fall isn’t a problem, but how we see it and how we announce it definitely can be. Case in point — I’ve recently seen two different parish bulletin announcements. One read “RCIA classes begin on…” The other read, “Registration for RCIA starts on …” Let’s unpack these announcements to see where the problems arise.
What do we convey when we say “RCIA”?
First is how they both use the “RCIA” acronym, which for those who have no experience of this ministry will likely never understand it. I’ve seen some parishes try to resolve this by spelling out what the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” is or means, which is helpful, but doesn’t really get to the heart of the process (especially if those seekers don’t fit into the actual RCIA process, like baptized Catholics).
Next is the use the word “classes.” This makes conversion to the Christian life sound like an academic exercise, which it is not. As I have often said and written, “The RCIA is not a series of classes you take to graduate as a Catholic, but rather, it is a conversion to the Christian life.” Becoming a Catholic shouldn’t be like joining a club or completing a certificate program. It needs to be viewed as building a relationship with our living God which is facilitated through active involvement in the parish community.
Then there’s my biggest problem — the use of words like “begin” or “start.” Here again, we’re giving both our seekers and ourselves a false impression of when the formation process begins. It doesn’t start when we say it starts. It starts when the Holy Spirit calls that seeker to us. The catechumenate process begins with that first phone call or that first face-to-face inquiry. It doesn’t begin with us; it begins with the Holy Spirit guiding the seekers on the way of faith. Parish RCIA teams need to recognize that the call to conversion can happen at any time. We as catechumenate ministers need to be prepared to receive seekers when they call, no matter when that is.
Remember that RCIA is a gradual process
Now I can see how some people might say that I’m making too much hay over nothing. It’s just a word. But imagine instead if you used the word “resume” instead of “begin” in these announcements. Pause and ask yourself what this small difference means. Outwardly the word “resume” says that the catechumenate is continuous and ongoing process, which it is. Inwardly it reminds us that not all our catechumens and candidates who started with us last year were ready to be received into the Church and are continuing their journey.
There are distinct impressions we get from certain words that can give our seekers a false impression of the RCIA process. These same words can bleed into our own understanding and approach to the process. This is why we should avoid academic language in relation to our initiation process. Instead of the word “classes” we should be using words like, “sessions” or “gatherings.” We should never refer to ourselves as “teachers” but instead as “facilitators” or “catechists” or simply as “team members.” And we need to do away with a “syllabus” and instead publish a periodic schedule that includes dates for both your catechetical sessions and other parish activities (reinforcing the idea that we need to be active in the community as well as attending catechetical sessions).
Emphasize discipleship over registration
Taking one last look at these bulletin announcements, I also want to call attention to the word “registration.” Here again, using words like “register” or “sign-up” sends the wrong impression. We register for school. We register for classes. We sign-up for a group or to participate in an activity. In fact, we should never have to announce a “registration” or “sign-up” for the RCIA.
Yes, I understand that we have to take care of the paperwork. But for seekers looking to become part of our faith community (and members of the Body of Christ), it takes much more than a sign-up sheet or a registration form. It takes an understanding and a commitment that can only be discerned through the pre-catechumenate process. Filling out parish registration forms or maintaining your own list of participants is work that’s done behind the scenes, not the primary task of evangelization.
A year-round process demands that we reconsider when the process actually starts and we as team members need to make sure we have the resources in the right places to respond for when the Holy Spirit calls them, no matter what time of the year. The rest is just resuming a regular schedule of activities to keep them moving forward, wherever they are at in that process.
2 thoughts on “Is your RCIA open all year-round? Redefining when the process starts”
Very useful information provided. Thank you
I enjoyed this article and agree with the author on almost all points. I would like to see an example of a bulletin announcement that would meet all the proposed standards.