Many of us who guide and form spiritual seekers are hoping for a return to normal as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. But normal probably won’t look like what we are used to. The effects of the pandemic have permanently ruptured “the way we’ve always done it.” For the most part, that is a good thing. Here are some ways initiation ministry and our lives as disciples will be permanently changed.
No more classes
The isolation, fear, anxiety, and grief caused by the pandemic have taught us all that Jesus did not come to teach us facts about God. Jesus came to be the face of God. Jesus came to heal. Jesus came to bring peace. Some may try to continue classroom lectures online during the pandemic and in person after the pandemic, but they will no longer function as formation tools. We all know that what is needed is an apprenticeship in how to live like the disciples of Jesus described in the Acts of the Apostles.
The classroom and the school year are cancelled
Pre-pandemic, if seekers couldn’t show up for Wednesday night sessions at the parish (or whatever time and place) they couldn’t “join” the RCIA. If they came after we had already started, they had to wait until next year to “join” the RCIA. Post-pandemic, the church is online and available anytime. Similarly, the catechumenate is no longer restricted to a time of week and a time of year.
Before the pandemic, we waited in our church buildings for seekers to come to us. And we were already seeing a decline in seekers showing up. After the pandemic, that decline will accelerate. On the positive side, we have, out necessity, learned how to continue the mission of the church through our baptismal priesthood. These newly activated gifts will aid us in effective evangelization post-pandemic.
In many regions, parish membership was declining before the pandemic. After the pandemic, many lukewarm Catholics will not return. For initiation ministry to be effective, parish leaders and RCIA teams will have to redouble efforts to energize the faithful who do return as we work toward building a community of lifelong disciples. The silver lining is that those Catholics who do show up will be more committed to the gospel mission.
Worship will mean more than just Sunday Mass
In that absence of Sunday Mass, we have discovered or rediscovered the rich treasury of worship available to the church. We will continue to worship in a rich variety of ways in our household churches. In a similar way, we now have an expanded understanding of sacrament. While we have been isolated from the official seven sacraments, we have learned that we are still a sacramental people who reveal Christ to one another.
Church will mean more than the building and the staff
We will return to the parish church not as individuals but as a gathering of household churches. Home altars, crosses, candles, and holy cards will remain in place, and families will continue to make their homes a sacred space. Parish leaders and RCIA teams can foster the development of household churches by dedicating time and resources toward catechizing parishioners and seekers about deeper and deeper ways of being church at home.
We will all become grief ministers
Unlike other modern pandemics or national tragedies such as the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina, this crisis has directly touched everyone. All of us personally know someone who has gotten sick or perhaps died from COVID-19. All of us have either put ourselves at risk or have a loved one who has. The wounds the seekers come with will include wounds from surviving the pandemic.
We have a new sense of limits
We are used to going where we want, when we want, to buy or enjoy whatever we want. That world no longer exists. Even after the shelter in place restrictions are lifted, we will still be battling the COVID-19 infection. We will have to monitor, test, quarantine if sick, and generally live more cautious lives. We will live in uncertainty. While this will be difficult for many of us, it is, in fact, the way the world’s poor and marginalized have always lived. We will have a rare opportunity to align ourselves with the needs of those on the peripheries.
Stewardship will be redefined
Our experience with shortages and hording during the pandemic is another factor that aligns us with the poor. For most of us, the shortages will end, but the poor live in constant deprivation of basic necessities. We have the opportunity to reexamine what we mean by stewardship and reexamining our own tendencies toward hording when millions of people suffer from lack of adequate food, shelter, and health care.
The commandment to love our neighbor has never been more important than during the pandemic. Isolating ourselves from one another has painfully reminded us of how important we are to each other. It may be that once we are able to gather again we will begin to take each other for granted. However, with strong pastoral leadership, we can help form our seekers to deeply understand and live Jesus’s central teaching, even at the cost of self-sacrifice.
Pope Francis has offered a challenge to all of us to work harder at building an interconnected, worldwide community once we emerge from the worst of the pandemic restrictions. He said:
Are we willing to change the lifestyles that plunge so many into poverty, promoting and encouraging us to lead a more austere and humane life that enables an equitable distribution of resources? Will we adopt, as an international community, the necessary measures to stop the devastation of the environment or will we continue denying the evidence? (April, 17, 2020).
The pope went on to remind us that this challenge may seem like the heavy stone that blocked the tomb of Jesus. And yet, the stone was moved. Jesus rose. And in the newness of the Resurrection, we know that we are not alone. Jesus can remove any stone that paralyses us.
What is most likely to change for your RCIA process? What preparation and training will you and your team need to get ready for this new moment? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
6 thoughts on “RCIA will never be the same again”
What has surprised me the most is the inquirers hungry enough to attend our Zoom sessions, to ask their questions and share their stories and support each other through the internet. I’m not surprised by the dedication of the catechumens and elect, since they have made the commitment and already been in community, but the inquirers are new – one actually STARTED during post-shelter-in-place.
For the future, I find myself wondering if it’s practical to enable a catechumen who’d otherwise miss a session (babysitter fell through, traveling on business) to connect with the “in person” session via videoconference…
Thank you for this encouraging message. Im trying to get onto our parish on line mass and can’t becauae of lack of knowledge so this period is forcing me to get in the know. I am an rcia member in the children’s ministry….
I too am amazed at how consistent the RCIA group is in this crisis. I have been inspired by them and have recognized the power of the Holy Spirit in the RCIA journey.
Going forward will be a new norm and perhaps the time has come for it. Through the years I have seen and adopted the year round model. It seem insensitives to say to a seeker that Religion 101 starts in September as thought it was a college course. Year round respects and embraces the seeker wherever and whatever their need.
This is an excellent article. Thank you.
Thank you for this article. I am from Singapore.
I agree with Pat about the enthusiasm of the RCIA elects and candidates. They have been trying to learn how to go on ZOOM and we still meet every Thursday to read the word together, to pray together. I appreciate the recommended timeline towards baptism and we will be adopting that.
Thank you, Team RCIA for your articles. Keep it coming.
Your emphasis on community in this article resonates with my experience at Divine Savior, Orangevale, CA. It has become evident that our gatherings are a form of Eucharist. In other words, we are experiencing the presence of Christ there. The Early Church did not have a building with staff; yet the church flourished. Recalling how powerful the Holy Spirit worked in the early church, makes me excited about our future.