Mollie Muntefering is the coordinator of liturgy and music at St. Mary Catholic Church in Waverly, Iowa.
Does your parish have a year-round RCIA process? Do you have a story you’d like to share? If so, please send about 1,000 words to Nick Wagner, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the first Sunday of Advent this year, St. Mary Church celebrated the Rite of Welcome for Jordan, one of our candidates seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. Jordan is a college student who was raised in a Protestant faith tradition. His curiosity about religion and thirst for knowledge and truth led him to explore church history and the lives of the saints, and eventually led him to St. Mary parish.
Our first meeting was quite memorable. As we were getting to know each other he shared that he has explored the monastic life and wants to study philosophy so he can become a monk (even though he had been to Mass only once up to that point!). The Lord is always at work and draws people to him in all sorts of ways. What a joy it is to see God at work and to get to participate in it!
Before Mass that morning, I met with Jordan and his sponsor to talk through the rite. Because Jordan was baptized and had a fair amount of catechesis, we used an adapted Rite of Welcome . We talked about how he could answer the question, “What do you seek from this faith community?”
The RCIA isn’t just about names in a book
Jordon said he wanted to be embraced by the Body of Christ, but he wondered if the question referred to the local parish community, or did it mean the worldwide universal Church? I explained that he is certainly welcomed into the universal Church, but one of the purposes of this rite is to help the parishioners of St. Mary put a name to a face. Shining this momentary spotlight on him enables the community to care for him and include him in community life.
During Mass, following the homily, I introduced Jordan and his sponsor to the assembly and invited them to come forward. As Father led the rite, I was feeling a little disappointed that we had such a small congregation due to COVID-19. With the pandemic in the forefront of everyone’s mind, how would they respond? Would they “stay awake” to what’s going on and embrace their role of helping Jordan through his journey?
After Father asked Jordan, the sponsor, and the assembly the questions regarding their desires and commitment, he invited everyone to stand and together pray a blessing over Jordan. At St. Mary it is our custom for everyone to raise their hands towards the person being blessed. Our pews are arranged in a semi-circle around the altar area, so from my vantage point at the ambo, I was taken aback at the sight of everyone in the room eagerly extending their arms, all hands reaching out to Jordan. The sponsor’s hand was on Jordan’s shoulder, their heads were bowed down. It was a beautiful moment. Everyone was focusing their attention and spiritual care on this young man. The Holy Spirit was definitely present. The assembly clapped with genuine enthusiasm and joy.
Through that rite, God was telling me “See, my dear child, you are not alone. Jordan is not alone. I am always here, I am always at work. See your people, your family. See how much love they have to give and want to give. They are sharing their faith and their faith is being strengthened in return.”
More than faces in the crowd
This encounter with God through the Rite of Welcome reminded me of Paul’s letter to Philemon where he asks them to welcome Onesimus, “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord” (Phil 1:16).
Whatever he was before isn’t nearly as important as what he has become. Christ has changed Onesimus and his being a part of their community now changes them. They are to be a blessing to each other.
My parish, like many these days, is suffering from a pandemic-induced identity crisis. The outward signs of faith expressed in the Rite of Welcome reminds our parishioners, myself included, who we are and of our purpose. Our support and our prayers matter, our words of encouragement matter.
Even though we may not get to shake hands these days, we can still hold each other up.
How are the identities of candidates and catechumens emphasized in your parish RCIA? What can you do to better share their stories with your parish? Share your thoughts in the comments below.