More of our parishes would implement an ongoing (year-round) RCIA process if they could imagine how to do so without adding to the stress of the RCIA team and needing to recruit more team members. The good news is that your parish already has an ongoing process. And some of the burdens the RCIA team has taken on can be lessened.
The way to get there is to adopt four, easy-to-implement practices for your evangelization-initiation process.
Welcome inquirers any time of year
We sometimes over-complicate the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate (often called the inquiry period). We think we have to do interviews, schedule precatechumenate classes, provide church tours, and teach basic prayers to the seekers.
None of that is true. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults says the first period of the initiation process has “no fixed duration or structure.” The rite goes on to say:
It is a time of evangelization: faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ who he has sent for the salvation of all. (36)
Evangelization cannot be scheduled and cannot be relegated to the classroom. We do not evangelize with intake interviews or church tours. We evangelize by sharing our lives with the seekers. We do this every day of the year, all year long, all year-round.
Celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens several times a year
The RCIA says this about scheduling the rite of acceptance:
Two dates in the year, or three if necessary, are to be fixed as the usual times for carrying out this rite. (18)
We should think of the rite of acceptance more like the rituals for infant baptism or marriage. We celebrate them whenever the time is right. There isn’t a single date in the fall when babies are baptized and couples are married.
Consider penciling in possible dates for the rite of acceptance in September, January, and June in your parish every year. If no one is ready in September, you might have a seeker in January. Or someone might be so moved by your Lent and Easter liturgies that they will want to enter the catechumenate in June.
There is no reason to make them wait an extraordinarily long amount of time for them to begin their journey.
The big roadblock that keeps many parishes from providing an ongoing catechumenate is the strain of adding more catechetical sessions. Like the pressure we put on ourselves for the inquiry period, this is an unnecessary obligation that we impose on ourselves.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults does not mandate weekly catechetical classes. Rather, it calls for an apprenticeship process that is carried out primarily by the parish community (see RCIA 9 and 75). The privileged place of catechesis is not the RCIA team classroom but rather the Sunday liturgy (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1074).
So if your parish is celebrating Mass every Sunday, catechesis is already happening every week. What the RCIA team can do is build on and strengthen what we learn about the mystery of Christ in the liturgy through mystagogical catechesis. There are many ways to accomplish an ongoing mystagogical catechesis that do not require your entire team to show up with a PowerPoint presentation every Wednesday night.
What we are striving for during the catechumenate period is to provide regular encounters with the Risen Christ in ways that are “accommodated to the liturgical year and solidly supported by celebrations of the Word” (RCIA 75.1).
Our goal is to make the seekers “familiar with the Christian way of life…by way of example” so that they learn how to pray, evangelize, remain hopeful, believe miracles happen, love others, and practice self-sacrifice (see RCIA 75.2). Note the “by way of example” phrase. Your seekers learn these skills by imitating what they see your parishioners doing.
We also what to help your seekers on their journey of faith through “suitable liturgical rites.” Sunday liturgy, as we said, is the privileged place where this happens. And the RCIA also includes minor exorcisms, blessings, and anointings that should be regularly celebrated with the catechumens as a central component of their formation (see RCIA 75.3 and 81-103; for baptized candidates, you can find suitable celebrations in the Book of Blessings).
And, as our seekers learn from the parishioners how to evangelize, we will want to give them opportunities to “work actively with others to spread the Gospel and build up the Church by witness of their lives” (RCIA 75.4).
All of these things are already happening in your parish. You don’t need to add on any additional sessions or increase the size of your team. These ordinary actions of Catholic parishes take place every day of the year, all year long, all year-round.
We often overlook that fact that sometimes our seekers come to us pretty well catechized. When that happens, there is no need to make them participate in months and months of religion classes. They do need to participate in the life of the parish, as we said above. But if they have already been living as Christians, that should be easy for them to do.
If your catechized seeker is unbaptized, then they do normally need to wait until the Easter Vigil to celebrate initiation (although there can be exceptions; see RCIA 26-30).
If your catechized seeker is baptized, then they do not undergo the same catechumenal formation an uncatechized seeker does. After a short degree of probation within the Catholic community, they would be received into the communion of the Catholic Church at the next available Sunday liturgy (see National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 30-32).
On the other end of the spectrum, we sometimes rush seekers who are not ready. The RCIA says that for a truly uncatechized seeker, the formation process could take several years (see RCIA 7.2 and 76). When our formation process is set up like a school, there is an extraordinary amount of pressure on seekers to “graduate” with the rest of their cohort. No one wants to feel left behind. The way to eliminate this pressure is to eliminate the religion school program. Instead, immerse your seekers into the life of the parish, provide regular mystagogical catechesis, and watch for signs of readiness as your seekers progress on the journey of faith.
If you start applying these four, easy-to-implement practices, you will recognize that you have had an ongoing evangelization-initiation process happening in your parish all along.
What did the first steps toward creating a year-round RCIA look like in your parish? What were the challenges? What went easier than you expected? Share your thoughts in the comments below.