As we approach the fall those who are students or parents of students understand the “back to school” nature of our lives. For better or for ill, such is the rhythm for many of our parishes and ministries. For many years, and even to today, I read any number of bulletin announcements that tell us that “RCIA sessions will be starting (fill in the date).” Or worse, “registration for RCIA” begins (fill in the date). My friends, this is not how Christ gathered followers, and neither should we.
The importance and the key to maintaining a year-round process is recognizing that the Holy Spirit calls our seekers on their schedule, not ours, and as such, our processes need to be designed to meet them year-round. Not only that, but for those in our processes already, our catechumens and candidates (as well as our initiation teams) need to understand that the practice of our faith doesn’t take a break during the summer, even though for many people and many parishes, it seems like it does.
Visualizing a year-round process
So what, then, does a year-round process look like? It’s a fair question, especially since there’s still a lot of confusion on the issue. Let’s start with what it is not—it does not necessarily mean running catechetical sessions every week all year long. More often than not, whenever I mention “year-round” that’s what a lot of teams (and seekers) think I mean. It’s not, so let’s put that nasty rumor to bed right now. And to be fair, having catechetical sessions every week, 52 weeks a year is a lot to ask for both of our teams and our seekers.
A year-round process has a dual nature, not unlike many other aspects of our faith. For us, the first aspect of understanding “year-round” recognizes that seekers can knock on our door anytime, and we need to be prepared to receive them anytime. That means having team members dedicated to taking their inquiries and welcoming them into the precatechumenate process, not according to our schedule, but according to theirs.
What the precatechumenate is… and what it isn’t
It’s also a reminder that the precatechumenate is not “Catholic 101” but rather, a one-on-one exploration between the team member and the seeker, getting to know each other and learning about where they’ve been, where they are, and where they want to go on their faith journey. These are necessary steps so we can best place them in the process where they need to be, because there’s no such thing as a common path for all our seekers—each one has to follow their own journey based on their experience and their needs (which doesn’t necessarily conclude at the Easter Vigil).
The second aspect of understanding “year-round” is recognizing that our processes need to reflect the liturgical calendar, not an academic calendar. As church we are called to participate in Sunday Mass every week, 52 weeks a year (even during the summer!).
If we’re to initiate our seekers into what it means to be church, if we are to apprentice our catechumens and candidates into full membership in the Body of Christ, they need to be participating in Sunday Mass, just like us. Remember: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed;” (CCC 1074). And when our catechetical sessions reflect the teachings and themes of our liturgical calendar, the lived experience of our participants can better align with what they are hearing and experiencing at Mass.
Knowing your community
But on a more practical level, what does this mean? This might be a little tougher to answer because how you plan your catechetical sessions and your dismissals depends on two things—the needs of the community and your resources as a team. While many parishes run weekly catechetical sessions from the fall through to spring, nothing in the ritual text says you need to do this. Determine what best meets the needs of the community and especially for those going through the process. I’ve found that a “block schedule” works well for my parish since we attract a lot of college students. This means running weekly sessions for several weeks and taking a break before the next block starts, aligning our breaks with our college and university breaks.
Another consideration is the language you use. No matter how you schedule your sessions, even with breaks throughout the year, avoid saying that sessions “start” at such and such a time—I always like to say sessions will “resume” at a given time. Changing just this one word gives everyone the understanding that adult formation a continuing process, not one on a fixed schedule.
So as many of our parishes prepare for the fall, remember how important it is for us to catechize our teams, our parishes and our seekers on the true nature of the adult initiation process—one that is designed to meet them on God’s schedule, not ours.
How do you meet with seekers in your parish in the fall? What expectations do they have, and how do you talk with them about the gradual process of initiation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.