What is more important for your catechumens and candidates—attending a catechetical session or attending a parish event? And let me ask a follow-up question—at which occasion does catechesis happen?
Let’s start with the second question because that answer is going to inform the answer to the first. Catechesis happens at both occasions.
For far too long we’ve maintained a very narrow view of what “catechesis” is and what it means to be “catechized.” We’ve looked at these activities as purely academic without giving due consideration to their spiritual context. Putting it another way, we spend more time preaching instead of showing seekers how to put these teachings into practice. And the only way to practice what we preach is in the midst of the community.
The Communal Aspect of the Process
I’ve written a lot about how one’s path through the initiation process is an individual journey. While they may share that journey within a group setting through our catechetical sessions, each individual comes with their unique needs and follows a timetable to initiation on a schedule best suited to those needs (not according to our fixed schedule).
That said, there is also the communal aspect of the process that cannot be ignored. We need to encourage catechumens and candidates to participate actively in the life of the parish—not just by attending weekly Mass but also by participating in the other activities of the parish. As catechists we not only need to present them the teachings of the church, we need to help them put those teachings into practice by forming them into the parish community.
You cannot be Catholic and not have a personal relationship with Christ. Neither can you be Catholic and not be part of a parish community. There is a dual nature to our faith. It is both personal and communal. And in every case, each informs the other.
This dual natures derive from Christ: both fully human and fully divine. Take one away and our understanding of Christ falls apart. Similarly, our work as catechists falls apart when we fail to actively bring our catechumens and candidates into the active life of the community.
Attending to Just “Be”
Turning then to the first question, it should seem clear that attending a parish event is at least as important if not more important than attending a catechetical session. Now, of course the circumstances of both occasions do need to be examined. After all, the devil is always in the details. But allow me to share a couple recent occasions where the decision to cancel our regular catechetical session was easy.
In one case, our pastor was hosting a reception for a new fund-raising initiative. This didn’t have a lot of advance notice, and it fell at the same time as one of our sessions. But let’s review if there’s an opportunity for catechesis:
- Was this reception a chance for our catechumens and candidates to meet and get to know other parishioners? Yes.
- Was it an opportunity for them to learn about the importance of supporting one’s parish (physically and financially)? Yes.
- Was it important for the seekers to feel like they were part of the parish and for the parish to see them as members of the community? Yes.
- And most importantly, was it an opportunity for them to have an encounter with the living Christ? YES!
It was a chance to see Christ in all the other parishioners as they do their part to spread the gospel. It was also a chance for our parishioners to see Christ in them. For me the answer was easy—cancel the session and go to the pastor’s reception.
On another occasion, our session was scheduled the same night as the vigil mass for a holy day of obligation. I should hope that one is obvious—participate in the Mass. Not only does it help the seekers recognize the importance of these holy days, but we know they’re already free for the evening and we have the opportunity to attend as a group. And for the catechumens, it’s another opportunity for dismissal.
The key takeaway from this is two-fold. First, always remember that our catechetical sessions are secondary and subordinate to other aspects of the initiation process. The primary source of catechesis is the Mass itself: its opportunities for learning, its connection to the community, its unique encounter with Christ.
Second, recognize that we need to be flexible and embrace opportunities for catechesis that can occur outside of our regular sessions. When we try our best to make sure our catechetical sessions don’t compete with other activities of the parish, it gives everyone—catechumens, candidates, and team members—the opportunity to engage with the rest of the parish instead of locking ourselves away from them.
1 thought on “Is your RCIA open all year-round? Making room for parish events”
We had a prime example of this come up earlier this year, when the war in Ukraine was just beginning and the parish held a Rosary and Adoration to pray for peace, which happened to fall at the same time as our scheduled catechetical session. That event was way more important for our candidates than anything I’d been planning to talk about that evening!