Adaptation is an important concept in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Paulist priest and liturgist, Ricky Manalo, says liturgical adaptation is like Thanksgiving dinner.
Preparations usually do not begin with decisions about appetizers or salads, but with the main course, turkey. The next decisions probably concern stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, then vegetables and other side dishes. The starting point is the traditional food handed down through generations.Pastoral Liturgy
Manalo is speaking about liturgical adaptation in general, but his ideas can be applied to the catechumenate specifically. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults gives us clear guidance about the importance of adapting the process for each seeker:
When they are teaching, catechists should see that their instruction is filled with the spirit of the Gospel, adapted to the liturgical signs and the cycle of the Church’s year, suited to the needs of the catechumens, and as far as possible enriched by local traditions. (RCIA 16)
When they teach, [catechists] should take care that their teaching is imbued with an evangelical spirit, harmonious with the symbols of the liturgy and the course of the year, suitable for catechumens and, insofar as possible, enriched by local tradition. (OCIA 16)
The spirit of the gospel (evangelical spirit)
The phrase “spirit of the gospel” refers to the core message and teachings of the Gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament. It is the essence of the message that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection proclaims. It is a proclamation of God’s love, compassion, and mercy. A catechesis that is filled with the spirit of the Gospel calls on seekers to embody this love and compassion in their own lives.
“A catechesis that is filled with the spirit of the Gospel calls on seekers to embody this love and compassion in their own lives.”
Liturgical signs (symbols of the liturgy)
Liturgical signs are the symbols, actions, and words that are used in the liturgy to express and embody the beliefs and teachings of the church. Some of these signs are “immutable” or unchangeable. These are what Manalo is calling the “main course” or the “turkey.” For example, we always use water for baptism, oil for confirmation, and bread and wine for eucharist.
And some liturgical signs can and should be adapted to better suit the needs of the community and seekers, like the appetizers and sides at a Thanksgiving dinner. For example, the prayers of the liturgy can be translated into local languages, some of the gestures and actions of the liturgy can be adapted to suit local conditions, and some of the wording of prayers and songs can be changed to better reflect the local culture.
Cycle of the church’s year (the course of the year)
The liturgical year is a cycle that follows the life of Jesus Christ and the church, from Advent through Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, the Triduum, and the fifty days of Easter. One of the strongest catechetical tools we have is the liturgical year. The church teaches:
Within the cycle of a year, moreover, [the church] unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 102)
This last point, the focus on the cycle of the church’s year, gives us a clue about what adaptation in the catechumenate is all about. We do not adapt the formation and the rites for our own convenience or even for the comfort and preference of the seekers. We do not adapt the process to be more creative or trendier. We adapt in order to unfold the “whole mystery of Christ” more clearly for the seeker and for ourselves.
“We do not adapt the process to be more creative or trendier. We adapt in order to unfold the “whole mystery of Christ” more clearly for the seeker and for ourselves.”
Keeping these three central elements in mind—the spirit of the gospel, the liturgical signs, and the cycle of the church’s year—we adapt the process of the catechumenate to the needs of each seeker so that they will be drawn more deeply into the mystery of Christ.
Overall, the principle of adaptation in the RCIA is an important aspect of the process of initiation into the Catholic Church, and it helps to ensure that the process is tailored to the needs and circumstances of the individuals and the community.
What do adaptations look like in your parish? What questions do you have about what can or can’t be adapted? Share your thoughts in the comments below.