The Association for Catechumenal Ministry

Fostering the Full Implementation of the Order of Christian Initiation

Balance Your Approach

RCIA Is a Liturgical Process

The Christian initiation process is intended to be fundamentally liturgical. Participants need and have a right to the grace that flows from the font of the Church’s liturgy as it is made available to them as catechumens and candidates prior to full communion. This grace is an indispensable aid to conversion, and the means by which they enter into intimate union with Christ and his Church.

RCIA Is a Catechetical Process

Catechesis is the process of passing on divine revelation - the deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles and maintained by the Magisterium - to obtain the two-fold goal of understanding and change. The Christian initiation process forms its participants catechetically by immersing them in the Word of God, imparted in a systematic and organic fashion, so as to deepen conversion. We cannot love whom we do not know. The lover seeks to know the beloved.

RCIA Is a Pastoral Process

Alongside the powerful liturgical moments of the process and the faithful catechetical endeavor, there is also an intense pastoral activity, which must be initiated from the first time an inquirer expresses interest in the Church. This activity operates with the knowledge that each participant will vary in his or her background, lifestyle, motivation, and state in life. We must steep ourselves in the lives of the participants with gentleness, prudence, and a genuine desire to open their hearts wide. We adapt ourselves to the participants in the process and bend over backwards to know, help, and guide each participant individually.

The Reality of Imbalance

Often, parish catechumenal ministry will tend to overemphasize one of these three approaches.

The catechetical approach may be overemphasized to the detriment of the liturgical and pastoral aspects. Examples: Participants are run through a doctrinal class without attention to whether or not they are actually experiencing conversion. Or, the minor liturgical rites of the process (e.g. blessings) are not administered during sessions because those are considered "extra". Or, the bulk of catechumenal sessions consist of lecture to the expense of small group conversation, group prayer/worship, and celebrations of the Word... all of which should accompany the doctrinal teaching.

The pastoral approach may be overemphasized to the detriment of the liturgical and catechetical aspects. Examples: Over the course of the catechumenate, the deposit of faith is not delivered in its integrity (doctrine is left out or de-emphasized) because a false dichotomy is placed between doctrine and personal conversion. Teaching is dumbed down to where the Word of God is delivered in a mutilated or falsified form. Or, a particular participant may be shy and wary about participating in a public rite such as the Rite of Welcoming, so the leader exempts them from participating in the rite.

The liturgical approach may be overemphasized to the detriment of the catechetical and pastoral aspects. Examples: A lectionary-based organization of doctrine may disrespect the hierarchy of truths and a systematic presentation of the faith. Or, a wrong-headed emphasis is given to the initial Rite of Welcoming or Acceptance in such a way that participants are expected to go through this initial liturgical gateway, regardless of whether they are personally ready to make that important step in their own personal journey of faith.

Assessing Your Process

There's never a better time than right now to assess the imbalances of your particular parish catechumenal process. Where is there imbalance in your particular situation? How can your catechumenal team improve in its own balancing act?

You may also be interested in this related blog entry: