The Ecclesial Method is a method of carrying out catechesis that is rooted deeply in our Catholic tradition, which can be used effectively within the parish catechumenate. This blog entry will give a very practical and brief overview of the method so that the reader will be able to become familiar with the method and use it in his/her own parish RCIA catechesis.
The 5 Stages of the Ecclesial Method:
The RCIA Catechist's Manual (from the On the Journey Series distributed by Liturgy Training Publications) follows this method in its outline for each catechetical session.
Step 1 - Preparation
This first step is calculated disengagement. The individuals coming to the catechetical session have their own worries, preoccupations, excitements, griefs, and anxieties. So, the first thing we want to do is to prepare the minds and hearts of our students for the truth God wishes to feed them today in our session. We want to put them in the right frame of mind, to be docile to what the Holy Spirit wishes to do in the hour or so to follow as they receive the catechesis.
The first and indispensable component of Preparation is the environment. The room should be clean, well lit, well ventilated, at a comfortable temperature, and beautiful. The room should reflect Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. One essential component of your environment should be a designated area called "sacred space," which should be a bit different for each session, depending upon the content of that session. To adapt the space to the liturgical year, you could use green cloth during Ordinary Time, purple in Advent/Lent, white on Solemnities, etc. Display an icon, a crucifix, a statue, or a painting/print that draws upon the theme of the session or is related to the current day on the liturgical calendar. For example, if you are catechizing on the Resurrection, use Carravaggio's Doubting Thomas.
When you first begin, explain the sacred space. If you're going to begin by reading from Scripture, place the Bible in the sacred space and pick up the Bible from the sacred space to read from it.
Next, begin the session with an activity that disengages the participants from their previous frame of mind and prepares them for the truth they are about to receive. One example would be to begin with singing a hymn or song as a group to instrumental music. Or, celebrate a small liturgy of the Word as outlined in RCIA #84-89. Or, show a short clip from a film. There should be a nice lead into the doctrine.
Step 2 - Proclamation
Next, proclaim the truth to be explained in one or two sentences. It could be a brief passage from Scripture. It could be a reading from the Catechism (The "In Brief" sections are a good place to look). It shouldn't be longer than two or three sentences. Proclaim this truth in an evangelical fashion: "If there is nothing else that you take from what I say to you today, remember this..." If you have a white board, write it down for display. In the blog entry "Analyzing Doctrines - What to Teach," the Proclamation would be the Premise.
For example, let's say that your catechetical session is on The Blessed Virgin Mary. Here is a sample proclamation: "God chose, from all eternity, to enlist the free cooperation of a young virgin to bring salvation to the human race." For Original Sin, your proclamation might be: "Our first parents, temped by Satan, brought evil into the world. We inherit their fallen nature and can only hope in God's mercy to redeem us."
Step 3 - Explanation
This is the meat of the catechetical session. Now is when you systematically lay out the essentials of the truth, to enlighten the intellect and to move the heart of your hearers. In the blog entry "Analyzing Doctrines - What to Teach," the explanation includes the essentials, what is commonly misunderstood, the Scriptural basis, and related doctrine.
Use markers and a white board, PowerPoint, and video. Give handouts. Elicit questions. Ask questions of the candidates and catechumens. By all means necessary, do not turn this step into a boring lecture. It takes a gifted teacher to successfully explain God's truth so as to move the participants to Faith, Hope, and Love.
Step 4 - Application
Often in an RCIA setting, this step takes place by breaking the larger group into small groups and answering pre-written questions that apply the doctrine to the participants' lives. This step fosters conversion and intends to bear fruit in the lives of the students.
Your students should be thinking, "Wow, this truth has profound implications for my own life," and they should hear the call to conversion, to be changed.
Often, the explanation and application are not so distinct and separate. The explanation should include points of application because all doctrine is life-changing.
Step 5 - Celebration
We want to end the session in prayerful gratitude and praise to God. Here are some examples:
- If the session was on Mary, slowly sing the Hail Mary a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment) as a group or pray the Hail, Holy Queen.
- End with Night Prayer (Compline) taken from the Liturgy of the Hours.
- Play a song from a CD and mediate upon the words.
- Offer intentions individually and conclude by offering a general prayer for those intentions just mentioned.
- As a group, sing one of the hymns or songs suggested for that particular doctrine in the RCIA Catechist's Manual.
The goal of this final step of the Ecclesial Method is to wrap up the lesson, bringing the session to closure. It it is feasible, try to tie the Celebration to the doctrine.
The threefold goal of the Ecclesial Method is (1) to bring the participants to understand the Deposit of Faith, (2) and move their hearts affectively, and therefore, (3) having them respond with a faith working in love. This method is intended to bridge the gap between doctrine and an authentic, lived spirituality.
To learn more about this method, see "The Mystery We Proclaim" by Msgr. Francis D. Kelly (Our Sunday Visitor, 1999 or Wipf and Stock, 2008).