R.C.I.A. Inquirer: “Hello, I’d like to learn more about becoming a Catholic.“
Parish Secretary: “Sorry sir, it’s only January. Please come back in September.“
This fictitious dialogue between a parish secretary and an inquirer is something we all want to avoid. We know that our parishes and the process by which individuals join them (i.e., RCIA) are to be keenly ready to welcome newcomers at all times. We also know that the Holy Spirit prompts individuals, and individuals respond to His prompting, at unpredictable times. Finally, many parishes begin a new RCIA cycle once a year in the fall; and that cycle is designed to incrementally and systematically introduce people to Jesus Christ and the Faith of the Catholic Church. Thus, to plug people in after weeks and months have passed may cause confusion, or at least provide them with a deficient grasp and experience of the whole of our Faith.
So, what can be done? Ideally, parishes would gradually work towards implementing what is commonly called a “year-round” RCIA process. Such a model typically consists of concurrently run groups populated by individuals who find themselves in different “stages” in the initiation process. For example, an inquiry group would meet during the same time period as a catechumenate group. This way, inquirers can always be incorporated immediately into an appropriate group.
Meanwhile, due to various limitations, many parishes are not in a position to offer such a sophisticated model in the near future, yet neither want to turn inquirers away nor plug them indiscriminately into sessions which began months ago. So, what can be done? Happily, there are a number of possible solutions. What follows, in no particular order, are some practical suggestions that could help a parish do 2 things simultaneously: (1) retain a “single-track” systematic RCIA process and (2) offer something, however modest, that meets the pastoral and catechetical needs of inquirers at any point of the year:
Option A) One–on-One
Pair up an inquirer with a trusted and available parishioner who could get to know him/her and discuss things about the Catholic Faith periodically until a formal inquiry opportunity comes available. Obviously, this person could be a priest or perhaps a catechist from your RCIA team or another person who might one day become the sponsor. Conversely, a married couple or another group of individuals could invite an inquirer to join them for dinner on a biweekly or monthly basis.
It’s worth mentioning here the importance of the initial intake interview, which is conducted whenever a person first inquires. It is the most effective way to show inquirers that we are happy to receive them even if they cannot simply “start” in the middle of an existing RCIA cycle. It also affords an opportunity to assess their needs and determine the best way to serve them.
Option B) Monthly Inquirer “Drop-in” Nights/Mornings
A priest, deacon, or competent layman could field questions, offer a short presentation on an element of our Faith, give a personal testimony, and/or lead a reflection on a fitting Scripture passage. By “morning,” a parish might consider early Saturday or Sunday morning or a commuter mid-week version from 7-8am. Potential sponsors could be invited and eventually paired up with those who progress in the process. Evangelically-minded parishioners would welcome this as a no-commitment event to which their non-Catholic contacts could be invited on an ongoing basis.
Option C) Good Books
Give a book to those who inquire and ask them to periodically visit a priest or competent layperson for discussion.
Some suggested titles:
- The Gospel of Matthew by St. Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist
- What Catholics Believe: A Pocket Catechism by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Kris Stubna
- Rome Sweet Home by Scott & Kimberly Hahn (good for Evangelicals)
- Surprised by Truth by Patrick Madrid (a compilation of conversion stories)
- A Map of Life by Frank Sheed (compact, good for anyone)
- The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century by Robert Royal (some 300 pages, yet fascinating)
Option D) Existing Parish Programs
Consider other parish programs which start at different times during the year and invite inquirers to them. Be sure to give a head’s up to the program coordinators so they can expect and pay a little extra attention to any inquirers. This is also a good pool from which to recruit potential sponsors.
Option E) “Catch-up”
Depending on the timing and the person, some creative catch-up could be used, after which time a person could be plugged into the standard RCIA sessions. This could be achieved through reading material, recorded presentations or extra meetings with a catechist.
This approach is not without risk, however, as it’s easy to rush a person through “missed material” without allowing sufficient time for proper reflection and conversion.
In closing, the extra effort involved with the above suggestions will not only allow us to welcome people at any time. It will also, in the long run, allow us more time to evangelize and catechize those who, by the grace of God, will one day join the Catholic Church.
You may also be interested in this related blog entry: