Integrating a Systematic Catechesis with a Year-Round RCIA Process

This presentation was given by Dino Durando and Stacy Phillips from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Modesto, CA at the Diocese of Sacramento’s Catechist Ministry Day on September 26, 2009 in Sacramento, California.


This following handouts accompany this 65-minute video presentation. We recommend downloading and printing out all of these handouts before watching the above presentation.

Background to the Presentation

The RCIA is a liturgical, catechetical, and pastoral process that requires signs and stages of conversion to take place before a participant progresses to the next stage (e.g. from Inquiry to Catechumenate). This necessitates a process that allows for an individual who is not ready to progress to remain in one period of the process while others who are ready to progress to move on to the next period of the process. This can only be facilitated by a year-round parish RCIA process.

Simultaneously, the catechetical documents of the Church clearly call for catechesis to be systematic and organic.

Systematic means that each successive teaching be linked to the teaching given beforehand, demonstrating the hierarchy of truths. A carefully laid-out systematic presentation of the faith does not leave any holes. It is complete. It does not skip over any of the essentials of the faith due to careful planning.

Organic means that each doctrine is linked to other doctrines, showing the integral unity of the Faith. Organic catechesis has more to do with how a lesson is presented, while systematic catechesis has more to do with how a curriculum or “doctrine cycle” is devised.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a prime example of a catechesis that is both systematic and organic. It systematically lays out the Deposit of Faith (what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition for the sake of our salvation) piece by piece, while at the same time, consistently demonstrating the unity of the Faith.

An example of systematic: The first section of the Catechism is structured around the 12 articles of the Apostles Creed and progresses from “Who is God?” to “The Four Last Things.”

An example of organic: While presenting the teaching on Mary (CCC 963-975), Mary is presented in relation to Jesus, the Church, the Holy Spirit, the life of faith, the Paschal Mystery, the resurrection of the dead, grace, and the list goes on!

Below are a number of quotations below from John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation titled: On Catechesis in Our Time (Catechesi Tradendae) (CT), which is quoted extensively by the General Directory for Catechesis as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

All in all, it can be taken here that catechesis is an education of children, young people and adults in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.

(CT 18)

The specific character of catechesis, as distinct from the initial conversion-bringing proclamation of the Gospel, has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(CT 19)

In his closing speech at the Fourth General Assembly of the Synod, Pope Paul VI rejoiced ” to see how everyone drew attention to the absolute need for systematic catechesis, precisely because it is this reflective study of the Christian mystery that fundamentally distinguishes catechesis from all other ways of presenting the word of God” … I am stressing the need for organic and systematic Christian instruction because of the tendency in various quarters to minimize its importance.

(CT 21)

Nor is any opposition to be set up between a catechesis taking life as its point of departure and a traditional, doctrinal and systematic catechesis.[52] Authentic catechesis is always an orderly and systematic initiation into the revelation that God has given of himself to humanity in Christ Jesus, a revelation stored in the depths of the Church’s memory and in Sacred Scripture, and constantly communicated from one generation to the next by a living active traditio.

(CT 22)


We may ask the appropriate question: Why do the catechetical documents insist upon a systematic and organic catechesis?

When divine revelation is presented in this fashion, the student is able to better understand the big picture and see how each piece of the picture fits in its proper place.  This allows for greater ease of understanding and comprehension as previously learned truths shed light upon the truth at hand, which, in turn, leads to increased faithfulness (seeking holiness), which is the ultimate goal of Christian discipleship.  It also shows how the disciple cannot dispense from believing one doctrine without marring the integrity of all we believe.

On the contrary, when the Catholic Faith is presented in a merely topical fashion wherein the subjects from week to week in the catechumenate have no system that follows an order, the student is more prone to view Catholic doctrine as a smorgasbord of “beliefs.”

In Conclusion

The balancing act that the RCIA process must perform is this: It must present a systematic and organic catechesis while allowing for multiple points of entry and exit for participants.  We hope that the above video presentation with the accompanying handouts will give you, the viewer, a firm foundation to build from as you continually seek to improve and grow your own parish catechumenal process.

The viewer may also be interested in these related blog entries:

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