Problems with Attendance

How to approach low attendance at RCIA sessions.

Each RCIA process encounters individuals who display problems with attendance. Some express an initial interest but after a while attend RCIA sessions irregularly, or stop coming altogether. Others, who might be physically present, are not really “there.” Some people seem to relate to the RCIA process as “hoops to jump through” in order to become Catholic, which may be especially likely if the person’s Catholic spouse is pressuring him or her to convert. Others attend catechetical sessions and go through the first two gateway Rites (i.e. Acceptance or Welcoming), but do not engage in the process in any other significant way; they appear to be “going through the motions.”

Everyone involved in the Christian initiation process must always keep in mind any circumstance or motivation is good that has brought an individual to contact a parish to find out more about the Catholic Church, and that throughout the Christian initiation process, God’s graces are poured out in abundance on each person. In general, the leader and team must provide opportunities for participants to respond to the Lord through a powerful proclamation of the Good Newsjoy-filled catechesisparticipation in reverent and beautiful liturgiesopportunities for heartfelt prayercompelling testimonies, and service opportunities. All of these in effect “till the soil” and “scatter the seed” which God will then cause to grow in the participants’ hearts and minds.

For some people, an initial motivation will rapidly develop into a deeper desire to become Catholic. Others may progress more slowly. Some need to be challenged to grow, while others will be best served with more time to think and pray before deciding to become Catholic. Conversion will happen at different times, for different reasons, and with different degrees of response from each participant. For these reasons, the RCIA ritual book explains that “nothing… can be settled a priori” and that the “time spent in the catechumenate should be long enough – several years if necessary – for the conversion and faith of the catechumens to become strong” (RCIA 76).

The Church does a disservice to an individual by initiating him or her before his or her faith has become strong. While this does not mean that each participant must have the faith of a saint before he or she is baptized or received into full communion, if a sufficiently sturdy foundation is not laid before a person receives the sacraments of initiation, some minor difficulty after initiation may cause a neophyte to abandon his or her practice of the faith when the tabernacle doors have barely been closed.

The leader should ensure that the absence of each participant is noted. When more than an occasional absence occurs, the leader should ascertain, from RCIA team members, the godparent or sponsor, or the participant, the reason for absences. Some absences are unavoidable due to family or work circumstances, illness, or other legitimate reasons. In these cases, it is not a lack of interest or desire. The leader must do everything possible to arrange for whatever support all those involved in the RCIA process can provide including recruiting additional intercessors to pray for the person (and, if it is appropriate, other parish assistance as well). In addition, the leader should ensure that all handouts, and tape or CD copies of catechetical sessions, if they are recorded, are mailed or given to the person. The leader should also, as appropriate, make personal contact, especially to restore enthusiasm when the person is again able to attend catechetical sessions.

Different demands are made of the leader and team in the case of individuals whose attendance is faltering for reasons having to do with disinterest or tepid interest, or who continue to attend but display disinterest or little evidence of conversion. Individuals who become known for a lukewarm commitment need additional intercessory prayer. The RCIA leader should also personally invite those whose attendance is poor to return. The leader and team must be careful not to assume that individuals who are by nature quiet and reserved are uninterested. Such people may not be comfortable asking questions, or sharing what is taking place in their hearts at group settings. In these cases, a good relationship with a godparent or sponsor is crucial to prevent an incorrect interpretation of appearances.

The above can be found on pages 183-184 of the RCIA Leader’s Manual published by the Association for Catechumenal Ministry and distributed by Liturgy Training Publications.

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