RCIA catechetical sessions are not meant solely to transmit information like the convert classes of old. The purpose of catechesis is to initiate and foster the process of conversion of heart and entry into the mystery of Christ. Therefore, in addition to teaching the truths of the faith in catechetical sessions, it is important to provide time in small groups to give participants a forum where they can feel comfortable.
Small groups enable catechumens and candidates to express how they have understood the truths they have heard. They are then able to articulate their initial responses: perceptions, insights, agreements, connections with other teachings, assent, thanksgivings... as well as concerns, reservations, difficulties, and disagreements. The dialogue that small groups foster will allow for participants to experience a deepening of their own conversion as well as to consider how they might apply a particular teaching to their own life situation.
Although small groups are not mentioned in the RCIA ritual book, small groups are exceedingly helpful to participants' spiritual journeys because they call for dialogue and response.
Genuine catechesis therefore is that catechesis which helps to perceive the action of God throughout the formative journey. It encourages a climate of listening, of thanksgiving and of prayer. It looks to the free response of persons and it promotes active participation among those to be catechized. (General Directory for Catechesis, n. 145)
This personal dialogue with the truths of the faith is at the heart of the small-group component of the Christian initiation process. Speaking honestly about their thoughts and feelings on these matters causes participants to wrestle with them and, in time and with God's grace, experience a deepening conversion.
From the standpoint of participants, the small-group sessions have a specifically catechetical characters. However, from the standpoint of the RCIA leader, godparents and sponsors, and the team, the sessions have a strong pastoral component. This is so for several reasons:
- Dialogue with participants in a small-group context allows sponsors, godparents, and team members to gain invaluable insights concerning the pastoral care that an individual may need.
- If a participant needs to talk something out, the small groups provide people who are there to listen.
- If there is a recurring issue that needs further attention, a pastorally-astute godparent, sponsor, or team member can pick up on it.
A word should be said about the difference between small-group discussions following a catechetical session and a small-group Reflection on the Word session. Reflection on the Word sessions follwo the dismissal of catechumens from the Mass after the Liturgy of the Word. These sessions are therefore a continuation of the liturgy and are not intended to be catechetical. The small-group sessions during the catechetical sessions, on the other hand, offer more time to respond to and discover the truths of God and his plan that participants have just heard, and consider how the teachings apply to everyday life.
The above can be found on page 171 of the RCIA Leader's Manual published by the Association for Catechumenal Ministry and distributed by Liturgy Training Publications. This particular section of the manual goes on to address: (a) selecting and training facilitators, (b) the number of groups needed, (c) composition of groups, (d) placement in the catechetical session and duration, (e) what takes place in small-group sessions, and (f) specific problems.