The R.C.I.A. Process is Pastoral
The RCIA process is a growth in intimacy as much as in knowledge.
Alongside the powerful liturgical moments of the process and the faithful catechetical endeavor, there is also an intense pastoral activity, which must be initiated from the first time an inquirer expresses interest in the Church.
This activity operates with the knowledge that each participant will vary in his or her background, lifestyle, motivation, and state in life. Each parish RCIA team steeps themselves in the lives of participants with gentleness, prudence and a genuine desire to open their hearts wide.
The Love and Labor of Many People
The pastoral components are the people who participate, some intimately and others from a distance, in Jesus’ work of conversion and discipleship. The pastoral work of the catechumenal process is accomplished through the love and labor of many people, including the following:
Clergy • Catechists • Sponsors • Small group leaders • Prayer intercessors
This pastoral work is a people-to-person endeavor - all the people impacting this one person for the Lord. Pastoring involves both information and formation.
Christian Initiation during the catechumenate is not the concern of catechists or priest alone, but of the whole community of believers and especially the godparents, so that from the outset the catechumens will have a sense of being a part of the people of God.
By instruction and by example, the catechumens and candidates learn who God is, what he wants, and how to follow him as a member of the Christian community. Through the pastoral attention of others, participants are informed about him, and formed in him.
"The people of God, as represented by the local Church, should understand and show by their concern that the initiation of adults is the responsibility of all the baptized. Therefore the community must always be fully prepared in the pursuit of its apostolic vocation to give help to those who are searching for Christ." (RCIA, Introduction 9).
As with liturgy and catechesis, the pastoral aspect also changes as participants move through each of the successive periods of the parish RCIA process.
The pre-catechumenate serves as a time of inviting people to come and see, of determining motivation and moving them from the initial stages of faith – an encounter with Jesus, turning away from sin, and finding a home in the Church.
During the next period, the catechumenate, the pastoral aim is to move the participants from initial motivation to firm conviction, with strong elements of fellowship and spiritual direction.
The periods of purification and enlightenment and mystagogy serve as a time of strong support and encouragement for participants to deepen their spiritual life and increase in works of charity.
For the remainder of the neophyte year, the pastoral focus is to provide continued support and encouragement in living out a strong Catholic life in a parochial setting wherein they feel comfortably at home. The process aims not just at making non-ignorant Christians – it seeks to transform them into outwardly focused Christians, sure in the conviction that the fullness of the truth has been revealed and is to be shared with joy.
Confidentiality is a crucial prerequisite to and hallmark of pastoring in the catechumenal process.
- Members of the team must be people in whom the candidates and catechumens can confide.
- The conversion process may involve crises and battling with very personal and painful issues.
- The principle that should govern pastoral activity is the virtue of prudence.
- Obtaining intercessors to pray for troubled participants is vital; this does not necessitate revealing much information.
Use of the Adult Learning Model
The adult learning model in relationship to pastoring includes:
- Creating an atmosphere comprised of adult Catholics who are prepared to accept inquirers where they are, and to open their lives to them;
- Using small groups to foster relationships and dialogue;
- Providing witness to the Christian life so that the application of a session is immediately evident – avoid ‘stacking-up’ information that adults cannot make use of in their lives – always connect right belief with right practice;
- Giving attention to providing liturgical experiences and opportunities for apostolic service in the context of the Christian community;
- Planning for the fact that participants will have difficulties and crises; such situations are often a sign of developing conversion.
Pastoring in the Precatechumenate
During this period inquirers “should receive help and attention” so that they may (1) Purify their intentions and (2) clarify their desire to cooperate with God’s grace (RCIA 38).
Whatever their original reason for beginning, it is a good one. It must be cultivated and encouraged so that they can come to the conviction that they cannot imagine living the rest of their lives outside of the Church. Changes in lifestyle should accompany this period as folks turn away from sinful patterns and turn toward God in Christ. The following signs should mark this period (RCIA 42):
- Evidence of first faith manifested in repentance
- Interest in a prayer life
- Growing desire to study and learn what God has revealed
- A sense of the Church
This is the time to include many varied testimonies of faith and the Christian life. It is also the time to connect inquirers to parishioners who could become friends. Sponsors should be chosen with care taken to train them to be companions on the journey. Intercession for the individual inquirers should begin.
Pastoring in the Catechumenate
During this period the example and guidance of godparents, sponsors, team, and the entire parish is crucial because it is from them that the catechumens and candidates learn (RCIA 75.2):
- To turn more readily to God in prayer
- To bear witness to the faith
- In all things to keep their hopes set on Christ
- To begin to recognize and to follow supernatural inspiration in their deeds
- To practice love of neighbor, even at the cost of self-renunciation
- To be strengthened in faith and conversion
The Church is like a mother to the catechumens and candidates and so we must take steps to know each person well, making room for them in our hearts and lives. Love and confidentiality must be the hallmarks of those caring for the catechumens and candidates. Encouragement, gentle direction, example, and advice, well placed by the catechumenal team, will greatly aid the conversion process.
Pastoring during Purification and Enlightenment
RCIA 142 explains that before they receive the Sacraments of Initiation, the elect must have the intention of achieving an intimate knowledge of Christ and His Church, and they are expected particularly to progress in genuine self-knowledge through serious examination of their lives and true repentance.
Pastoring during Mystagogy and the Neophyte Year
The neophytes must be welcomed and helped to continue in their journey that is the Christian life. This is a time for the community and the neophytes together to grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives through...
- Meditation on the Gospel
- Sharing in the Eucharist
- Participating in the works of charity
To strengthen the neophytes as they begin to walk in newness of life, the community of the faithful, their godparents, and their pastors should give them thoughtful and friendly help.
"After the immediate mystagogy or postbaptismal catechesis during the Easter season, the program for the neophytes should extend until the anniversary of Christian initiation, with at least monthly assemblies of the neophytes for their deeper Christian formation and incorporation into the full life of the community." (National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 24)
"On the anniversary of their Baptism the neophytes should be brought together in order to give thanks to God, to share with one another their spiritual experiences, and to renew their commitment." (RCIA 250)
"To show his pastoral concern for these new members of the Church, the bishop, particularly if he was unable to preside at the Sacraments of Initiation himself, should arrange, if possible, to meet the recently baptized at least once in the year and to preside at a celebration of the Eucharist with them." (RCIA 251)