Report on the RCIA Mini-Workshop on the Year Round Catechumenate

(sub-report: Processing Through the Year Round Catechumenate)

The Processes

The first question that was addressed was "why do we have to do this?" The current model is neat and clean, doesn't require very many volunteers, and only takes up one room of the building, one night each week.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops met recently, and because of various concerns about, first of all, the number of converts lost because of having to wait until September, and then secondly the number lost after being received due to too short of a formation period, it has been mandated all across Canada that every parish shall have a full and complete RCIA, first of all, and secondly, that the Inquiry and Catechism sections will be available all year round, without a summer break. This means that it will follow a Church model, rather than a school model.

They also believe that by making the second period of RCIA, the Catechumenate, longer, it will cut down on the temptation to be still doing catechesis during the Period of Purification in Lent and during the Mystagogia after Easter, which should be periods of spiritual retreat and of deepening the mysteries, respectively. 

We began with an overview of the process of conversion to the Catholic faith.

First, it is a spiritual process, not a mental process. While there is certain information that is important to know, knowing the information is not enough to be a good Catholic. Becoming a "member and missionary" is a process that takes many, many months. It cannot occur in the relatively short period of time between September and the following Easter, as evidenced by the high number of post-Easter drop-outs: this is not targeted at any specific parish, but is a general observation.

We were reminded of the four periods and three steps of the RCIA process. The first period is Inquiry, and the first step is the Rite of Acceptance for unbaptized people, and the Rite of Welcome, for people who have been baptized already. (Which answers my question of a few months ago; yes, we are supposed to be doing the Rite of Welcome for the baptized candidates who come from Protestant denominations.)

The second period is the Catechumenate. (Persons do not enter the Catechumenate until after the Rite of Acceptance/Welcome. They stay in Inquiry until that time.) The length of the Catechumenate is no longer determined by the number of weeks between the Sunday after Labour Day and the date of Easter; rather, it is a minimum of one full calendar year (and in most cases will end up being about 18-19 months) for each individual, and each individual will be on his or her own personal "track". This is why Lectionary catechesis is recommended, since people can be in the same group who have entered at different times: each lesson is stand-alone and not dependent on previous knowledge. Father Bill emphasized that this is not to be a Bible study, but rather, the Catechist is expected to point out and emphasize the Catholic doctrines illustrated in each set of Sunday Lectionary readings: this is, in fact, what they have been designed for.  

The second step is the Rite of Election, for unbaptized, or Call to Full Communion, for the already-baptized. This occurs on the first weekend of Lent, and they then leave the Catechumenate, and enter the third period, which is the Period of Purification and Enlightenment. This is not a period of catechesis: with the longer Catechumenate (minimum of one year) there should be no need to do anything except fast, pray and do retreats during this period. Note that people do not enter this period the first time they encounter it on the Church calendar: they observe their first Easter Vigil, without participating in it, and then are received into the Church at their second Easter Vigil, so the first Lent that they encounter, they stay in the Catechumenate. Also,  there should be no automatic "graduations" - people should be evaluated individually, and they need to be warned in advance what the criteria are.

The third step occurs at the Easter Vigil, which is the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation.

The fourth period is the period of Mystagogia, or "deepening of the mysteries," and goes from Easter to Pentecost. Like the Inquiry period, this period is directed by the Candidates, and is focused on their experiencing of the Sacraments for the first time, and becoming acclimatized.

One thing that was emphasized was that the process of bringing parishes to implement correct procedures will not happen overnight. There are entrenched cultures around ownership of the process and assumptions about how catechesis works that must be gently dealt with, with love, gentle teaching, and a sense of humour.

What it will look like when it is fully implemented:

Three rooms, and three groups of facilitators. One room is only used during Lent and until Pentecost, however, it needs to be reserved and available for that time period.

Another room is used or at least set aside and available every week of the whole year for the Catechumenate, and the third room is used or at least set aside and made available every week, year-round, for the Inquiry group.

People (candidates) move from room to room at the times of the rites (steps), and not before (or after).

Everyone starts in the Inquiry group: no one jumps straight into the Catechumenate group.  Inquiry is where their story is learned and their details (ie: marriage issues) are found out about. Those who need a declaration of nullity may not proceed to the Catechumenate until that is taken care of; this was only mentioned in passing, but at the end of the session someone asked about it, and Father Bill said that this is coming from the Marriage Tribunal itself.

I wasn't clear on how they plan to enforce this, but apparently something really messy will happen to people who try to request declarations of nullity after the Rite of Acceptance or the Rite of Welcome. This needs to be done before-hand, the reason being that the meaning behind these Rites is that the people are in fact ready to prepare to become Catholic, and of course someone who is in need of a declaration of nullity is not ready for this.  The purpose of Inquiry is story-telling and welcoming; it is also important to answer any and all questions that are raised. The focus is on the people who are thinking of becoming Catholic.

The Rite of Acceptance or the Rite of Welcome are the only ways to get into the Catechumenate group. Because of this, it is important to have a Rite of Acceptance at least twice and up to four times a year, possibly once in the Fall (September or October) when things have quieted down from the summer, but before the Christmas pandemonium begins, and once in the Spring, say in April or May., after Easter but before the wedding season gets into high gear: these times were suggested by Father Bill. The purpose of the Catechumenate is for the candidates to be focused on the Word of God, and learning that it is the written record of Catholic doctrine.  

Nobody is ever received into the Church at their first Easter Vigil - they all wait until their second one.  Those who enter the Catechumenate in September will be received into the Church not in 7-8 months, but rather, in 19-20 months. Those who enter in April, if there is an April Rite of Acceptance scheduled, will take nearly two years, and not one year, since they have just missed an Easter Vigil.

They don't stay in the Catechumen classroom for their Purification and Mystagogia: they go in a third room, with a third team.  Catechesis has ended: now, they are praying and doing retreats.

Not all of them proceed at the same time: they are evaluated individually, and the Catechumenate continues for those who are not yet ready to become Elect or be called to Full Communion. Catechism class never ends. The Catechist does not cancel the Catechism class in order to co-facilitate the Purification and Enlightenment group. He continues to lead RCIA Catechism. There continue to be Catechumens and Candidates, because moving through the Rite of Election is not "automatic" and some people will have discovered that they are not yet ready for it, especially those who have not yet completed their full 52 weeks of RCIA Catechesis. The ones who don't proceed to the Period of Purification and Enlightenment stay in the same classroom, with the Catechumenate team, and continue to do Catechesis. They can be received the following year.

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