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

The workshop took place on May 1, 2004, at St. Gerard Church in Calgary. It was facilitated by Father Bill Corcoran,author of the Preparing for Liturgy series. He holds a Master's Degree in Liturgy from the University of Notre Dame, and is a team member of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. He is also the pastor of St. Peter Church, in Calgary.

Gathering my thoughts for this report is a challenging process because they threw a lot of information at us at the workshop. I find myself getting that information tangled up with my own feelings about RCIA in general, my experiences this past year as a co-facilitator in the Inquiry group, as a god parent/sponsor to a candidate, and my experiences of it as a participant. (I started it twice during the mid-1980s at St. Joseph Church, and then finally completed it at Sacred Heart in 2001.)

They had a book table in the front entry, and I did pick up some books for myself while I was there. I got the Blue Book (actually Shirley Valentine (yes the former school trustee), gave me her extra copy, so it has all of her notes in it, as well), I got the General Directory for Catechesis, and Preparing the Rites of Initiation by Bill Corcoran (Father Bill). I was not able to get a copy of Year Round Catechumenate by Mary Birmingham because I did not register for the workshop in time. There is also a book called Guide for Sponsors that was available. I glanced through it, and it looks really useful: I was thinking that it would have come in very handy with my candidate this past year. I highly recommend that we get copies of this book for the Sponsors in the coming year. It is available at Universal Book Supplies. The author is Ron Lewinski, and it's part of the Basics of Ministry series.

I also picked up copies of the new interview sheets for the new Inquirers; apparently when they were faxed to the parishes, something went wrong. I will make sure to get these to the Church office.

When I first arrived I met a Missionary sister from Africa who told me (in French) that she thinks the Africans are easier to evangelize than Canadians, because (she feels) Canadians tend to be stubborn and hard-headed. Africans apparently are a very spiritual people to begin with, and even non-Catholics will travel for miles on foot to reach a Church, to "come and see". This side conversation underscored for me the need for a thorough RCIA program: there is a need to provide as many opportunities as possible for the Holy Spirit to reach people, and remove as many obstacles to this process as possible.

Phrases that randomly stick in my mind from this conference include, "Integral formation, not (only) information." "Making missionary members." "Catechetical, Communal, Liturgical, and Apostolic." "We're not a school; we're a Church."

The first question that was addressed was "why do we have to do this?" The school year model is neat and clean, doesn't require very many volunteers, and only takes up one room of the building, one night each week. It's perfect, right? Nothing to improve on, right? Wrong, apparently.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops met recently, and because of various pastoral concerns, they have mandated all across Canada that every parish shall have a full and complete RCIA, first of all, and that, secondly, the Inquiry and Catechism sections will be available all year round. This means that it will follow a Church model, rather than a school model.

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 reasonably be expected to occur in the relatively short period of time between September and the following Easter. It is also not reasonable to expect that everyone who enters RCIA has done a year or more of research ahead of time, even though this is fairly common.

We were reminded of the four periods and three steps of the RCIA process.

The first period is Inquiry. The Inquiry period is characterized by a focus on story-telling and welcoming. It provides an opportunity for Inquirers to become acquainted with members of the Parish, and be welcomed by them. It also provides an opportunity for them to ask questions about the Catholic faith. The individual can remain in this period for as long as he or she wants.

The first step is the Rite of Acceptance for unbaptized people, or the Rite of Welcome, which is for people who have been baptized already. It marks the transition from Inquiry to Catechumenate.

The second period is the Catechumenate. This period is characterized by a focus on the Word of God. At Sacred Heart, this is the portion of the RCIA program that has received the most attention. It was only last year that we began to implement a Period of Inquiry and a Mystagogia.

The second step is the Rite of Election, for unbaptized, or Call to Full Communion, for those already baptized. This marks the transition out of the Catechumenate, and into the Period of Purification and Enlightenment. This usually occurs on the first weekend of Lent.

The third period is the Period of Purification and Enlightenment. This is not intended to be a continuation of catechesis, but rather a period of reflection.

With the year-round model, people do not enter this period the first time they encounter it. 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 criteria are:

Has experienced interior and exterior conversion, is sufficiently acquainted with Christian teaching, has gained a spirit of faith and charity, and consciously has the intention to receive the Sacraments. (They did not explain what "sufficiently acquainted with Christian teaching" looks like, nor did they say what constitutes evidence of an interior conversion.)

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 exploring their baptismal commitment to building God's Kingdom on earth, and moving out from the small group to become integrated into the wider community of the parish.

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 might it look like when it is fully implemented?

Father Bill says, first of all, that it will definitely be messier than the school model.

I am using the analogy of "rooms" to signify the different periods: while it may not be necessary for the participants to physically move to a different space, this seems to be the easiest way to illustrate the concept in a concrete way.

There will be three rooms, and three groups of facilitators. One room is only used from the beginning of Lent 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, ultimately. The Catechesis group (Group 2) is "Dismissed" to "break open the Word" every Sunday of the whole year.

People (candidates) move from room to room at the times of the rites (the steps noted above), 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. Nor do I completely understand the reasoning, however, it seems to me that they want people who are entering the Catechumenate to be free from any obstacles to becoming Catholic. Those not intending to become Catholic would remain in the Inquiry group.

The Rite of Acceptance (or the Rite of Welcome, in the case of people who have previously been baptized) is the only way to get into the Catechumenate group. Because of this, Father Bill suggested that it is important to have a Rite of Acceptance at least twice a year. He further suggested that these could occur once in the Fall (September or October) when everyone has returned from the summer holiday, but before the Christmas pandemonium begins, and once in the Spring, say in April or May, after Easter but before people leave again for the summer.

The Catechumenate group meets twice a week: once at a Sunday Mass for Dismissal and Breaking Open the Word, and once during the week for a Catechesis session, which should also be based on the Sunday readings. The reason for this is that a Lectionary-focused lesson plan can be made stand-alone, such that it isn't dependent on previously-learned information. This would enable people to enter the Catechumenate period at any point, without having to wait for a "beginning" point, or "get caught up" - these concepts would become obsolete. Rather, they would simply begin their year of Catechesis at that point, and once they had completed a full year, they would have encountered each concept at least once. (There are curricula for this available from the Diocese. If we decide to use that model this upcoming year, I will ask around and find out what is working for others: apparently there are at least three choices.)

According to this model, nobody is ever received into the Church at their first Easter Vigil - they all wait until their second one.

They don't stay in the Catechumenate area for their Purification and Mystagogia: they go in a third room, with a third team. Catechesis has ended for them: now they are praying, fasting, 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. The ones who don't proceed to the Period of Purification and Enlightenment stay in the same area, with the Catechumenate team, and continue to do catechesis. They can be received the following year, all being well, and meanwhile, they are still connected to the Church. The Elect continue to be Dismissed at Mass during Lent. (I have no idea how this dovetails with the Catechumens, although I assume they would probably attend the same Dismissal each Sunday, together.)

So, how can we get from here to there?

We currently have an excellent Catechechumenate (RCIA period 2), and there are many features of it that I would not want to lose in the transition to a full 4-period RCIA, and to a year-round model. First, the strong emphasis on the teachings found in the 1994 Catechism should not be lost. Second, the creation of orderly and thorough presentations that make generous use of the writings of the Early Fathers, Papal documents, and Scripture, and their presentation in plain, accessible language, ought to be preserved. Third, the practice of accessing the writings of the Saints and the traditions of the Church in selecting devotions for opening and closing rituals ought to be continued. In correcting our form, let's not lose our content.

We have already taken some steps in the direction of implementing a full RCIA: the Inquiry group is at least available one week every month, even though it is only recently (the past few weeks, actually) that people have been taking full advantage of it. We have also been implementing Dismissal and Breaking Open the Word on most Sundays, and we now have something for the Candidates during the Mystagogia period.

The next step that I would want to implement (just from a personal point of view, being a co-facilitator in the Inquiry) is the idea of people coming to Inquiry before entering the Catechumenate, and having them do the Rite of Acceptance or Rite of Welcome as the transition point. I leave decisions around the other elements, and whether or how to implement them this year, to those more competent and experienced than I.

This is going to take lots of volunteers, but again, this dovetails with the goals of Vatican II around the RCIA. The purpose of RCIA was not simply to replace the priest/teacher with a lay teacher, but rather, to replace the "one teacher" with an entire parish community of facilitators and friends. This group should include both lay people and priests. The year-round model facilitates this, in that it makes the "one teacher" model impossible. We are going to need more than one or two people giving the lectures in the Catechechumenate period, for the simple reason that, otherwise, people are going to burn out. One solution is to invite a number of guest speakers to come, throughout the year, which also allows a larger number of people a tangible opportunity to respond to and participate in Pope John Paul II's call for a New Evangelization.

Steve Robinson from St. Pius X parish mentioned that he wouldn't mind coming as a "guest speaker" once or twice. He is a very dynamic person with strong, "contagious" faith. He says he prefers "specifically Catholic" topics, such as Mary, the Sacraments, and so on. I think we ought to take him up on this. Father Bill also suggested that Father Edmund should be invited to come in as a guest speaker from time to time, since he, too, would have some important wisdom to share with the Catechumens. I think this is also very much worth looking into, although I know that he is a very busy person. We also have many other people in our parish who would be excellent speakers; our resident priests, lay people, and probably Religious, who would probably not mind being asked for one week to do something, even though they may not be able to make a larger commitment.

Respectfully submitted;


Judith McRae

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