Report on the RCIA Training Session on October 1, 2005, facilitated by author Mary Birmingham of the Year Round Catechumenate.

The first thing that she mentioned was that she comes from the Diocese of Orlando, which, in land area, is the largest Diocese in the world - because it includes the Moon. True story. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon on July 16, 1969, having arrived there by rocket ship from Cape Canaveral in Orlando, Florida, Pope Paul VI extended the Diocese of Orlando to include the entire surface of the Moon. (Catechesis Model: Engage the students' attention by beginning the lesson with a memorable story.)

From my notes:

There are three components of Liturgical Catechesis:

1. Everything that is done to prepare to enter into the celebration of the Liturgy.

2. The celebration of the Liturgy.

3. Reflection on the experience of the Liturgy just celebrated, and dialogue concerning what it teaches and how it exhorts us.


RCIA (the Blue Book) is the normative document for formation. This is important. The Vatican did not send us a Catechism with which to teach new converts facts - instead, they sent us a Rite. This tells us what sort of formation the Vatican is expecting us to give to adult converts. Rather than being fact-based formation, (intellectual) it is intended to be liturgy-based formation (experiential).


She then proposes what I would consider to be a false dichotomy between "Education" and the "Liturgical Model." I think that the two can co-exist: indeed, I think that they have to co-exist, and in practice, they do. No one sends Catechumens to Mass without afterwards explaining to them what they just experienced. No one sends them to the Easter Vigil without first preparing them through rehearsal and through examination of the component elements of the Mass. These are teaching moments. Teaching does not have to consist of a lecture - indeed, the best teaching occurs during the performance of a task, when the teacher says, "See, I am doing this, now - try and see if you can do it, too." But, even a teacher who prefers to give lectures most of the time will still do demonstrations, in cases where words alone do not convey the lesson, and will still "break open" a liturgical experience, both before and after the fact.  So, I am less concerned about our method of teaching: I think that each Catechist needs to teach in the way that best makes sense to him or her, within the parameters of the RCIA Period for which they are responsible.


When I came into this meeting, after having read her book, I did have some concerns about her method, based on her description of the Baptism of the character "Michael." It turns out that "Michael" wasn't "never taught", but rather, that he was never *lectured.* He was taught, though, and in fact he was invited to attend a Baptism during his Catechesis period, and after observing the Baptism, he was asked to "break open" the experience in a supplemental RCIA meeting. So, far from being "not taught" anything about Baptism, he was *more than* taught. So, he wasn't guessing at the Church's teachings: he was simply summarizing what he had learned and connecting it with the personal experience of his own baptism.


I wish she had just phrased it that way in the book, though - the way she phrased it made it sound like the facilitator was talking about her cat, or something, all the way through RCIA, instead of teaching the doctrines and practices of the Church.


During the afternoon, she did a demonstration of what she means by "Liturgical Catechesis," using the Rite of Anointing of Catechumens  (an optional rite for use as needed during the Catechumenate) as her example. The demonstration was very powerful, and showed how a combination of sight/sound/touch experience, together with a doctrinally sound explanation and opportunities for questions and statements from the participants and observers, are powerful for spiritual growth and learning.  


Most of the rest of her talk was repetition from what we have heard before. The RCIA is in four Periods, which are divided by three Rites: Inquiry, Catechesis, Purification and Enlightenment, and Mystagogia, divided by the Rite of Acceptance or Rite of Welcome, the Rite of Election or Call to Full Communion, and the Sacraments of Initiation.  However, it is worth reviewing them, in order to see where we stand right now, at Sacred Heart. 


The Period of Inquiry is also called the Precatechumenate, or the Period of Evangelization. During this period, Inquirers learn how to pray, discover who Jesus is, develop a moral sense, including the desire to repent of their sins, and have their initial questions answered. The Church also asks them some questions, to ensure that there are no impediments to their process of conversion or, ultimately, to their reception of the Sacraments of Initiation. This period is available year-round, and anyone may enter it at any time.


Transition to the Catechumenate is through the Rite of Acceptance, for unbaptized persons, and through the Rite of Welcome, for persons who were previously baptized in another Christian tradition. (This component is currently missing, at Sacred Heart.)


Catechesis occurs in two distinct but parallel movements: Breaking Open the Word in Sunday Dismissal, and Extended Catechesis, which expands on the topic introduced in Breaking Open the Word, in greater depth. (Extended Catechesis is a place where I think that lecture-style teaching would be very appropriate.)


One suggestion that Mary Birmingham made was to have the Extended Catechesis occur after lunch on Sundays, rather than on a weekday evening. If we were to do this at Sacred Heart, then that would free up our alternate Wednesdays, so that we could have a weekly Inquiry Session available, rather than only twice a month, as we have now. At this point, we don't have Extended Catechesis at all, although we have booked off the first and third Wednesdays of every month for this purpose. This period is also available year-round.


Transition to the Period of Purification and Enlightenment is through the Rite of Election, for unbaptized persons, and through the Call to Full Communion, for those who have been baptized in another Christian tradition. This normally occurs on the first weekend of Lent, and it always occurs at the Cathedral, with the Bishop present.


The Period of Purification and Enlightenment, like the Catechumenate, occurs in two distinct but parallel movements: a new kind of Breaking Open the Word in Sunday Dismissal, which now no longer focuses on gathering information, but focuses on prayerful reflection on the Gospels with a view to Sacramental Preparation, and weekly retreat times in which the Liturgies that are being experienced during Lent are prayerfully "unpacked."  An outline for each of the seven retreats was provided as part of our handout package. At the end of this period, the participants experience the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.


Mystagogia parallels the Inquiry process: it occurs once a week, and provides an opportunity for participants to tell stories and ask questions, both about what has occurred, and about how they will live out their Catholic lives. The things that occur during Mystagogia will not be new to the participants: indeed, the actions will be very familiar to them, because they will have been introduced to characteristically Mystagogical ideas throughout their RCIA process. Birmingham points out, "Now is not the time to introduce them to volunteer opportunities in the Church: if this has not already been done early on in the process, then it is probably already too late."  However, I don't think there would be any problem with introducing them to the fact that, now that they are members in Full Communion, their range of service opportunities has expanded considerably.


Some things that Mary Burmingham mentioned about how things are done at her parish were:


That they had several teams of Catechists, who each took on a two-month commitment, in teams of two for each section. This would mean that each team would be on for two months, and then off for two months. This system prevents volunteer burnout, and yet still provides a consistent experience for the participants.


That they had team meetings once a month, and informed each other of how the participants were doing. Everyone, including those not "on deck" during that month, is required to attend these meetings, so that they are "up to speed" when it comes around again to their turn.


There are a few things that I would like to see happen in Sacred Heart's RCIA:


1. Provide opportunities for at least the Rite of Acceptance, three or four times a year, and also the Rite of Welcome, if it is possible. It doesn't mean that we will always have people to come to them (although given our recent history, I suspect we will always have a few), but it is easier to omit one that has been arranged, than to try and arrange one at the last minute, as we have seen. The current situation of not having anything at all is not within the regular norms of the RCIA, as far as I understand it.


Of course, if we did this, I would have to sacrifice my current practice of sending people to Catechesis within days of completing their interviews - but I think we would cope, especially if I could be able to tell people what day they need to come for the Rite of Acceptance or Rite of Welcome, and begin their Catechumenate period.


2. I would like to see the Extended Catechesis get started. My experience of talking to members of last year's group is that they could have used more Catechesis than what they actually got - there are some important practices of the Church that they are simply not aware of. Of course, in the end, they will eventually discover these things, but it seems to me that the whole point of having an RCIA in the first place is so that this sort of thing doesn't need to occur.  I also got the feeling that Karen and Michael were using the Period of Purification and Enlightenment and the Mystagogia period to attempt to make up for the lack, since I noticed that they were presenting Catechism topics during those periods.

3. Weekly Inquiry. We could do this if we schedule the Extended Catechesis to a different time than the first and third Wednesdays; perhaps to Sunday afternoons, as suggested in the training session. We would need more "staff" for the Inquiry period, in order to do this, so that Flora and I don't burn out: perhaps another team of two with whom we could work. Maybe we could start weekly Inquiry at the start of the next cycle, in the first week of Lent, 2006.

Everything else is in the handouts, which I will bring to our meeting for your review. Apart from one or two rather strange quotations on the last page, everything in the handouts seems to be within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy, and I think we can safely follow the recommendations found in them, as time goes on.

Respectfully Submitted,

Judith McRae

BACK to Judith's RCIA Reports