The Enquiry Phase

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

We had an interesting exchange here about the point of the enquiry period of the RCIA. I know of few parishes who even do this, and I feel it is one of the most important parts to get right in RCIA.

I’ve been at RCIA sessions before that are sound and rich in doctrine, and yet because of a lack of affective, spiritual conversion within the participants, little impact is made. It’s like a puddle of water sitting on the surface of the earth without sinking in.

So, I thought it would be good to revisit the principles of this phase – which I believe should be part of a good Confirmation programme, too.

The RCIA tells us that, before they are ready to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance, “the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidates” (RCIA, 42). What is meant by “beginnings of the spiritual life”? The rest of the paragraph gives more information: there “must be evidence of the first faith” and there “must also be evidence of the first stirrings of repentance”.

In other words, there must be an initial adherence to Jesus Christ, the beginnings of a relationship with Him, the initial desire to give our life over to Him.

“First faith” is someone’s spiritual awakening, the realisation that “Jesus is Lord.” This simultaneously causes the “first stirrings of repentance”. Part of the process of adhering to Jesus, is seeing our life in His light, and repenting of our sin.

In my understanding, I think this corresponds somewhere between the third threshold (openness) and fourth threshold (seeking) in Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (see one of my posts on this great book here). It is the bridge between passive curiosity and active seeking. We encounter Christ, begin to ‘fall for Him’, and want to take things further. As one RCIA leader put it, the enquiry phase is the “dating” phase.

Everything in the enquiry phase, therefore, is introducing someone to Jesus, inviting them to “taste and see” his goodness, to lead them to an encounter with him. And to remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this encounter.

As RCIA 37 puts it –

“From evangelisation, completed with the help of God, come the faith and initial conversion that cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelisation, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek Baptism may mature”

My experience in the parish was that, once we established an enquiry phase and gave people time for this to happen, the fruits of the Catechumenate were far, far greater. It was like the earth was turned over and the water could sink in.

2013-04-20 17.06.18

In contrast, what do we typically see in parishes? (Here I’m thinking of parishes with a doctrinally solid RCIA.) I think sometimes we see adults receiving catechesis that is too advanced, too soon. They listen to a wonderfully rich exposition of the “four marks of the Church”. But, without a growing relationship with Christ, do they know what this means for their life? Or is it like water sitting on hard earth which will soon float away? All doctrine needs to nourish spiritual life. If the interior life is not yet there, teaching doctrine (unless in a deeply evangelistic way) will have little effect.

So, what do we need to do in the enquiry phase? In our precatechumenate, we started with some simple sessions: ‘What is faith? Why do we need it?’; ‘What is the purpose of my life?’; ‘How can we know God?’; ‘Why did God create?’ We focussed on getting to know people, building community (the first threshold is establishing trust), answering apologetics issues that arose (the child abuse scandal; the problem of evil), helping people to establish a prayer life (bringing them every week – even the first week – for a short time of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament). We can ask catechists or guest parishioners to share their testimony. We can read through one of the Gospels together. We need to try and stay utterly focussed on Christ.

Once again, I think Pope Francis’s words in Brazil speak powerfully to this phase of the RCIA:

We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly. The Church also has to learn how to wait.

Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement, allure. God lets himself be brought home. He awakens in us a desire to keep him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbours in order to make known his beauty.

You may also like...

7 Responses

  1. “I’ve been at RCIA sessions before that are sound and rich in doctrine, and yet because of a lack of affective, spiritual conversion within the participants, little impact is made.”

    Yes. As a former RCIA teacher and current catechist, I’d say that if you don’t communicate to your audience that what you say matters to you personally, and affects your life, then you should shut up. The power of living personal witness will always outweigh the nominal content of the subject matter.

  2. Your post has spawned a lively conversation at our Forming Intentional Disciples Facebook Forum! Thanks for bringing up this critical point!

    Sherry Weddell

  3. Mike Carroll says:

    [The following is more positive at the end, just so you know]!

    I had to put off writing about this because I wanted to say something positive about RCIA, but I simply find nothing positive about it.

    In my experience it is so badly handled that I am surprised anyone ever gets into the Catholic Church. We have had people left hanging on for two years in the Nottingham diocese. Some persevere, but many give up and who can blame them. It’s also no good Catholics then being pompous and stating that “they didn’t really mean it” when they leave.

    I do hope that God has a sense of humour when it comes to RCIA. Bearing in mind that the Catechism clearly states that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church and that we go straight to hell if we die in a state of mortal sin (and the exceptions are far fewer than many realise), I hope He makes allowances for those lingering on soulless RCIA programmes’.

    I do know of people who have had a good experience of RCIA and they have always been one-to-one with good solid priests, probably because they make less of a Tony Blair tick box exercise.

    The other point I want to make is that if I hear another RCIA instructor state to someone, who has just come into the Church say, “you can do RCIA you know” I will literally scream. These RCIA people use this expression as if it were a form of evangelisation. They might as well be saying ” you can do xy and z you know”. It is as if the RCIA people’s brain dis-engages before they speak to new people.

    One of the points that I did notice you make was the phrase “a growing relationship with Christ”. The thing is that despite my blog being a bit ‘traditional’ I have infact come out of Catholic Charismatic Renewal (and also, like I said, the early days of Youth 2000). The point here is that you can’t make people have a personal relationship with God from books and programmes. Coming from Youth 2000 you will be aware of this point. People have to be lead to having a personal relationship with God by being given an experience of the reality of God i.e. the Burning Bush, or Baptism in the Holy Spirit, or the physical presence of the Holy Spirit at a Catholic charismatic conference (this also happens at Youth 2000 sometimes).

    Here’s the positive bit. If there is a new generation of people getting involved from Youth 2000 etc, such as yourself, then that is a good thing. Here is a tip. My friend runs RCIA, they will never tow the CBCEW or diocesan ‘liberal’ line. They are Catholic through and through (the real deal). They are EXTREMELY well versed in apologetics and they always without exception (because of that aspect) create good Catholics who stay in the church (they foster a bit of that personal relationship with God that you were talking about as well). They refuse to kowtow to the nonsense that is going on in the diocese. That is how to create good Catholics. Don’t become part of the machine.

  4. Wow, I can’t even imagine an RCIA without an inquiry phase. It’s just so fundamental and necessary to everything. At the same time, I know you’re right from personal experience and talking to others. RCIA directors usually do not understand how to make this work. They don’t understand the stages and how they play a key role in doing something that is so much more than telling people what the Church teaches–facilitating a deepened faith and adherence to Christ and through the study of God’s revelation. Nice job in laying this out. Trust is indeed the most important factor in the beginning. Without it, you’ve got nothing.

  5. Paul Rodden says:

    Very useful piece. Thanks!

    But I have a couple of questions…
    Firstly, if the Enquiry Stage is a ‘dating stage’ – which I think is an excellent description – why doesn’t anyone seem to drop out, and why do we allow people who clearly aren’t ready to ‘get married’ to continue into the next phase in the process? Should we use discernment and judgement to assess their suitability until they are ready or leave the process? (‘If the interior life is not yet there, teaching doctrine (unless in a deeply evangelistic way) will have little effect.’, as you put it)

    Secondly, but related, the RCIA Liturgical Cycle is something fixed, but if some people ‘need’, say, no time in Enquiry, others, possibly three months, and yet others, six, for example, how can that fit an RCIA timetable/programme cycle? The usual temptation is to have candidates fit a fixed ‘start date’ for each phase, isn’t it, but that simply ignores ‘where people are at’, doesn’t it?

    In other words, to do that, means the potential for ill-prepared and unconverted people entering the Church is high,too.

    For the Early Church it was a deadly affair – literally – so shouldn’t we be a bit tougher? Aren’t we saying that the Gospel doesn’t mean much to us if we aren’t, so let any one who wants to, come in? Yet, this is the practice in so many parishes, from my experience.

    As Chris Stefanick said in his ‘serious’ talk on Absolute Relativism at the recent Steubenville Conference, ‘Truth without love is cruelty. Love without Truth is abandonment’.

    BTW, have you got your results yet? I hope you got a distinction. If not, you deserve one!

  6. Paul Rodden says:

    I agree with a lot of what Mike Carroll’s written here about his disillusionment. But the most interesting discovery, is that we are in the same, awful, diocese! The Diocesan Education Centre has been a hotbed of dissent for years, promoting everything which would certainly push the buttons of ‘The Voris’, so anyone remotely faithful to the Church has nowhere to turn for training or support.

  7. Mike Carroll says:

    I came back and just wanted to say that this is a great blog by the way.

    I have to be honest – in this blog you have said the first coherent things I’ve ever heard said about RCIA, so keep up the good work.

    It is a good reference point and infact I have already used it already to point me in the right direction on something.

    Good stuff.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: