The Paradigm Shift and RCIA

Catechumens and candidates at the Rite of Election

For those who have followed this blog for a while, you will know I have reflected endlessly and written a lot on RCIA (just seeing the RCIA tag here freaks me out a little!). When I worked in Balham, we worked towards creating a year-round catechumenal model, faithfully using resources from the Association for Catechumenal Ministry – which I still think offers the best guidance for RCIA. When I moved to Portsmouth, I re-introduced the model at the cathedral and coordinated this for around two years. I love RCIA, I love the people I have known and taught over the years, I am so thankful for the conversions I’ve witnessed and the opportunities I’ve had to teach and also disciple people.

In Richmond, we are shifting into new missionary territory. Our approach is to move away from programmes which are one-off and terminal, towards processes which are year-round and ongoing. That is what all adult discipleship and catechesis can learn from RCIA because when done as it is intended, it is ongoing (see GDC 90 – the baptismal catechumenate is the model for all catechesis). But so far, we don’t have a proper RCIA process in place and here’s why:

  • Until we started Alpha, there was no one asking to become a Catholic
  • Alpha was the natural starting-point for anyone who was searching and curious
  • We don’t have an abundance of catechists, which is what you need to do RCIA in the way I’ve described in previous posts
  • As with our whole game plan, we’re keeping things simple

Interestingly, the non-baptised who did Alpha would not have signed up for RCIA. They were searching but would definitely not have expressed at that point a desire to become a Catholic. Even now, I don’t think they have even heard the acronym ‘RCIA’.

Following Alpha, everyone joined discipleship groups, including the non-baptised. Separately, we asked those we thought were “spiritually seeking” (in threshold terms) whether they were interested in exploring becoming baptised. All four said ‘yes’. So we now have separate catechesis for them on Sundays before the evening Mass which they all attend. So they have two moments of formation a week – in discipleship groups, and in Sunday catechesis.

Two years ago, I would not have dreamed that a catechumen should be baptised after just one term’s catechesis (after Alpha/an evangelisation and enquiry period). Here’s why I’ve changed my thinking:

  • The catechumens and candidates are woven into a web of friendships and other relationships that are pretty tight at this stage
  • We know them as friends and family, and the likelihood of this changing after Easter is highly improbable
  • Discipleship groups will be an ongoing fixture in our parish, and so the new Catholics have a clear pathway to continue on post-Easter
  • When the whole culture of a parish is shifting in a certain direction, you can be fairly confident that the neophytes will continue to be influenced by this
  • Without a doubt, we know that, for the catechumens, baptismal grace is something that will allow the Holy Spirit to fill their sails and move them forwards. Given everything else is in place, why postpone this any longer?

Maybe in the future, as we grow and develop more infrastructure, we will develop a proper RCIA process. But right now, what we are doing is – I can truthfully say – far more fruitful (and simple) than years of the year-round model – simply because our focus is on the whole parish rather than a single programme.

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1 Response

  1. I once heard it said, in an ideal world, the parish is the team; its life the curriculum. It does not negate the need for a team to accompany them in the appropriate preparation necessary prior to initiation but that it provides the context, and the ongoing accompaniment as they continue their journey post-initiation. I worked in a parish once where we worked toward this ideal–our “retention” rate went from 25% to over 80% in the course of five years. The renewal of parish life fueled a revival and retooling of RCIA…and vice versa.

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