The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops describes the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) as a process whereby participants "undergo ... conversion as they study the Gospel, profess faith in Jesus and the Catholic Church, and receive the sacraments... The RCIA process follows the ancient practice of the Church and was restored by the Second Vatican Council as the normal way adults prepare for baptism." The Archdiocesan Office for Divine Worship adds, "It (RCIA) is a process rather than an educational program and ... takes place within the community of the faithful, the local Church." Note: "...within ...the local Church." Paragraph nine of the Introduction to the Rite is explicit: "...the initiation of adults is the responsibility of all the baptized.... The entire community must help the candidates and catechumens throughout the process of initiation." Clearly, we're all involved.
The Rite of Election takes place on the first Sunday of Lent, usually at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, with Cardinal O'Malley celebrating. In the Rite, the cardinal asks the catechumens preparing for baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist, about their readiness to enter a more intense period of prayer and study. Their sponsors attest to their readiness, and the catechumens sign the Book of the Elect. Usually. The Rite of Continuing Conversion follows, with candidates -- those who were baptized in another Christian religion and want to become Catholic, or, were baptized Catholic but never received the sacraments of Eucharist, reconciliation, or confirmation -- and their sponsors. They are asked about their willingness to continue their journey of faith. Note the repetition of the word USUALLY. Has anyone noticed that this has been a very unusual month? Due to the abundance of snow, narrow streets, lack of available parking, and general safety concerns, the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion will NOT take place at the Cathedral this weekend. However, this may be a good time to look at the RCIA process through the lens of the archdiocesan pastoral plan.
RCIA and Disciples in Mission, the Pastoral Plan of the Archdiocese are rooted in evangelization and strive to help adults develop and strengthen their relationship with Jesus. But, do parishes operating out of a collaborative model of leadership and ministry welcome and form adults seeking full participation in the Church differently from non-collaborative parishes? Yes and no.
The language of Disciples in Mission promotes radical hospitality, i.e. a warm welcome that shows that the Church / parish is not a clique, not an exclusive "in crowd." Collaborative staff and council members receive hours of evangelization training, sharing new ways to reach out and welcome in. Participants prepare and then practice their three-minute witness talks. When an opportunity arises at work, at the soccer field, in line at the supermarket (stocking up on milk and bread), they can confidently engage in a comfortable, non-preachy, conversation about their relationship with Jesus and the importance of this relationship in their life. The fruit of this training and intentional attitude of welcome bears good fruit, and collaborative parishes sharing one RCIA team have many hands tilling the soil. Complete numbers were not available by Pilot deadline, but preliminary figures indicate that 40 percent of Phase II collaboratives have catechumens and candidates preparing to be fully initiated into the Catholic Church this year. Phase II was inaugurated just nine months ago -- babies in collaborative years -- yet their work is yielding significant results. Even more impressive, 50 percent of Phase I collaboratives, now 20 months old, are preparing adults for initiation or to complete initiation.
In Lent, 2014, the Belmont collaborative asked parishioners to consider: "What's your next step?" For some in that community, the next step was to speak about their faith. For others, the next step was to explore, inquire, pray, study, and become part of the Catholic faith.
The welcome and formation of adults in parishes not yet in a collaborative isn't different -- it shouldn't be. Many parishes do what Phase I and II collaboratives are doing. The guidelines and statutes for the RCIA are unambiguous; every parishioner in every parish is involved in the RCIA -- even if they don't know the catechumens or candidates personally. Our responsibility is to pray, surely, but also to witness and mentor. RCIA paragraph nine also tells us that catechumens and candidates are "searching for Christ" and it is our "apostolic vocation to give help."
The Church is growing and is blessed that these catechumens, now called the elect, and candidates, are journeying with us. We pray for them and for each other.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.