Selected Myths About RCIA

Over the past several days, I’ve read a few posts on blogdom, heard a few pastor horror stories from real life, been thinking about upcoming happenings in my parish. So I’ll pass on to you a liturgist’s thoughts on RCIA, with the caution that I’ve been a catechumenate director for four of the years I’ve been in parish ministry.

1. RCIA is not required to become a Catholic. You can still go to the priest for instruction.

The second statement is somewhat true, but might be wiggling around what the rite actually says about a gradual introduction to the faith in the midst of a faith community. RCIA is not a catechetical program with academic assignments that take you from September to Easter. RCIA is a rite of the Church. As such, it’s not a list of options to keep people busy jumping through hoops. At least not any more than the Mass is a set of hoops to keep people occupied until the reception of Communion. I suppose a priest could skip a reading to two, the homily, the Lord’s Prayer and Peace, and any number of other things, but as long as he confected a valid Eucharist, you could say you received Communion. It might be an open question if it were a licit Mass.

In the same way, people might do away with omitting the Rite of acceptance, the anointings, blessings, scrutinies, and presentations. The baptism that leaped over it all would be valid. But it would still be one of the rites included in RCIA.

2. Everybody has to join the RCIA group.

RCIA, unbeknownst to some people, provides options for people who are already baptized. There’s also good advice out there for baptized Christians who have varying degrees of catechesis and lived Christian experience. Most experienced catechumenate directors recognize the needs of a Christian who already accepts the Real Presence and has the accompanying maturity of faith as opposed to someone who has been baptized, but has never lived the Christian faith. Most of the same experienced directors will arrange to receive the mature Christian separately from the uncatechized at the Easter Vigil.

3. A school year is enough to catechize the non-Christian.

Not according to the Rite it’s not. One calendar year, minimum, is suggested. Sometimes it should be more.

4. A person should emerge from RCIA with a full background in the faith.

I don’t know that any Catholic has the “full” background. There is the patristic tradition of catechesis based on the reflection of the sacraments once they’ve been received. The Catholic hang-up about viewing sacraments as graduation moments” this can be an obstacle for meaningful post-baptismal catechesis.

There are more, but we might have to wait until our in-depth, section-by-section examination of the catechumenate rites in a future series.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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