Let’s read about five points where the GDC thinks RCIA is especially important:
91. In view of this substantial difference, some elements of the baptismal catechumenate are now considered, as the source of inspiration for post-baptismal catechesis.
– the baptismal catechumenate constantly reminds the whole Church of the fundamental importance of the function of initiation and the basic factors which constitute it: catechesis and the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. The pastoral care of Christian initiation is vital for every particular Church.
Calling people to Christ: yes, this is fundamental. More so than the Church’s existence for its own sake.
– The baptismal catechumenate is the responsibility of the entire Christian community. Indeed “this Christian initiation which takes place during the catechumenate should not be left entirely to the priests and catechists, but should be the care of the entire Christian community, especially the sponsors”. (291) The institution of the catechumenate thus increases awareness of the spiritual maternity of the Church, which she exercises in every form of education in the faith. (292)
For a number of suggestions on what this responsibility entails, refer to the RCIA page here. If nothing else, giving good moral and spiritual example to newcomers is essential. Also good liturgy, welcome into community activities, a willingness to get out there and engage the world.
– The baptismal catechumenate is also completely permeated by the mystery of Christ’s Passover. For this reason, “all initiation must reveal clearly its paschal nature. (293) The Easter Vigil, focal point of the Christian liturgy, and its spirituality of Baptism inspire all catechesis.
Paschal Mystery is key.
– The baptismal catechumenate is also an initial locus of inculturation. Following the example of the Incarnation of the Son of God, made man in a concrete historical moment, the Church receives catechumens integrally, together with their cultural ties. All catechetical activity participates in this function of incorporating into the catholicity of the Church, authentic “seeds of the word”, scattered through nations and individuals. (294)
We could spend a whole post on this topic. The Church, ideally, need not be afraid of cultural aspects brought within its walls, into its community. We’ve adopted pagan philosophies (Aristotle), pagan architecture (the basilica), and many non-Christian music influences (I’m thinking plainsong and traditional music) and made them our own.
– Finally, the concept of the baptismal catechumenate as a process of formation and as a true school of the faith offers post-baptismal catechesis dynamic and particular characteristics: comprehensiveness and integrity of formation; its gradual character expressed in definite stages; its connection with meaningful rites, symbols, biblical and liturgical signs; its constant references to the Christian community.
Whenever a non-liturgical document talks good liturgy, I sit up and take notice. Gradual formation in Christ and meaningful worship of the Father will root a community and the larger Church more than any other combination.
Post-baptismal catechesis, without slavishly imitating the structure of the baptismal catechumenate, and recognizing in those to be catechized the reality of their Baptism, does well, however, to draw inspiration from “this preparatory school for the Christian life”, (295) and to allow itself to be enriched by those principal elements which characterize the catechumenate.
Many RCIA people find themselves adrift after the Easter Vigil. I always wondered why. Mystagogy continues a formation in the Word, but one that builds on the sacramental experience. That note below on 295 is telling: mystagogy and ongoing formation in the faith–however you call it–is needfully based on a cooperative ministry in the faith community: worship, catechesis, social justice + charity, and the spiritual life.
(291) Ad Gentes 14d.
(292) Methodius of Olympus, for example, speaks of this maternal action of the Christian community when he says: With regard to those who are still imperfect (in the Christian life), it is for the more mature to form them and to bring them to birth as a mother. (Symposium, III, 8; GCS 27, 88). See also St Gregory the Great Homilia in Evangelia, I, III, 2; PL 76,1086 D).
(293) RCIA 8.
(294) Cf. Catechesi Tradendae 53.
(295) General Catechetical Directory (1971) 130. This article begins with the affirmation: “The catechumenate for adults, which at one and the same time includes catechesis, liturgical participation and community living, is an excellent example of an institute that springs from the cooperation of diverse pastoral functions”.