Initiating Disciples Part II

In last week’s column I wrote about the process of initiating new members into the Catholic Church, a process called the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults”, or the RCIA for short.  I finished with the question: “What’s it got to do with me?”

The answer is “Everything”! And that’s not just me talking, but the Church.

The ritual book for initiating adults has a pastoral introduction that outlines the purpose, nature and structure of the process. One section is headed “Ministries and Offices”.  It explains who has responsibility for providing the variety of service and support required during the journey of faith for new members.

Sometimes parishioners have, or are given, the impression that the incorporation of new members into the faith community is the responsibility of the parish priest, or the parish pastoral associate, or “the RCIA team”.

It surprises many people to learn that the first person or group listed, and the one given most space, is not the priest, or the catechist (who in fact comes last!), or the RCIA team (which is not mentioned), but “the people of God” – that is you and I!

This is what it has to say:

“The people of God, as represented by the local Church, should understand and show by their concern that the initiation of adults is the responsibility of all the baptised. Therefore the community must always be fully prepared in the pursuit of apostolic vocation to give help to those who are searching for Christ. Hence, the entire community must help the candidates and the catechumens throughout the process of initiation”. (RCIA 9)

This paragraph goes on to spell out some practical ways by which the whole community should involve itself in the initiation of new members during the different stages and rituals of the journey.

Enquirers should be introduced to members of the parish community, invited to come to parish gatherings and linked to a sponsor who can begin to walk with them on their journey and answer their questions. It is essential that parishes be welcoming and accommodating to those who come to their door.

You, the baptised as the worshipping Community have much to offer people who are seeking to belong. You live the Gospel, you pray, you belong to various outreach groups, you live in families and you have much to share with these enquirers.

There are a number of simple ways in which every member of the parish can take on responsibility for “helping those who are searching for Christ”.   A simple “Hello, my name is...”, “Where do you live?”,   “How has your week been?”, “How about a cup of coffee after Mass next week?”  You might offer to help with transport to Mass or to parish events/gatherings, and tell them that you pray for them.

This outreach is simple, but it does give the enquirers a sense that we as a community are hospitable, and make an effort to welcome the stranger and to know their names.  It is through us that they will come to know that it is God who calls them by name, and we act on God’s behalf.

By offering basic hospitality, a listening ear and prayer, we become fellow travellers on the journey of conversion.


Elizabeth Harrington