Initiating Disciples

Regular readers will be well aware that a series of seminars and workshops about the New Evangelisation is currently being held in various venues around the Archdiocese. At the sessions participants will be challenged to walk through the door of the world and take the Good News of Jesus to those outside the Church.

This new evangelisation, new outreach, new surge of Gospel energy may well result an increase in people coming to our parishes to explore what Catholics believe and how they worship. It is important for us aware that there may well be such seekers or enquirers sitting with us in the assembly at Mass.

How would you respond if one of these people were to approach you to enquire about finding out more about the Catholic Church and/or how to become a member of the Catholic Christian community? Hopefully you would not just tell them to phone the parish on Monday morning, as happened to one young man I know of!

Most parishes have in place a process for journeying with those who are seeking to learn about Catholic belief and practice and who feel called to be initiated into the Catholic Church. This process goes by the somewhat unfortunate title of the “RCIA”, an acronym for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. If you see notices in the parish bulletin to do with the “RCIA”, it is about this journey of faith for prospective new members of the Church.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the official liturgical book which sets out the process of formation and rituals by which new members are incorporated into the Catholic Church. The RCIA can perhaps best be described as a journey of faith which passes through a number of different phases or periods. Liturgical rites are celebrated to mark the transition from one phase of the journey to the next.

The first phase is the period of Evangelisation and Precatechumenate. This is a time for questioning and discovery and an opportunity for the beginnings of faith. For those enquirers who then decide to begin the process of becoming Catholics, the first major rite of the RCIA, Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, is celebrated.

The “catechumens”, as those seeking full initiation into the Church are known, now enter a time of pastoral formation which includes four elements: catechesis (teaching), experiencing the Christian way of life, celebrating liturgical rites and doing apostolic works. Catechesis is tailored to the needs of the individual – there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’.

As the season of Lent approaches, those who are found to be ready for initiation celebrate the rite of Election or Enrolment of Names. This liturgy is a public statement of the catechumens’ readiness for the sacraments and the Church’s acceptance of their intention to follow the way of Christ. Lent is a time of prayerful preparation for the climax of their journey at the Easter Vigil, where, in the midst of the community, they are baptised, confirmed and come to the table of the Eucharist.

The journey continues through the Easter season which is a period of ongoing reflection on the Easter sacraments and discerning where God is calling these new members in the ongoing life of the community.

What has this got to do with me? I hear you ask. The answer’s in next week’s column!


Elizabeth Harrington