Involving the Whole Parish in the RCIA

The RCIA is the process by which adults are initiated into the Catholic Church, requires a significant contribution of time and skill from individuals and groups within the parish community. Catechists, godparents, priests and parish RCIA teams and liturgy committees are among the most closely involved. Their responsibilities are described in the Introduction to the RCIA ritual book under the heading “Ministries and Offices".
Interestingly, the first ministry listed in this section is not one of the specialist roles named above but rather that of the ministry of the whole community. 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.
Unfortunately, it seems that many people in the pews think that the RCIA has nothing to do with them. Some even complain when RCIA rituals such as the Rite of Welcome are celebrated during Mass because they take up extra time Such attitudes seem to indicate that the initiation of new members is still not seen as the responsibility of all the baptised.
But then, people can’t be blamed for being disinterested if they are not given information about the RCIA, if they cannot see or hear what is happening out front during ritual celebrations and if they never have the opportunity to meet the candidates.
Community involvement can be enhanced by employing strategies such as keeping the parish informed about the RCIA through parish bulletin notices, commissioning RCIA team members at a Sunday Mass and inviting housebound parishioners to be involved in the RCIA through prayer support.
The whole community can be included in the Rite of Welcome by having the enquirers stand with their sponsors in the aisles of the church among the people during the signing of the cross and inviting all present to raise their hands over the catechumens for the final blessing.
During the period of the catechumenate, the names of the catechumens can be included occasionally in the Prayers of the Faithful and their photos (and those of their sponsors) displayed on a poster in the church as is regularly done when children are preparing to celebrate confirmation and first communion.
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”. Introduce yourself to the catechumens and candidates, talk to them, invite them home or for coffee or to parish gatherings, offer to babysit or to help with transport, and tell them that you pray for them.
By offering basic hospitality, a listening ear and prayer, we become fellow travellers on the journey of conversion.


Elizabeth Harrington