The RCIA 30 Years On


At this year’s National Conference of the Australian Catechumenate Network, participants prepared an open letter addressed to the Catholic bishops, priests and people of this country. The following is an abbreviated version of this important and challenging statement.
Events of 30 years ago seem long forgotten, especially to younger people born after they occurred. For the older generation, the year 1972 may conjure up memories of the Olympic massacre in Munich, the first appearance of the VCR, the election of the Whitlam government or withdrawal from Vietnam.
In the Catholic Church, a ‘star’ was born at the beginning of 1972. This star was heralded as a guiding light for the whole church, and thus it has been for some. It is a star that has shone brightly in many parishes and for anyone who has ever been involved. That star is the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults”, the RCIA.
Thirty years ago the RCIA was considered a prophetic document. It was the final, and most thorough, revision of the church’s sacramental rites. It linked our practice of initiation with the experience of the first Christian communities. It outlined a hopeful vision for the church in the contemporary world. It placed responsibility for the welcome and initiation of new members on all the baptised.
Some pastors may claim that life has been too busy and that they have been too preoccupied with an enormous pastoral agenda in the last 30 years to take on the RCIA. What those who are involved in the catechumenate process have come to recognise is that it provides a pattern for all pastoral activity. The principles of community, shared beliefs, liturgical celebrations and outreach are enshrined in the RCIA. This pattern of successive periods and celebrations gives the rite its prophetic edge.
Thirty years on, it is time to reflect on the central tenets of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and ask ourselves how well we have responded to its vision and challenges.
· The RCIA is the norm for the initiation of adults, young people, children and infants. It replaces the practice of one-to-one ‘convert’ instruction.
· The RCIA is clearly visible in each parish through the involvement of the community, public celebration of its liturgical rites and the involvement of parishioners in its ministries. It is this visibility that is key to attracting new inquirers.
· The implementation of the RCIA in the parish is entrusted to a team consisting of the pastor, a coordinator and a team of parish people representing a variety of gifts.
· The focus of the RCIA is conversion. It is essentially about inner transformation rather than accessing information.
· The task of the RCIA is preparation for active discipleship, not just simply membership.
A bright star was born on the Feast of the Epiphany 1972. Through all of us, may the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults deliver what it promises: a revitalised church for today’s world.

Elizabeth Harrington