What is the Initiating Community?

What is the Initiating Community?

Several reports which appeared in the Catholic press last year caused me some consternation: the confirmation of 22 young people by the diocesan bishop at a Catholic School during Lent, a young man who had become a Catholic after completing the RCIA process under the direction of the university chaplain and the initiation of 24 secondary students at a weekday Mass on the school’s patronal feast day.

To read of new members being initiated into the Church should be a source of joy. Why then did I find these stories rather disturbing?

Through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist we are incorporated into Christ, made sons and daughters of God, and initiated into the Church. The Catholic Church is manifested locally as the Sunday eucharistic community of the local parish. It is here that we participate in the Easter event of Jesus death and resurrection. It is in the midst of this community of the Church that catechumens are nurtured through the period of formation and welcomed into full membership.

The initiation of catechumens is a gradual process that takes place within the community of the faithful (RCIA 4). The entire community must help the candidates and the catechumens throughout the process of initiation (RCIA 9).

Initiating new members into the Church through schools or universities is not in keeping with this vision and understanding. A Catholic school is no doubt a Christian community which worships, witnesses and serves, but it is not a Sunday eucharistic community which gathers on the Lord’s Day to be nourished at the table of the Lord and to be sent out on mission to the world.

The school or university can play a significant role and will constitute a supportive peer group for the catechumen’s journey of faith, but if the school usurps the role of the parish and becomes the only community of faith for young people, does that mean that they graduate from the Church when they leave school?

It is envisaged that many of the rites of the catechumenate are held on a Sunday, for example, the Rite of Election and the Scrutinies on the Sundays of Lent. How can these be celebrated as intended in a community that does not gather for Sunday Eucharist? None of the three reported initiation rites took place on a Sunday.

Further the sacraments of Christian initiation are intimately linked with the Easter mystery of Jesus’ death, resurrection and the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is why the RCIA sets the initiation sacraments during the Easter Vigil. Yet all the reported events were held outside the Easter season. This anomaly is another consequence of moving initiation away from the parish and its cycle of liturgical feasts.

Finally the Rite of Baptism for infants and adults clearly assumes that the liturgy uses a permanent font located in a baptistery. Schools and universities do not have such a baptistery, making them quite unsuitable places for celebrating this sacrament.

The school or university certainly offers the company of peers for the young person throughout the conversion process, but the parish offers what the school or university cannot: Sunday Eucharist and belonging to an on-going community of witness to the gospel, a faith community of young and old which undertakes lifelong service in Christian love.


Elizabeth Harrington