Exploring Parishioners Roles In RCIA Initiation
Many Catholics have the misunderstanding that initiating new members is the RCIA Team’s responsibility.
The very first pages of RCIA ritual situate initiating new members squarely “within the community of the faithful;” and, the faithful are to “provide an example that will help catechumens obey the Holy Spirit more generously” (par. 4) “…the initiation of adults is the responsibility of all the baptized” (par. 9).
The entire parish provides help to those searching for Christ and also bears the responsibility … to spread the faith (par. 9). The RCIA ritual specifies ways that a parish community is to help new members during the four stages [Inquiry, the Catechumenate, Lent, and Mystagogy (after Easter)]. During the Inquiry, parishioners are to “give candidates evidence of the spirit of the Christian community and welcome them into their homes, into personal conversations and into community gatherings” (par. 9.1).
The ritual contains numerous examples of how parishioners are to encourage our new members on their faith journey into full membership into the church. The most challenging one for our parishes may be Paragraph 9.5, “After baptism, the faithful… should welcome the newly baptized with open arms in charity, and help them to feel more at home in the community of the baptized”. Parishes need to examine how we can better do this.
Pope Francis, in a June 16 meeting with more than 7,000 Roman diocesan priests, religious, catechists, and parish council members, said “If every parish embodies the virtues of compassion, tenderness, patience, and welcoming, the Catholic Church will be the mother she claims to be and will continue to generate numerous children…” (The Message, June 20, 2014). Hospitality is the least expensive item we can add to our parish budgets!
Although the parish as a whole is responsible for the initiation of new members, certain parishioners also exercise particular ministries on their behalf. The priest celebrates the major liturgical rites with them during Sunday Eucharist – “Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens,” “The Rite of Sending of the Catechumens for Election” to the bishop on the First Sunday of Lent, the three Lenten Scrutinies, the Presentation of the Creed and Our Father, and the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist on Holy Saturday.
Catechists serve an important ministry on behalf of new members by sharing their faith with them in their sessions; discussing the Sunday Gospels and helping them apply them to their lives; inviting parishioners to share with them about parish ministries; and witnessing their own love of Jesus and the Church to them.
Sponsors also accompany candidates. “Sponsors are persons who have known and assisted the candidates and stand as witnesses to the candidates’ moral character, faith, and intention” (par. 9.5). I’ve always used “parish sponsors,” who joined inquirers early in the first phase. They introduce inquirers to other parishioners – helping them feel more at home in the parish. They also help involve them in various parish activities, and chauffeur them to parish parties. This is a real plus in integrating new members into the parish.
On the day of election, the catechumens may choose a godparent for Lent and Holy Saturday (par. 11). Godparents are chosen because of their “good example, good qualities, and friendship, delegated by the local Christian community, and approved by the priest … godparents … show the candidates how to practice the Gospel in personal and social life … sustain them in moments of hesitancy and anxiety, and … guide the candidates’ progress in the baptismal life” (par. 11).
While there are specially trained ministers serving our new members, we can never forget that the entire parish is the primary minister of initiation, for it is into the life of the parish that our new members will be baptized, confirmed, and share Eucharist with us.