Tag Archives: precatechumenate

The Enquiry Phase

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith

We had an interesting exchange here about the point of the enquiry period of the RCIA. I know of few parishes who even do this, and I feel it is one of the most important parts to get right in RCIA.

I’ve been at RCIA sessions before that are sound and rich in doctrine, and yet because of a lack of affective, spiritual conversion within the participants, little impact is made. It’s like a puddle of water sitting on the surface of the earth without sinking in.

So, I thought it would be good to revisit the principles of this phase – which I believe should be part of a good Confirmation programme, too.

The RCIA tells us that, before they are ready to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance, “the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidates” (RCIA, 42). What is meant by “beginnings of the spiritual life”? The rest of the paragraph gives more information: there “must be evidence of the first faith” and there “must also be evidence of the first stirrings of repentance”.

In other words, there must be an initial adherence to Jesus Christ, the beginnings of a relationship with Him, the initial desire to give our life over to Him.

“First faith” is someone’s spiritual awakening, the realisation that “Jesus is Lord.” This simultaneously causes the “first stirrings of repentance”. Part of the process of adhering to Jesus, is seeing our life in His light, and repenting of our sin.

In my understanding, I think this corresponds somewhere between the third threshold (openness) and fourth threshold (seeking) in Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (see one of my posts on this great book here). It is the bridge between passive curiosity and active seeking. We encounter Christ, begin to ‘fall for Him’, and want to take things further. As one RCIA leader put it, the enquiry phase is the “dating” phase.

Everything in the enquiry phase, therefore, is introducing someone to Jesus, inviting them to “taste and see” his goodness, to lead them to an encounter with him. And to remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this encounter.

As RCIA 37 puts it –

“From evangelisation, completed with the help of God, come the faith and initial conversion that cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelisation, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek Baptism may mature”

My experience in the parish was that, once we established an enquiry phase and gave people time for this to happen, the fruits of the Catechumenate were far, far greater. It was like the earth was turned over and the water could sink in.

2013-04-20 17.06.18

In contrast, what do we typically see in parishes? (Here I’m thinking of parishes with a doctrinally solid RCIA.) I think sometimes we see adults receiving catechesis that is too advanced, too soon. They listen to a wonderfully rich exposition of the “four marks of the Church”. But, without a growing relationship with Christ, do they know what this means for their life? Or is it like water sitting on hard earth which will soon float away? All doctrine needs to nourish spiritual life. If the interior life is not yet there, teaching doctrine (unless in a deeply evangelistic way) will have little effect.

So, what do we need to do in the enquiry phase? In our precatechumenate, we started with some simple sessions: ‘What is faith? Why do we need it?’; ‘What is the purpose of my life?’; ‘How can we know God?’; ‘Why did God create?’ We focussed on getting to know people, building community (the first threshold is establishing trust), answering apologetics issues that arose (the child abuse scandal; the problem of evil), helping people to establish a prayer life (bringing them every week – even the first week – for a short time of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament). We can ask catechists or guest parishioners to share their testimony. We can read through one of the Gospels together. We need to try and stay utterly focussed on Christ.

Once again, I think Pope Francis’s words in Brazil speak powerfully to this phase of the RCIA:

We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly. The Church also has to learn how to wait.

Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement, allure. God lets himself be brought home. He awakens in us a desire to keep him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbours in order to make known his beauty.

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One Stop RCIA

4th Century Baptismal Font, courtesy of Vangelis Valtos

4th Century Baptismal Font, courtesy of Vangelis Valtos

Over the two years (yes, two years!) I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written a number of posts on the RCIA. I still think this is one of the processes in the Church that is barely understood in many, many parishes. ACM resources are fantastic in emphasising that RCIA is not just a doctrinal process, but also a liturgical and pastoral one. I think they are the best resources we have to help priests and catechists create a life-transforming RCIA process in the parish. However, you need a huge amount of patience and dedication to read and understand the principles and methodology behind them, and I think you need more than this, too: great RCIA leaders will have a round-the-clock passion for helping souls convert to Christ.

In the three and a half years I worked in the parish coordinating RCIA, I was blessed with the opportunity and support to get to grips with a true vision for RCIA. We already had an excellent doctrinal process. But our vision was to create a process that had liturgical gateways marking stages of conversion; that had pastoral flexibility in allowing people the time they needed in each phase; that had a large team of committed sponsors dedicated to help the conversion process.

Here, I have pulled together in one post all the posts on RCIA I wrote over that time. They may be helpful either practically, for those trying to implement a true vision of RCIA in their parish, or theoretically, to help you grasp the vision.

A couple of disclaimers: Firstly, not all the posts are systematic; some are reflections which may not be exhaustive, but hopefully give some ideas. Secondly, they are not chronological. Sometimes I have written about the period of enquiry with one particular group of people, but what I have written for a later period (e.g. the Rite of Election) is with another group. Probably about five different groups of people passed through this process (which shows you need different starting points through the year).

What I hope you get from these few posts is that RCIA is messy! We can make very nice, neat structures (and it’s important what we do is ordered towards an end and is systematic) but at the end of the day, people are messy and RCIA needs to be flexible. Isn’t that what Pope Francis said recently?! “Make a mess!”

  1. An overview of the structure of RCIA
  2. Top Ten RCIA Traps!
  3. From the very first moment: Meeting the enquirer the first time they make contact
  4. Enquiry sessions – a year-round period of evangelisation
  5. Proclaiming the Kerygma
  6. Motives for Conversion
  7. The pastoral role of the Sponsor 
  8. Starting out…
  9. Liturgical Steps and Discernment Interviews: Rite of Acceptance
  10. Slow Evangelisation…
  11. Catechesis of the Catechumenate
  12. Telling the whole Story
  13. Catechumenate and Natural Family Planning
  14. Life in Christ: One and Two
  15. Contraception, Cohabitation, and the Catechumenate
  16. The Challenge of Conversion
  17. The Rite of Election: “I have chosen you”
  18. Period of Purification and Enlightenment: Preparing Candidates
  19. Preparing Adults for Confession
  20. The Triduum
  21. Period of Mystagogia
  22. Easter Catechesis

How are we doing with RCIA?

Over two years ago, we started to restructure our RCIA to a year-round catechumenal model. Currently, we have 15 people at different stages of the RCIA process. At the moment, we’re trying to work out a neater model that will still allow people to enter at any time, that they cover all the teachings, and that they will remain in the process for a suitable length of time.

At the moment, we have a cycle of four phases:

  1. Precatechumenate – 12-week phase (someone can stay in this period of evangelisation and enquiry until they are ready for the Rite of Acceptance / Welcoming)
  2. Catechumenate Phase I – 12 weeks of teachings geared towards the Virtue of Faith
  3. Catechumenate Phase II – 12 weeks of teachings geared towards the Virtue of Hope
  4. Catechumenate Phase III – 12 weeks of teachings geared towards the Virtue of Love

In each of these phases, all four dimensions of the Christian life are present (faith believed, celebrated, lived and prayed). We are still trying to get it right – so that there are particular points during the year when the enquiry phase feeds into the Catechumenate.

If you are involved in RCIA ministry, this is a great video to help you think through these questions. I met Dino Durando last summer at Steubenville – here he gives a really good background based in what the GDC and RCIA ask us to do. Start from 32:04 to hear the practical applications of the year-round model for the parish by the RCIA Coordinator in his parish. And get this – they have over 100 people in their process!


“Those who desire comforts have dialled the wrong number”

This may be one of my favourite EVER quotations from Pope Benedict XVI 🙂

It just makes me smile. He’s bang on! Anyone who tells us that Christianity is easy, that we can go on living a comfortable life, is not telling us the full truth.

No, Christianity is something far greater than a comfortable life.

This is a hard truth to grasp, which takes years of spiritual growth. On the one hand, it definitely does not mean that our life as a Christian is going to be unbearably miserable. No way! The joy of knowing Christ has the power to transform even the worst suffering. Christianity widens our hearts to a greater joy than we could ever imagine in our life before Christ. On the other hand, we must never forget the need for penance and ongoing conversion in our journey with the Lord, which, paradoxically, results in more joy in our hearts.

This is a very hard notion to introduce to enquirers, catechumens and candidates. Recently, I met with someone in the early stages of our RCIA who is eagerly seeking Christ. This person already has a strong relationship with him in many ways. And yet in this person’s life is a string of moral complexities which, let’s say, are not compatible with being a Catholic.

This is a tricky question in the period of enquiry. On the one hand, it is a period of evangelisation, of attracting a person to the beauty of Christ and the life he invites them to live.

And yet, in the early stages anyway, some of the moral teachings of the Church can present themselves as anything but beautiful to enquirers. They represent big and sometimes frightening lifestyle changes which people baulk at. In our culture today, it comes as a massive shock to some people that there are changes in their lives sooner or later they will need to make. When do we let them know this? How do we let them know?

What’s for sure is that our role as catechists and sponsors is more than simply presenting the information and ‘leaving it to their conscience’ (I’ve heard this view expressed more than once before). No, we need to pray for them, walk alongside them, mentor them, offer practical help.

Pope Benedict’s phrase could be addressed to RCIA catechists and sponsors: “If you desire an easy life, you’ve come to the wrong place!” RCIA is hard work, messy and requires much sacrifice and prayer on our part. If we don’t accept this, we will not witness many deep conversions in our brothers and sisters. Let’s have the courage to wisely and faithfully form disciples through the RCIA process. The last thing we need as a Church is more lukewarm Catholics.

With ongoing prayer, support and witness, the gradual unfolding of the teaching, and the grace of the liturgy, God has given enquirers the means to recognise life in Christ as a beauty, not a burden.


Easter Catechesis


This is my first night at home since getting back from holidays. You would think that the post-Easter parish would be somewhat calmer, but you know what? It’s not really the way it works out…

Over the last two to three years, we have developed our RCIA process in a way that is closer to the mind of the Church. We gradually moved away from the September to Easter model (hands up those still on that model!) and into a year-round model. If we really understand that Baptism calls to holiness, then we need to give good formation from the first precatechumenate session a person attends, right through to their first year as a new Catholic, and beyond.

I admit it: it’s exhausting and a bit messy and you need a small army of catechists and sponsors, but it’s totally worth it. We have definitely seen the difference in the ‘quality’ of the conversions. What does it mean right now? Right now, we have three different RCIA strands: the neophytes and newly received who are in their period of Mystagogy; those still in the Catechumenate who were not yet ready to be baptised or received at Easter; those who are coming to the end of the Precatechumenate and ready to begin their year-long Catechumenate. Sound like a lot of juggling? It is. Thankfully, we have a lot of catechists to call on to take on various sessions.

I have a great love of the period of Mystagogy. This feels like the ‘easiest’ period of the RCIA because it is as though the catechesis is an overflow of the joy from the Easter Vigil. It is like we’re riding a big wave from the mysteries of the Triduum. Last night, we had a lovely supper for all the neophytes: it was full of joy and laughter as we remembered together all the events – joyful, difficult, moving, humorous and otherwise – of the Easter mysteries. What an undeserved privilege to journey with these wonderful women.


The Human Experience

I doubt The Human Experience will be new to most of you, but it is such a wonderful, profound film that it’s definitely worth watching more than once. I remember when I first watched it a year and a half ago, there were many quotations and comments which invited me to reflect more deeply. The film asks what it means to be human, why life is worth living, what the meaning of suffering is, what the secret to happiness is. Two brothers go in search to the answers to these questions. They spend their time over the course of a year with the poor, with people who are suffering (the homeless in New York, orphans in Peru, lepers in Ghana) so the answers they uncover are surprising. This film will make you want to live your life WELL!

We will be showing it next week to enquirers to the Catholic Faith. It is a great film for precatechumenate and evangelisation since it shows the beauty of being human, of human dignity…and today people are converted by beauty!


Not make-believe

Last week I was struck by how, in our sceptical, rationalist culture, what we say can sound like make-believe to the uninitiated if we are not careful. I was telling the whole Story of salvation history to a group of enquirers. Why is this an important thing to do? Well, it is a good way of helping people to see our faith as a ‘whole’ – something that encompasses the whole of history, the whole of time. Seeing the bigger picture, you can begin to understand how all the smaller parts slot into place. So I told the whole Story: from before time began, to the end of time when Christ will come again.

I got to the Fall, and mentioned that, before the fall of humanity there was a fall of the angels. My listeners seemed to take it quite well – but you know when you have a moment when you hear yourself and think: is this really watertight?! How would you defend this if someone challenged you on it? Some bad angels in the spiritual realm rejected God and set out to tempt humans… “Sure…OK…” you can hear people muttering sceptically. Thankfully, I reached the end of time with the group all still on board (so to speak).

There was another time this happened to me. One girl in the Catechumenate brought her fiance along to one of the sessions. He was a Sikh and really interested and we said he’d be welcome. Shortly after everyone arrived we began the session as usual with a Liturgy of the Word. The week’s topic was on Our Lady and the opening reading was from Revelation: the woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars at her feet, giving birth to a child who was about to be devoured by a monster… Uh oh. What on earth could the Sikh fiance be thinking?! In the catechesis, I taught how Mary was immaculately conceived, how she gave birth to Christ as a virgin, and how at the end of her life she was assumed into Heaven. I didn’t skip anything, but couldn’t help thinking how this must all sound to the Sikh fiancé – completely nuts.

When we broke for coffee halfway through, I came up to him and commented that all this must sound a bit foreign. I was surprised by his reply. He said: “Did you say just then that Jesus is God?” I replied, Yes. (I think I had been explaining that as Mary was the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, Mary is called the Mother of God.) He went on: “But during Mass, you say that he is ‘seated at the right hand of the Father.’ So how can he be God?” I was amazed. I hadn’t realised this guy had been coming to Mass, let alone listening so closely to the words we say. So I delved into a short explanation about how Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and that when he ascended into Heaven, he brought human nature with him, which God glorified by seating him at his right hand.

It’s amazing. Often what we think people are hearing is completely different to what is actually going through their mind. We should never “cut out” or water down any part of our Catholic ‘Story’ and Faith as if we know better than God what people can accept and what they can’t. We must be faithful to what we receive in the Deposit of Faith.