Catechesis and the RCIA: The Precatechumenate

This is the third in a series of posts on the RCIA’s implications for catechesis in our schools and parishes. The first two posts were an overview of this series and a brief look at the characteristics of the RCIA.

Theological Underpinnings

According to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, during the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate “faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he has sent for the salvation of all.” (n. 36) The goal of this period is to bring about “the first stirrings of repentance, a start to the practice of… prayer, a sense of the Church, and some experience of the company and spirit of Christians.” (n. 42)

Interestingly it does not  say that these things must be complete before acceptance into the catechumenate proper; this is the beginning of a process through which the candidates will progress. It stands to reason, then, that individual candidates may move at different paces and be at different points on the journey. There is no “one size fits all” approach; individuals move at their own pace on their own time.

(Incidentally, this is why the rite insists on a year-round process; candidates should be free to join when the Spirit prompts, not on an artificial timetable that suits the parish’s calendar.)

Practical Applications

At first glance this period of the RCIA may seem disconnected from catechesis. With a focus on the evangelization of non-Christians and little to say on the subject of doctrinal instruction, it certainly doesn’t fit the typical catechetical model.  On the other hand, it reminds us of the kerygmatic nature of catechesis: all teaching starts with the good news that God became one of us and died for our sins. If we aren’t drawing people deeper into this mystery, then out catechesis isn’t complete.

It’s also  important  to note that, while the participants in our catechetical programs (and I’m speaking of both youth and adult programs) will overwhelmingly be made up of baptized Catholics who have made their First Communion and most likely their Confirmation, many may functionally be on the level of the precatechumenate: little  knowledge  of the faith and little participation in the life of the Church. From that stand point, introducing Catholics with low participation to those who are more active in their faith may encourage the former.

Similarly, we must do our best not to discourage, embarrass, or  harangue  Catholics who struggle with participation or with specific Church teachings. As this period reminds us, conversion is a process. Rather than pushing “bad Catholics” out the door we should encourage them to further explore the truths of the Church and walk with them on their journey of conversion.

Photo by coba/flickrCC

Other posts in this series:

  1. Catechesis and the RCIA: Mystagogy (March 7, 2012)
  2. Catechesis and the RCIA: Purification and Enlightenment (February 6, 2012)
  3. Catechesis and the RCIA: The Catechumenate (January 18, 2012)
  4. Catechesis and the RCIA: The Precatechumenate (January 4, 2012)
  5. Catechesis and the RCIA: Characteristics (November 22, 2011)
  6. Catechesis and the RCIA: Introduction (November 14, 2011)