Book Review: When Other Christians Become Catholic

Tomorrow I will head to Chicago for the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. It’s not my usual annual conference — and I’m not even a liturgist! — but the attendees will be participating in a consultation process with the USCCB’s Committee for Divine Worship on the National Statues for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), so our director for the Office for Worship and the Catechumenate asked if I would like to tag along given the catechetical import of the topic.

One of the pieces of “required reading” we were given to prepare for the consultation process is Fr. Paul Turner’s When Other Christians Become Catholic (Pueblo, 2007). This short tome covers a number of issues related to the reception into the Church of Christians from other ecclesial communities. This includes an overview of the history of how other Christians have been received, starting with the early years of the Church when adherents to heretical sects (such as the Arians) joined the true faith; a look at how other Christians receive members into their communities; and a look at issues that still remain with the process as it was renewed after Vatican Council II.

WOCBC-turnerFr. Turner’s overarching message, however, is to remind us that when other Christians choose to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, they are not doing so in a vacuum or as if their previous faith commitments were invalid. This is both a theological and a pastoral point: theological in that we must take seriously the validity and reality of the person’s baptism, even if that baptism occurred in a community not connected with the Catholic Church. The question of whether to recognize other baptisms was decided in the affirmative by the ancient Church; this presupposes that God is really and truly acting in their lives even before their movement towards the Catholic Church.

The point is pastoral because, in practice, many Christians come away from the process of reception into the Church with the impression that their baptisms were somehow “lesser” because they did not occur in a Catholic context. Fr. Turner puts the blame for this squarely on the practice of including baptized candidates for full communion in the same preparation program as unbaptized catechumens who are preparing for full initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), culminating in a combined rite at the Easter Vigil. As Fr. Turner states,

By adopting Easter as the paradigmatic occasion for celebrating the rite of reception, the Catholic Church in the United States has reframed the meaning of the rite and its attendant preparation into something more resembling a conversion, a dying and a rising – rather than an evolution, a coming to full communion… Such a conversion is a symptom that something has gone wrong with the rite of reception. The council envisioned an ecumenically sensitive rite that would promote the concept of one baptism among Christians. But the rite of reception is being celebrated as a near equivalent with the initiation of the unbaptized.

This will, no doubt, be a major topic of conversation at this week’s FDLC meeting as we discuss the National Statutes.

The only downside to Fr. Turner’s book is a linguistic one; because the book was published in 2007, it does not take into account the 2010 translation of the Roman Missal. As a result, his discussion of such texts (including an otherwise excellent examination of the text of the Mass for Christian Unity) do not reflect the current liturgical language, although his overarching points are still relevant.

Nevertheless, the book is highly recommended for it’s overall theme and discussion of the historical and ecumenical nature of welcoming other Christians into full communion. When Other Christians Become Catholic is a valuable resource for pastors, evangelists, and RCIA leaders and team members.

Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference – November 7-8

If you are in the central Illinois area — or can get here easily! — I’d like to invite you to the Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference being held November 7-8, 2010, in Decatur, Illinois. My office sponsors this conference (held every-other year) for the benefit of all adults Catholics in our diocese.

The theme of this year’s conference, œEntering the Mystery, Renewing the People,  reflects the importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church. We hope that, through the general sessions and breakout workshops, we will lay the groundwork as we prepare to implement the Roman Missal, Third Edition in our diocese.

Our keynote speaker is Fr. Richard Fragomeni; his two general sessions will open up the theme of the conference and explore how we are formed by our participation in the Church’s liturgical life. Our closing address will be given by Fr. Paul Turner, who will speak about the forthcoming changes to the Mass.

I will be offering two breakout sessions this year:

Administration as Service: Practicing Leadership in the Light of Christ
In 2006 Jonathan Sullivan met a woman who would change his understanding of what it means to be an administrator in the Church. Come discover her story, best practices for Catholic leadership and the single most important responsibility of administrators. An ideal session for principals, DREs and pastoral associates.

Marketing Your School Online
The internet offers a wide variety of options for marketing your school ” so many options that it can be overwhelming! What really works? How can you use your web site ” and other online tools ” to spread your school’s message?

Admission is $40 for one day or $50 for both days. More information on the conference, including a downloadable information brochure and online registration form, is available at