17 Insights from FDLC (in Tweet Form)

Last week I attended the 2014 National Meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC). I’m not a liturgist (and don’t even play one on TV) but I was invited by our diocesan director for worship and the catechumenate to participate in a consultation process with the US Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship regarding edits to the National Statues on the RCIA.

(With a new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults on the horizon, this is an opportune time to reevaluate the national statues in light of our pastoral experience since implementing the RCIA in America.)

In addition to the consultation process we heard from a variety of voices, most notably from the staff of the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship; a report on a recent survey by CARA about the RCIA in parishes; pastoral and theological reflections by Fr. Ron Lewinski and Fr. Paul Turner; and Parish Day presentations by Jim Schellman and D. Todd Williamson. Here are some of my takeaways that I tweeted from the meeting.

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.

New Resource: Sacred Scripture and the Christian Life (A Short Study)

A few weeks ago, while our local Lumen Veritas youth group was gathering, I offered a faith study opportunity for any parents willing to hang around and listen to me drone on for a hour or so.

With the end of the Year of Faith close at hand we thought it would be good to take a look at the role of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church through the lens of Vatican Council II. To that end I created a “short study” guide with excerpts from Sacrosanctum concilium and Dei Verbum, as well as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Verbum Domini, and some reflection questions to facilitate the conversation:

I’ve released the study guide under a Creative Commons license, so feel free to print it out, make copies, and adapt it for your own use. Just make sure to credit the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois for its original creation.

Our plan is for me to do similar events for the parents once a month or so; if I create more resources like the one above I’ll be sure to share them here.

The Baptismal Catechumenate and Adult Faith Formation (Bosco RoundUp Part 2)


On the second day of the St. John Bosco Conference I attended a workshop by Martha Drennan on the centrality of adult faith formation in the Church’s understanding of catechesis. Martha did a great job unpacking the Church’s teaching on the importance of adult faith formation in the life of a parish — an importance that is not always appreciated by catechetical leaders or pastors!

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from Martha’s presentation was a lengthy aside on the baptismal catechumenate and its implications for meeting adults at different stages of their journey of discipleship. Martha used the periods of the RCIA to explore how baptized adult Catholics may nevertheless have different needs and questions depending on how well they have been evangelized and catechized. She also pointed out those places where the Church has an opportunity to reach out to these people.

For instance, we all know Catholics who, for what ever reason, received little catechetical instruction and no longer practice the faith. However, they still appear at weddings and funerals. Here the church has an opportunity to witness to them, proclaim the Gospel, and invite them back into the regular practice of the faith through listening to them and offering healing and reconciliation.

In her presentation Martha also gave a passionate plea that parishes should “give their best” to adult faith formation. This doesn’t necessarily mean the bulk of the catechetical budget; youth programs, by their very nature, will normally require more in the way of a financial investment. But it does mean that adult faith formation should not be given short shrift. For instance, Martha challenged those present to call catechists specifically to the vocation of adult faith formation. Very few parishes consider the particular need for catechists who can speak well before an adult audience. This is too bad since there are many people who, while uncomfortable with working in youth catechesis, would be much more at home in an adult learning environment.

Does your parish give its best to adult faith formation? How can we promote good adult faith formation in the life of the Church?

What No One Considers About Parish Evangelization (Guest post by Marc Cardaronella)

Marc Cardaronella is the catechetical blogger I wish I could be. His writing is always relevant, snappy, and finely crafted. In a word, it’s must-read material for catechists and I’m thankful for his guest post today.

On the Tuesday after the Easter Vigil, our whole RCIA entourage gets together for a kind of after party to celebrate and discuss what happened at the Vigil.

chicken-wingsWe get a lot of food (Buffalo Wild Wings are the main course) and desserts and reflect on the year. I ask the neophytes to tell me their impressions of the process, particularly how they felt about it before they came, then during, and now after.

I was really struck this year by a comment from one young lady who had no Christian background at all before she came to the RCIA.

She said:

“I didn’t really want to come. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through with this. But you said to just come and check it out. No pressure. If I didn’t like, I could quit anytime. So, I came to the first meeting and everyone was so friendly and inviting. There was lots of great food and it was so welcoming, I felt like it was family. Then I started learning and I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to miss a single week. Now I’m so glad I did this. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I loved hearing this because that is exactly the effect I hope for at that first meeting. The whole RCIA team is primed to be as welcoming as possible in order to make this happen.

I was at a meeting with parish leaders the other night talking about evangelization. Whenever I have conversations like this, it always turns to having the great speakers, fancy venues, and great music. Large group stuff.

That’s good if you can afford it. However, I’d say probably 90% of evangelization is hospitality. At least in the beginning.

Hospitality communicates to others that they have value, that they are welcome. Before you can deliver the saving message of Jesus Christ, you have to establish a connection on a human level. It’s like the human connection becomes, in a sense, a bridge or a conduit on which the divine message can travel.

Hospitality builds relationship and then, from relationship you can build trust. Trust gives you the right to be heard. Once you have that, you can deliver your message and know your audience is listening.

If you don’t do the crucial groundwork of earning the right to be heard, you are just a talking head, no different from any other salesman trying to get them to buy something they don’t want. Earn that trust, and you automatically speak from a place of regard. That’s why hospitality is so critical in evangelization.

There’s many different ways hospitality can play a vital role in parish evangelization. Consider the often beleaguered parish secretary. She’s the first person people have contact with at the parish. She’s the first to answer all the phone calls, the first to greet all the visitors at the parish office, and probably the one to manage all the pastor’s appointments.

Arguably, the parish secretary is the most important person in the parish with regard to evangelization. How often does careful thought go into who is hired for this position? More often than not, she’s just the person who was available…and she’s grumpy.

welcomeAnd what about the parish office itself? Is it inviting? Is it fashionably decorated and furnished with comfortable chairs? Does it say, “We have a comfortable place for you because we value you being here.”

Hospitality is probably 90% of initial evangelization, but it’s not everything. You have to proclaim the gospel too. Once people are open to your message, you have the opportunity to tell them why it’s awesome to be in union with Jesus Christ in and through the Catholic Church.

I think if parishes became more intentional about hospitality, it would pay huge dividends in drawing new members to the Church, and making existing parishioners feel more a part of the parish family.

What are your thoughts about hospitality and evangelization? Do you have a story where it really worked? Or, maybe a story where a lack of hospitality went really wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Marc Cardaronella is a parish catechetical leader in Champaign, Illinois, with a passion for sharing the faith with others. He is also a father, writer, and a blue belt in Gracie Jiu-jitsu. He blogs about catechesis and evangelization at www.MarcCardaronella.com.

What the Worst Video Game Ever Can Teach Us About Evangelization

If you’ve never heard the story of the Atari 2600 game E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, I’ll let the Wikipedia summary fill you in:

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial  (also referred to simply as  E.T.) is a notorious 1982  adventurevideo game  developed and published by  Atari, Inc.  for the  Atari 2600video game console. It is based on the  film of the same name, and was designed by  Howard Scott Warshaw. The objective of the game is to guide the eponymous character through various screens to collect three pieces of an interplanetary telephone that will allow him to contact his home planet.

Warshaw intended the game to be an innovative adaptation of the film, and Atari thought it would achieve high sales figures based on its connection with the film, which was extremely popular throughout the world. Negotiations to secure the rights to make the game ended in late July 1982, giving Warshaw only five weeks to develop the game in time for the 1982  Christmas season. The result is often cited as one of the  worst video games released  and was one of thebiggest commercial failures in video gaming history.

E.T.  is frequently cited as a contributing factor to Atari’s massive financial losses during 1983 and 1984. As a result of overproduction and returns, millions of unsold cartridges  were buried  in an  Alamogordo, New Mexico  landfill. The game’s commercial failure and resulting effects on Atari are frequently cited as a contributing factor to the  video game industry crash of 1983.

What does this have to do with evangelization?

First, it tells us to take our time and get things right. The fact that Warshaw had only five weeks to create the game probably doomed it from the start. Even in 1982 it took time to develop and program a game.

Similarly, we need to take our time and do evangelization right. There are no short cuts when it comes to evangelization — no canned program or magic wand that will do the work for us. Evangelization means developing relationships, engaging in conversation, and walking with people on their spiritual journey. This doesn’t happen overnight. (Or in five weeks!) There’s a reason the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults says that preparation to receive the Sacraments of Initiation is a lengthy process that can take years. We do ourselves and those we evangelize a disservice when we think that conversion happens at the end of a five week “welcome back” program.

Second, it should serve as a warning against giving people a poor version of what they want. E.T.  was  the hottest property in 1982. The movie opened to critical acclaim, broke all sorts of box office records, and  E.T. merchandise was flying off the shelves. A video game based on the film should have been a no-brainer.  Instead, gamers were given a shoddy product that didn’t meet their expectations.

Unfortunately this often happens when we create programs, products, and other “stuff” within the Church.  Because  we can never put the resources and production quality into something that a large corporation can, “religiousy” stuff usually pales in comparison. We can’t assume that just because we have the Gospel that we can skimp on making our books, videos, and other media compelling and winsome. As Christ reminded the apostles, we must be “wise as serpents”; in the modern world this means paying attention to how people will react to the message based on the form it takes. Slapping E.T. on a cheaply produced video game wasn’t enough in 1982; that’s a lesson we should remember.

Original photo by See El Photo / flickrCC

50 Year of Faith Activities: #11-12

Every Friday through October 5 I will be offering suggestions for the celebration of the Year of Faith.

  1. Run a monthly “Year of Faith” column in your diocesan paper. Dioceses can run a monthly column about various Year of Faith-related topics. Invite various participants — curia staff, pastors, and parishioners — to write items to be included. Possible topics include the gift of the Catechism, memories of what it was like growing up Catholic in the wake of Vatican Council II, or reflections on how the faith is lived in the local Church.
  2. Take parishioners to the Rite of Election. Every year all the catechumens of a diocese gather with the bishop for the Rite of Election. It is a powerful ritual moment in the life of those seeking to enter the Church, but one in which members of their local parish are often missing! Organize a trip with your catechumens to your cathedral so that parishioners can show their support and witness this important step in the RCIA for themselves!

Catechesis and the RCIA: Mystagogy

This is the final post in a series on the theological connections between the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and catechesis in the Catholic Church. Previous posts  gave an overview of the series,  explored the characteristics of the RCIA, and  addressed the precatechumenate, the catechumentate, and the Period of Purification and Enlightenment.

Theological Underpinnings

The final period of the RCIA, which begins immediately after the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation, is the Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy. The activities undertaken by the neophytes during this period include “deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it a part of their lives through meditation on the gospel, sharing in the eucharist [sic], and doing works of charity.” (no. 244) The neophytes are also encouraged to reflect on their initiation experience , through which “they derive a new perception of the faith, of the Church, and of the world.” (no 245) While it is suggested that a suitable celebration be used to close this period near Pentecost (no. 248), in many ways this period never ends since its activities continue for the life of the neophyte.

Practical Application

If the activities of this period sound familiar, they should! These works are what all Christians are called to in response to their baptism, what is expected of us as disciples of Christ. Unfortunately we do not always do a good on incorporating them into our catechetical programs in a systematic way.

For instance, we are missing a huge opportunity when we fail to connect the teachings and doctrines of the Church to the Sacraments of Initiation. All that we learn and do in our lives as Christians is a response to our baptism. How can we remind the faithful of this fact?

There is also a tendency to disconnect our works of charity and our catechesis. How often do we engage in service projects without taking time to explore the Church’s teachings on justice or charity? How many times to we offer participants a chance to reflect on their charitable works in such a way as to connect them to the larger Christian story? While doing the Works of Mercy is good, we risk reducing them to “nice things we do” if we do not connect them to the Gospel and the larger framework of the Church’s life.

The Period of Mystagogy reminds us that the work of catechesis is never truly complete, but is a life-long process of integrating our faith with our lives.

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)