Catechetical Sunday: It Takes a Community to Welcome a New Catholic

(Team Building and Roles for Everyone)

by Joyce Stolberg

 "The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, it has its origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity #2). We live this missionary nature of the Church by implementing the RCIA sacramental preparation process through which persons who are uncatechized and/or unbaptized, or who have already been living the Christian life, prepare to fully embrace the Faith as new Catholics.

 Have you as an RCIA director heard any complaints about the high visibility of the process and the intense attention given by the parish to those catechumens and candidates involved? Have you heard any of the following? "Why do we have to give up the front seats to the same group of people all the time?" "Why should they get all the attention (dismissals for breaking open the word, rites of acceptance, sending, election, scrutinies, etc.) as they prepare to receive their sacraments? Aren't our children preparing for sacraments too?" If so, you are not alone. As Catechetical Sunday approaches and we inaugurate a new year of formation, this undercurrent of resentment may again surface. Perhaps explaining some of the following points to your community may help allay some antipathy and encourage greater participation.

 Many of us who are cradle Catholics take our Faith for granted; the RCIA reminds us that at some point in the past our own ancestors, some proximate and some remote, left their beliefs and their gods to follow Christ and embrace the Catholic Faith. Indeed, Jesus taught his disciples, then sent them out two by two; those who were evangelized formed communities, then spread the word to others, etc. down to our own day. The command to spread the "Good News of Salvation" was an essential part of the Good News itself. Therefore we received the Faith through the evangelization efforts of others. So, in a very real sense, catechumens are what we were. If every Catholic made an effort to converse seriously with one other person each year about the Faith, not all persons contacted would come to the Catholic Church; nevertheless the church's growth would be exponential.

 Today's group of adults, whether sizable or very small, is for all parishioners a vibrant sign of the very missionary nature of the Church -- and the whole church needs to be involved in their progressive initiation process. Those of you who have become Catholics as adults remember well the cacophony of emotions you experienced on first entering a Catholic church. As we enfold catechumens and candidates with our loving care, we renew the graces of our own Baptism and become true missionaries within the scope of our own local calling.

 This work of welcoming new members involves the whole parish community. The pastor, acting under the direction of and within the guidelines set by the local bishop, has the ultimate responsibility for incorporating new members into the Catholic Church. Priests attend to the pastoral care of catechumens. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, #13, #77). They may delegate much of this responsibility to capable lay persons: if you are reading this you are probably a RCIA director or team member entrusted by your pastor with the care and teaching of catechumens and candidates. Directors are tasked with managing the process, implementing the directives of the Bishop, understanding the basic marriage laws of the Church, getting to know the participants, building a team, and recruiting sponsors. Catechists must be well-versed in the fine nuances of Catholic doctrine and be capable of presenting Catholic teaching clearly, firmly, and in conformity with the Church's magisterium. The book, God Calls You by Name, is designed to support catechesis by presenting all the essential elements of Catholic doctrine in a manner that facilitates a grace filled response, offers community-building discussion exercises, and evokes the powers of abstract reasoning.

 Sponsors are persons, usually parishioners, who are willing to walk the journey with one person and to be present for that individual throughout the process at meetings and church assemblies. A sponsor is for one person what Jesus' disciples were for the earliest Christians. Godparents are confirmed practicing Catholics, often chosen by parents for children, who will have a long term nurturing relationship with the individual, and need not be parish members. Other parishioners may be involved in providing hosting support or by sewing needed garments or providing other services.

 In September, you may likely be particularly concerned with recruiting sponsors to serve members of your newly formed RCIA group. You may want to make announcements before Mass or place appeals in your church bulletin. I am providing sample announcements below.

 For recruiting sponsors:

 Would you like to participate in the missionary nature of the Church without leaving your home or your employment? Would you like to be for one person what Jesus' disciples were for the earliest Christians? No experience is required! If you are a confirmed practicing Catholic in good standing with your church, and if you are willing to participate in one catechetical session per week, attend the (identify here the Sunday Mass to be attended by the candidates and catechumens) Mass, and maintain contact with one person, you are cordially urged to become a sponsor in the RCIA process. "The obligation of spreading the Faith is imposed on every disciple of Christ, according to his state." (Lumen Gentium, #17) By becoming a sponsor you become a missionary without leaving home.

 To welcome inquiries:

 Have you ever had questions about the Catholic Church, but were afraid to ask or didn't know where to go? Do you have a desire to explore the Catholic Faith more deeply in a welcoming environment? If so, you are cordially invited to come to (here indicate that time and place of your meeting and provide contact information.)

 God bless you as you embark on a new catechetical year.