Tips for Managing Your Early Sessions

You have introduced your group and begun your formal RCIA process; you have answered many initial questions. Perhaps many of those questions have revolved around the Mass, liturgy, and etiquette in church, since these are often pressing, immediate issues which concern persons who are relatively unfamiliar with Catholic worship. This is why I have placed the Mass and the liturgy in the first two chapters of God Calls You by Name.

The Catholic Mass is the renewal, in an unbloody manner, of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, offered through the instrumentality of the priest who stands in the person of Christ. This is the essence of our liturgy: its magnificence lies in its ability to touch our souls with grace through the instrumentality of our bodily senses. The "smells and bells", the colors, the postures, prayers, and rituals, all affect our spirit through our senses.

Many of our catechized candidates who come from various Protestant denominations have worshiped for years without these sensible liturgical enhancements. The very essence of Puritanism involved a divesting of elements which invited the senses to the worship center, and this austerity has influenced much of today's Protestant worship. For these reasons, liturgical etiquette is a pressing concern for serious inquirers who are entering the RCIA process.

As you move forward from explaining the RCIA process and facilitating introductions and storytelling, consider teaching the Mass and liturgical enhancements in a very "show and tell" manner. Take your group on a tour of your local church. Explain the meaning of the Sign of the Cross and the use of holy water at the entrance, preferably around the baptismal fountain, or at least near a holy water fountain. It is through Baptism that we all enter the Church. As the group comes up the center aisle, define the gesture of genuflecting.

When they have been seated, present the parts of the Mass, beginning with the entrance rite, then the Liturgy of the Word with its various aspects. Model the Mass prayers and responses. Then proceed to describe the Liturgy of the Eucharist, even though they will most often be dismissed for "Breaking Open the Word." Explain the meaning of the stained-glass windows, statues, stations of the cross and the very structural design of the church. Visit your Blessed Sacrament chapel, or draw attention to the tabernacle, wherever it is placed in your church. This is a wonderful place to explain the "Real Presence" --- the perduring presence of Jesus in the consecrated host --- and the sacred mystery of transubstantiation. Pray silently for a few moments: your own love for the Blessed Sacrament will be caught, not taught. Presenting in this manner, which engages multiple senses, offers important input which will set the tone for your participants' future worship experiences.

As you preset Catholic teaching on Sacred Scripture, keep in mind the broad spectrum of ways in which various Protestant denominations look at Scripture. As Catholics, we owe much to some Protestant scripture scholars who have earnestly and assiduously studied ancient languages, cultures, architecture, and geography in order to come to a greater understanding of the background within which biblical scholars wrote. Other groups have critiqued the Bible as mere human literature that lacks divine authorship. Still others interpret every Bible text literally: they superimpose 21st-century terminology, meaning, and analytical patterns of thinking onto ancient writings. They then insist that they can identify what the texts intended to say. A prime example of this is the number 144,000, used in the Revelations, Ch. 7. If only 144,000 souls were saved, there would be little room left for us, wouldn't there! In ancient terminology, 144,000 represented an unlimited number --- symbolizing all redeemed people everywhere.

Be prepared for the question, "Why can't I interpret what the Bible means for me?" It will inevitably be asked. Explain that our obedience of faith disposes us to trust the Church's magisterium and to embrace its teaching authority. Be prepared also to distinguish the literal meaning of Bible passages from the literary meaning, especially in Genesis, Chapters 1 through 3. The literal meaning assigns words their 21st-century English definition. The literary meaning, in contrast, considers ancient cultural, language, knowledge basis and writing patterns in the effort to understand Scripture more deeply.

Clearly explain the authorship of the Scriptures. They were written by the Holy Spirit acting through human instruments, and respecting the humanity of these instruments, in such a way that every part of the Bible is written both by God and by human beings. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, and interpreted by the Church's magisterium under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit, the Bible is unerring in matters of faith and morals.

Candidates and catechumens need to learn about the books of the Bible, and about the timeline of biblical events; nevertheless, it is foundational at this point to convey these important principles. Consult Chapter 3 of God Calls You by Name for further details.

 

Sincerely,

Joyce Stolberg