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A Report on the Implementation of the RCIA in the United Sates
In 1997 the NCCB Committee on Evangelization was authorized to carry out a national study on the implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the United States. The Committee on Evangelization collaborated with the NCCB/USCC Committees on Education, Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Liturgy, and Pastoral Practices. Journey to the Fullness of Life: A Report on the Implementation of the RCIA in the United States contains scholarly reviews by those conducting the research and pastoral responses by the five bishops' committees listed above.
This report points to the following four major areas of concern:
(1) a need for ongoing formation for RCIA leaders and for participants in the process;
(2) a need for greater distinction between those preparing for Baptism and those seeking full reception into the Catholic Church;
(3) a need for early pastoral attention to irregular marriages; an
(4) a need for greater adaptation of the Rite in the local churches.
A summary of their conclusions follows:
The staff of the bishops' Committees on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Education, Evangelism, Liturgy, and Pastoral Practices recognized early in the national study of the implementation of the RCIA in the United States that the RCIA is best implemented through a collaborative approach. Therefore, on the national level, these five bishops' offices collaborated in studying the implementation of the RCIA for this report. During the study, the staff also heard from diocesan leaders that there is a yearning for a collaborative approach in order to implement the many facets of the RCIA successfully.
The results of this comprehensive study make it clear that the RCIA is renewing the life of the Church in the United States. It is also clear that the overall implementation as intended by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (hereafter Rite) must continue to be a major priority in the local churches. The diocesan bishops in the United States overwhelmingly support the ongoing implementation of the Rite, and they hope that all pastors and catechists will experience this "great source of renewal" for parishes that inspires greater outreach and an evangelizing spirit.
This report points to the following four major areas of concern: (1.) a need for ongoing formation for RCIA leaders and for participants in the process; (2.) a need for greater distinction between those preparing for Baptism and those seeking full reception into the Catholic Church; (3.) a need for early pastoral attention to irregular marriages; and (4.) a need for greater adaptation of the Rite in the local churches.
1. A Need for Ongoing Formation
Ongoing formation is of utmost importance for the continuing implementation of the RCIA. This formation is essential for all catechists. Catechists are key to the RCIA process, and they need a formation that equips them to be sensitive to the needs and situations of the people they serve. Each community of faith is unique as is each catechumen or candidate. Within dioceses, it is important that all involved in the RCIA realize that a great resource for ongoing formation is the sharing of diverse experiences among catechists.
As the bishops suggest, this ongoing formation is likewise important for pastors in their unique catechetical roles in their parishes. It is also important that this ongoing formation be extended to all clergy and pastoral staff members. Since it is clear that not all parishes have implemented the Rite, and since there are various stages of implementation in parishes that do, such formation will help to realize the bishops' hopes that all parishes will use the RCIA.
This study also affirms that faith formation is a lifelong process. It does not end at the Easter Vigil. New members in the Church want more opportunities to further their own faith formation. In the study, too many people say that there are few or no ongoing formation opportunities after their reception into the Church. These same people overwhelming say that the greatest strength that they experienced in the RCIA was a feeling of being connected to a community. Mystagogia, on the other hand, is evidently the weakest aspect of the RCIA.
In sum, lifelong formation is essential for all disciples in the Church, and the newest of these disciples greatly value it.
2. A Need for Greater Distinction Between Those Preparing for Baptism and Those Seeking Full Reception into the Catholic Church
This distinction is integral to the RCIA, and RCIA diocesan leaders and bishops responses express concern about it. The dignity of Baptism is of great importance for all involved in this formation process. This distinction impacts all aspects of pastoral life: catechetical, liturgical and communal formation. It is often mentioned that catechumens and candidates are often joined together throughout the RCIA because of a lack of resources, primarily time and people. This lack of resources, however provides opportunities to invite others into this essential ministry in the communities.
3. A Need for Early Pastoral Attention to Irregular Marriages
A major obstacle for many people to beginning the RCIA process or to being initiated into the Church is an irregular marriage. Many people in this situation evidently choose not to begin the RCIA. Others when they become aware of the fact that it is problematic withdraw from the process. It is also apparent from the study that some people in irregular marriages participate in the RCIA and find out late in the process that there is an obstacle to their full reception into the Church. This finding underlines the importance of having a personal interview with a pastoral leader before one formally enters the RCIA process in order to discuss the possibility of regularizing such a marriage.
4. A Need for Adaptation of the Rite
Adaptation is of great importance for all involved in the RCIA. The Rite (and its General Instruction) challenges us to adapt its provisions when pastoral needs arise and calls all involved in the implementation of the RCIA to be open to such adaptation. It is clear that the way of adapting the Rite in one community may be different from that of another community. The need for adapting the Rite primarily surfaced in the study with regard to the great ethnic and regional diversity across the United States. As Pope John Paul II said in 1998, "The Church in the United States has been enriched by a great diversity of expressions of faith found among people of different ethnic backgrounds. This rich diversity indicates that the Church is catholic in the full sense, embracing all peoples and cultures." Indeed, it is a challenge that must be embraced by the local churches.
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will renew our journey to the fullness of life:
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
And kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And you will renew the face of the earth.