Inconsistent Sacramental Administration

I’m curious of the Catholic response to this; there is a protestant one.

RCIA is so inconsistent from parish to parish; diocese to diocese. One requires a certain number of classes to be ‘eligible’ to receive baptism/first communion/confirmation, others require another number of classes; still others don’t require classes at all. One program allows children, another doesn’t. One starts on a certain day (don’t miss the bus!), another is year-round. One is ridged, another fluid.

These sacraments are universal; they are received all over the world. Their source is divine; transcending space and time. Yet, there is a varied evaluation process regarding who should receive. One candidate’s experience entering the Church is wrought with consternation and resentment, another’s is pleasant.

The Eucharistic host transubstantiates in a universally consistent manner across the globe. Reconciliation appears to be, too. But, Matrimony isn’t (all marriages are considered valid), Baptism isn’t (all baptisms in the Trinitarian formula are considered valid), Confirmation isn’t (RCIA rant already addressed above). Second graders can receive the Eucharist, but an adult convert can’t? I don’t see how graces sourced from God are can be inconstantly administered. Yielding sinful impulses for God’s sake (literally) is hard enough without having to deal with the frustration that is the RCIA process (for some; not others). This leads me to consider that an RCIA process is not actually required to receive these graces (baptism, confirmation, and communion). If it were, no inconsistency would exist.

Reason seems to advocate these graces are free to all who desire them since there source is from an eternal, transcendent God. Why would their administration be inconsistent by a Church formed by an eternally consistent God?

RCIA classes themselves aren’t the administration of the Sacraments. RCIA is just one form of training and education a person may receive prior to receiving the Sacraments. As I understand it, canon law requires that an adult be properly disposed before receiving the Sacraments of initiation, and a priest can determine that in many different ways. I was an adult when I was confirmed and I was not asked to take RCIA classes. The priest had several meetings with me and we discussed what the Church believes on several important subjects. Then he recommended me to the Bishop and I was confirmed at a special Mass with several other adults.

In the early church it took 3 years to go from non-Christian to baptized and confirmed Christian.

While some dioceses do attempt to standardize RCIA, the point is the Pastor is the one that must feel the person has received an appropriate level of preparation for the Sacraments. So the reason there is an “inconsistency” is because each pastor evaluates the education differently. The staff members or volunteers who typically teach the RCIA classes for Father typically us methods from secular education to teach and evaluate. Point is, it won’t be consistent unless a Bishop makes a standardized program, and honestly, I doubt a bishop would because the pastor needs to be flexible with his candidates. Someone converting from another religion may need a lot of instruction vs. a former Protestant minister who did a lot of research before converting. So there needs to be some flexiblity. The only question is if the pastor delegates the flexiblity down to his lay teachers or retains the flexiblity himself. If the pastor doesn’t delegate that flexiblity, it can make a program seem “rigid.”

These sacraments are universal; they are received all over the world. Their source is divine; transcending space and time. Yet, there is a varied evaluation process regarding who should receive. ***One candidate’s experience entering the Church is wrought with consternation and resentment, another’s is pleasant. ***

This is the human eliminate. And while many parishes are attempting to apply secular education tools and methods, many are not properly trained educators. Many of the better programs often have trained catechists, perhaps even with an education background. On the flip side, many of the not-so-good programs often have someone who is not a trained Catechist and perhaps does not know how to properly teach the materials - perhaps following a “teaching script.” If the RCIA catechist is strickly following a script, then he/she is going to more “rigid” and perhaps even less prepared for deviation and/or questions from left field

The Eucharistic host transubstantiates in a universally consistent manner across the globe. Reconciliation appears to be, too. But, Matrimony isn’t (all marriages are considered valid), Baptism isn’t (all baptisms in the Trinitarian formula are considered valid), Confirmation isn’t (RCIA rant already addressed above).

All the sacraments are administered consistently. I’m not sure why you say that Matrimony and Baptism are not? We simply view that Protestants can validly administer these two sacraments. And Confirmation is always administered the same way. Simply the training isn’t.

6 of the 7 Sacraments require instruction before receiving.
[LIST]
*]Baptism required RCIA or RCIC unless the child is considered an infant, which means the parents receive the instructions via Pre Jordan.
*]First Confession receives instruction
*]First Communion receives instruction
*]Confirmation receives instruction
*]Matrimony receives Pre Cana instruction
*]Holy Orders receives approx 5-6 years of instruction before ordination to the Diaconate.
*]Only Anointment of the Sick does not have instruction (well, unless you count the priest instructing the person to hold out their hands, palms up during part of the rite)
[/LIST]

Each diocese or parish utilizes different books for First Confession, First Communion and different materials for child Confirmation. Same can be said for RCIA. Each parish or diocese offers different training programs for Pre Cana, and while there are many similarities, each seminary program different.

… continued on next post

Second graders can receive the Eucharist, but an adult convert can’t? I don’t see how graces sourced from God are can be inconstantly administered.

You are not comparing apples to apples here. A Second grader receiving his/her first Eucharist has been preparing for this since their birth. Assuming a cradle Catholic 2nd grader, he/she has been preparing for 7 years. And they have been preparing in their Religious Education classes for their First Communion since the start of 1st Grade. Then when they are older, they study for 1-2 years for their Confirmation.

So while kids receive their First Eucharist younger, they are actually receiving instruction for much more than just 1 year.

Yielding sinful impulses for God’s sake (literally) is hard enough without having to deal with the frustration that is the RCIA process (for some; not others). This leads me to consider that an RCIA process is not actually required to receive these graces (baptism, confirmation, and communion). If it were, no inconsistency would exist.

The RCIA process is not technically required. But truly understanding what you are doing is. It’s important for a person to understand what they are agreeing to before undertaking Baptism, Confirmation & First Holy Communion.

I feel that the main reason some people experience frustration (besides having a bad teacher) is because concerns do not get back to the pastor. Catechumens & candidates should be actively and warmly encouraged to speak with the pastor (or the priest instructing RCIA) when he/she feels frustration with the program. When most people are frustrated with RCIA, it’s because (1) they don’t understand why instruction is necessary, (2) they never discussed their concerns with Father, and/or (3) they unfortunately felt the RCIA instruction or maybe even Father brushed off their concerns.

Reason seems to advocate these graces are free to all who desire them since there source is from an eternal, transcendent God. Why would their administration be inconsistent by a Church formed by an eternally consistent God?

Again, the administration of the sacraments is 100% consistent. Only the training is “inconsistent” for several reasons I mentioned above. The requirement is for the priest to sufficiently feel that the person is ready to receive the sacraments.

I pray my answers are somewhat helpful.

God Bless

You make a good point here, but I would also say that many, many adults coming into the Church have been studying, learning and preparing for reception into the church for a long while before they ask about RCIA.

An adult coming into the Church would be expected to have considerably more understanding of the Eucharist than a 2nd-grader. The knowledge required is according to the capability of the one receiving. An adult is going to have a much larger capacity than a 7-year-old. In the Byzantine Rite, we give Communion to infants so no preparation is required of them since no understanding is required.

Recently my wife and I officially joined the local church - my RCIA wife needed proof of Baptism, I just smiled and said, trust me! I didn’t even need to give a previous parish, which would have been about 40 plus years ago! The rules are definitely loose. Funny thing is, I do have all the paperwork ( here somewhere )

I think the OP’s angst is based on a misconception. RCIA is not required, as has been stated by others. The conclusion of the post, “Reason seems to advocate these graces are free to all who desire them since there source is from an eternal, transcendent God,” is dead on, accept it does sort of beg the question of who really desires them. The Holy Sacrament is available for the wanting, but not for the asking. The RCIA program, in addition to be a time of training, is also a time of discernment where one explores whether there is a desire to follow Christ in the Holy Catholic Church. There are many exceptions made by priests all the time, but with the same goal of assuring a desire to follow Jesus, and a commitment to this decision.

I was in a situation of training two teenage children who could no attend the RCIA classes, and I had a priest who allowed them to go through the program with a type of home-schooling. It was not a short cut, as the “text book” was the catechism from cover to cover. The point is, all priests have the same criteria of making the sacraments available to those who should receive them, but not always the same methods of determining who that is.

The following article is quite heart-rending and suggests that the RCIA system is in need of a revamp:

culturewars.com/2015/RCIA.htm

Not all aspects of the Sacraments are divine law.

The lady complains, but I note not only was she received into the Church, but she also helped another come in without RCIA. That kind of belies her point that RCIA is entrenched. No, we do not do the one sinners prayer and you are in in ten seconds. If one looks at conversion in the New Testament, then it is shown to be much more along the Catholic paradigm than the Protestant one.

I take the point that there needs to be a flexibility, but I have seen flexibility.

Also, I note that the woman writing this mistakenly said the rite was “conjured up” post-Vatican II. It is an ancient rite that was restored. Here is a better link as to what RCIA is.
usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/who-we-teach/rite-of-christian-initiation-of-adults/

Dear PNewton,

I agree that the tone of the article is a little “shrill”, but I believe there are still valid points there.

As for the Vatican II allusion, it has become somewhat customary among Catholics of all stripes to allude to it in any context whatsoever. As the late Fr. Jurgens once wryly observed: “in some circles, it is thought impossible to even write a shopping list without reference to the Second Vatican Council” (The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1, Introduction.) :smiley: So I would not give such laments too much credence. The problem is one of implementation and not of the Conciliar (and praiseworthy) restoration of an ancient rite that even the Church Fathers attest to. :slight_smile:

RCIA will be conducted differently all over the world, just as the ‘flavour’ of the Mass is also different all over the world (I’ve attended Mass in numerous countries and it’s interesting to experience that).

Our RCIA course was conducted solely by our priest, some people in my small group weren’t native English-speakers so we had very simplified discussions and also some music (our priest is very gifted musically). I’d have liked to have got into the detail a little more, but it wasn’t really a problem - it was just my problem! I can always read more on my own.

One man could never make the sessions as he worked at the other end of the country during the week, so Father saw him on his own at other times.

The central tenet holds, but local customs tend to influence how it feels.

Things are supposed to differ between the previously baptized and the non-baptized.

A well catechized Anglican or Lutheran (just an example) who desires to be received into full-communion should not have to go through a year-long process designed for those who are unbaptized and have little catechesis. That is one of the articles of RCIA: that no greater burden be placed on those who seek full communion than what is needed. So if after the initial meeting with the Pastor and approval of the Bishop the person is ready in a month, reception should be then or as soon as possible afterwards. If you’ve got several people preparing there should probably be provision for reception every couple of months. If you only have one in preparation, as has happened in our parish, then it should be as soon as that person is ready.

OP responding here…

These comments are very insightful (a major reason I use this forum). It sounds like frustration surrounding RCIA programs is not uncommon, and the process varies more than I imagined.

More to the point: I can now see a distinction between preparation (RCIA) and administration (actual rite). Let me clarify what I mean by their administration being different. I was raised in the Churches of Christ. When someone wanted to be baptized, a short study was initiated involving topical Bible passages and a discussion of how crucial baptism is to salvation (rather simple topic; easy to grasp). This lasted a few minutes to a few hours. Once consent was announced by the inquirer, baptism followed as soon as humanly possible; day or night, it didn’t matter. Baptism was that important.

Provided the baptism was performed using the Trinitarian formula (it was), the Catholic Church recognizes this sacrament as valid. No RCIA, no priest, no schedule. Just two people talking, and concluding with angels rejoicing in heaven. That same unbaptized individual who desired the very same sacrament in the Catholic Church will experience something very different. The same with Matrimony; a man and woman united into one flesh under an oak tree presided by a properly state-credentialed preacher. The Church recognizes this sacrament as valid, but a priest would not perform a marriage in the same manner.

Since baptism is one of these initiating sacraments RCIA addresses, I see an opposing relationship between what’s is inconstantly required by an RCIA program, and what is deemed valid by the Catholic Church. Why a specific sacramental rite for baptism if any form is valid. Why a specific preparation rite if any instruction which leads to a valid sacrament will do. Admittedly, this argument breaks down when Confirmation and Frist Communion is considered. I’m unaware if the Catholic Church recognizes non-Catholic Confirmations; I’m sure they don’t recognize non-Catholic Frist Communion rites because of the uniqueness of transubstantiation doctrine.

Regarding the 2nd grader receiving First Communion while an adult can’t: this too, is a rather simple topic, especially for an adult to grasp; one conceptually assents or doesn’t. Six months of weekly classes isn’t necessary. This feeds into my summary comments below:

Here’s the core of my ever-so-slight irritation with varied RCIA programs and inconsistent sacramental administration: Baptism is soooo important. Confirmation is soooo important. Receiving the living Eucharist is soooo important. The process necessary for one to adopt the underlying theology as truth is indeed special; but the graces received by sacraments are infinitely more important than the learning process is special. The graces received by sacraments are more infinitely important than ones agreement to participate in them. The journey is special, but not nearly as *important * as the actual graces received. The delay experienced between full consent of a sacrament’s necessity and actual receipt the graces conferred will lead one to doubt the Churches teaching regarding their importance; after all, if it were so important, one shouldn’t have to wait until the bitter end of any RCIA program however varied they are one from another. No RCIA director, anywhere, should have the power to delay, or even deny, someone access to graces freely offered by God.

I understand your point, but the Church sees the same principle as needing a different solution. The Sacraments are soooo important that the preparation must be proportionally important. From the parable of the soils:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

Remember that Church does not believe in once saved, always saved. The preparation of the soil is important, not for the first communion, but for the thousandth. Salvation may seem quick and easy in one way, just a simple, “Jesus, have mercy on me,” but salvation is also described by St. Paul as a marathon.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.”But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Remember that Jesus also told a certain rich man that he must first go sell everything he had and follow him. I know Jesus does not seem “fair” being so inconsistent, but he saw the individual needs and addressed them with justice.

The background to my answer: I am a former Episcopalian who went through RCIA, was on an RCIA core team, am a trained catechist and now work at the diocesan level.

I have no doubt that at some parishes there are very poorly trained catechists some of whom push progressive agendas. In my very conservative diocese there are 5 churches (out of 110) where I can definitely say this is true.

That being said, there is a tendency in western culture, particularly American culture, to want things our way when we want them. People approach the church the same way. I witnessed this a lot working for the Episcopal church. People would come to the Episcopal church because they were tired of the hoops at the Catholic church and wanted baptism/communion/etc their way. They didn’t want to attend classes, change their lifestyles, be a part of a community, or wait 9-12 months to join the church. They wanted one to one service on their schedule with no expectations on them to get out of their comfort zone.

It has never seemed unreasonable to me to expect people to learn about a faith before committing their life to it.I was exceptionally well versed Episcopalian and was already catechized as a Catholic way more than the average Catholic before I started RCIA. I still benefited from it and saw how much others can benefit. I learned how to “be” Catholic. I learned Catholic culture. I got to practice patience and understanding. I actually met people.

Prior to the 1960s and 70s, you could pretty much expect that your typical convert had a basic understanding of Christian civilization and familiarity with the Bible. You cannot assume that anymore! Even the so called “well-catechized” Anglican or Lutheran (or Catholic!) is likely to be holding on to a number of new age, pagan or quasi christian beliefs. We had a good Methodist lady who was going through RCIA. She believed firmly that angels were dead people. She was so traumatized when she learned that Catholics don’t believe that, she quit coming! She had met with the priest several time, she had been through 7 months of catechesis including marriage prep, had been going to mass for a year but abandoned it all over that one conviction. We had other good, good former protestants who had memorized huge amounts of scripture and were holding on to sola scriptura to the end. Some people wanted to hold onto their pro-homosexual or pro-choice beliefs.

Also, it is amazing how many peoples stories and facades fell apart over the course of 9 months of talking to people every week. We have had several couples in RCIA who managed to make it 4 months acting like they weren’t shacked up, but by Christmas it had come out. Others were going through it to please a relative, but didn’t believe anything. Others had significant mental health issues. A lot of those people were eventually received, others weren’t. All of them made it past an exceptionally holy priest by lying or hiding things, and probably would have been confirmed by him immediately if not for the built in waiting period. Honestly, the biggest thing working for the church has taught me is to love everyone but not to take peoples stories at face value. There is often a hidden story lurking right underneath! I am jaded enough at this point to see the article authors mention of going to multiple parishes seeking confirmation as a red flag to a bigger and deeper problem than just at the parish.

The biggest problem I see is not RCIA per se but the fact the window for joining RCIA is usually August-October and most parishes have absolutely nothing to reach and minister to those people who show up in the winter or spring.

All this being said, all of the priests I know have made exceptions. They tend not to make exceptions though if you say “I want”.

Excellent points. The work of salvation is a one-time-event, and a process through living a Godly life. This resonates deeply within me, and gives me pause. I really think I’m getting somewhere with this topic. Having re-read the thread again, the following arise:

Learning to walk in the light of God’s will requires a life time of trial and error. Who, then, is ever property prepared to receive the graces of baptism? As learning and maturity advance, does a deeper knowledge of Christ cause the thousandth Eucharistic host to be more grace-filled than the first?

How is an infant properly disposed, cognitively, to received these graces, but an adult is not. If an infant’s parents promise to raise the child with Catholic teaching as a condition of receiving baptism, why couldn’t an adult’s promise to do the same thing for themselves be sufficient to receive the same graces.

Additionally, regarding salvation via Baptism of desire: I haven’t looked into this much, but my initial take on the concept lead me to wonder the following. Aren’t the graces of baptism what we need for salvation? If these same saving graces are received by desiring baptism, then would my children receive the graces of Confirmation through earnest desire, as well. If so, then why participate in a specific rite to receive what’s already present?

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