RCIA Liturgy

Hello All,
Our church has recently undertaken the “job” of reworking our RCIA program to be in union with the actual Rite of Initiation. I am the liturgist and I am looking for some tips from other RCIA team leaders and members, liturgists, and anyone who can provide me with any insights. For those of you unfamiliar with the “new” terminology, the liturgist is the one member responsible for scripting all of the rites and events that take place within the initiation process.

Since we are taking on quite a timeconsuming process our leader wants to use the resources of our diocese wherever possible. The focus of the Rites are now on the candidates becoming part of the community of our parish, so I feel that they should be surrounded by our church’s body rather than going to the diocese and meeting with people they will most likely never see again.

Scripting the regular rites does not seem to be a big deal, but I would like to organize a day of prayer and reflection now known as our day of retreat right before Easter Vigil. What I have come up with so far is this:
*]Eucharistic Adoration
*]Stations of the Cross
*]Penance Service and Reconciliation
*]Living Rosary (anybody with any “how to’s” on this would be appreciated)
*]Corporal/Spiritual Works of Mercy: to introduce our ministries by people within the ministry
Of course, we would have a period of breaking bread (a/k/a break and lunch) as well as a wrap up “what did you bring away from this day and the entire journey to date?” kind of questions.

Can anybody give me some guidance on this topic? Thanks to all and God’s peace.

A few things:

  1. I thought the Liturgy and worship in a particular church was under the oversight of the Bishop, and after him the Pastor.

  2. In your list of devotions for this–assuming it’s taking place on Holy Saturday, you’ve mentioned non-liturgical practices, but NOTHING about the Church’s official liturgical prayer: the Divine Office, aka Liturgy of the Hours. Why?

  3. I understand also that the Eucharist is NOT publicly reserved after the Solemn Action on Holy Friday, so it would seem that Adoration would be totally out of place.

On the other hand, maybe there will be an Orthodox or Byzantine Catholic church nearby where you can arrange a pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Lord.

  1. And shouldn’t catechesis in the Works of Mercy be part of the preparation for Baptism or Confirmation?

  2. Since Holy Saturday is tradionally a fast day, is it a good idea to have anything but beverages–and maybe bread or fruit, as in the Byzantine praxis–on this day.

As an RCIA coordinator and a Pastoral Associate, I would not schedule a retreat day on Holy Saturday. That is a day of prayer and fasting in prepartation for the vigil. To organize a prayer day with specific devotions that they have to do, in my opinion, stifles the Holy Spirit. Also it puts a great burden on the team who should also be spending the day in prayer, fasting and meditation rather than having to run a retreat. Why not schedule a retreat for the week before Easter, have the Elect participate in Morning Prayer and the Preparation Rites on the morning of Holy Saturday, and then send them on their way to prepare on their own however they feel is spiritually nourishing for them.

Can you please indicate a reference showing that Holy Saturday is a day of fast? :confused:

Do you mean fasting for the catechumens?

I would refer you to Paschale Solemnitatis, the authoritative circular letter from the Holy See regarding Lent and Holy Week.

Here is the link:


Here is what it says about the Blessed Sacrament, especially where it relates to Holy Thursday:

  1. The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance.

Thus, what you are planning would not necessarily work at all because there is to be no adoration from Midnight Good Friday through after the Easter Vigil.

What I would suggest that you do is to have a retreat the week before Holy Week. Holy Week is the summit of the liturgical year of the Church. If we do not celebrate Holy Week, then we will have missed the point of the Easter Vigil.

I would have the Elect, as a group, make the effort to attend the Chrism Mass (if you live in the seat of your diocese). Then, I would make it a point for them to attend all three nights of the Paschal Triduum.

The Paschal Triduum is one complete liturgy which begins with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper and concludes with the final blessing at the Easter Vigil. After the procession make it a point to have the group spend some time in prayer at the altar of repose, where the Blessed Sacrament will be kept.

On Good Friday, preferably before the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, do the stations of the Cross or prepare a meditation on either the 7 last words of Jesus (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus wrote a wonderful book on it) or the Sorrowful Mother. Do not skip the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion.

On Saturday morning, have a brief gathering with the group, since at some point, you will need to rehearse the logistics of what will go on that evening. Before you dismiss them, lead them in prayer or in some sort of meditation.

But, I cannot urge you enough, do not bypass the Triduum. If we do that, then we will have missed the entire point of the Easter Vigil.

Here is what the Church outlines for Holy Saturday:

VI. Holy Saturday

  1. On Holy Saturday, the Church is, as it were, at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on his passion and death and on his descent into hell, awaiting his resurrection with prayer and fasting. It is highly recommended that on this day, the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the participation of the people (cf. n.40). [76] Where this cannot be done, there should be some celebration of the word of God or some act of devotion suited to the mystery celebrated this day.
  1. The image of Christ crucified or lying in the tomb or the descent into hell, which mystery Holy Saturday recalls, as also an image of the sorrowful Virgin Mary, can be placed in the church for the veneration of the faithful.
  1. On this day, the Church abstains strictly from celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass. [77] Holy Communion may only be given in the form of Viaticum. The celebration of marriages is forbidden, as is also the celebration of other sacraments, except those of penance and the anointing of the sick.
  1. The faithful are to be instructed on the special character of Holy Saturday. [78] Festive customs and traditions associated with this day because of the former practice of anticipating the celebration of Easter on Holy Saturday should be reserved for Easter night and the day that follows.

This should be a good guide for you on what should be done that day.

I agree with this. The vigil begins, depending on how early or late Easter falls in the season, around 8 with the lighting of new fire, and recall how very intense the Triuudum is. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday should be attended by RCIA. In our RCIA class, we participated as foot washers. By the time you reach Saturday, first, your RCIA class is tired and has their own family cooking and celebrations they are going to be expected to participate in. In my own home, we had no Easter baskets or colored eggs during RCIA. It was appropriate, but it wasn’t planned! (We relied on relatives for candy and eggs and dinner that year Easter Sunday evening.) If you have any families converting, as my family was, this is going to be a lot and you don’t want them burned out during the Vigil.

Second, the only activity I could recommend, Adoration, isn’t really practical since we remove the tabernacle and should be focused on Christ’s descent into physical death on Saturday.

We did have a Seder meal the week before Easter. Maybe that would be enough?

You might think about moving your ideas to Mystagogia. That’s when were introduced to ministry opportunties, if we weren’t already participating.

The Circular Letter on Easter Feasts states:

#39. The Easter fast is sacred on the first two clays of the Triduum, in which according to ancient tradition the Church fasts “because the Spouse has been taken away”. (43) Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence; it is also recommended that holy Saturday be so observed, so that the Church, with uplifted and welcoming heart, be ready to celebrate the joys of the Sunday of the Resurrection.”

The Rite of Christian Initiation also states:

#185. The elect are to be advised that on Holy Szaturday they should refrain form their usual activities, spend their time in prayer and reflection, and, as far as the can, observe a fast.”

And the National Statutes for the Catechumenate states:

#15. Candidates for initiation, as well a those who assist them and participate in the celebration of the Easter Vigil with them, are encouraged to keep and extend the Paschal fast of Good Friday throughout the day of Holy Saturday until the end of the Vigil itself in accord with the Constitiution on the Sacred Liturgy.”

Finally Sacrosanctum Concilium which states:

#110 …Nevertheless, let the paschal fast be kept sacred. Let it be celebrated everywhere on Good Friday and, where possible, prolonged throughout Holy Saturday, so that the joys of the Sunday of the resurrection may be attained with uplifted and clear mind.”

From the liturgical book, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA):
"Preparation Rites on Holy Saturday
172 In proximate preparation for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation:

  1. The elect are to be advised that on Holy Saturday they should refrain from their usual
    activities, spend their time in prayer and reflection, and, as far as they can, observe a fast.
  2. When it is possible to bring the elect together on Holy Saturday for reflection and
    prayer, some or all of the following rites may be celebrated as an immediate prepara-
    tion for the sacraments: the presentation of the Lord’s Prayer, if it has been deferred
    (see nos. 136, 165-167), the ‘return’ or recitation of the Creed (nos. 180-183), the
    ephphetha rite (nos. 184-186), the choosing of a baptismal name (nos. 187-189), and
    the anointing with the oil of catechumens (nos. 190-194; for the rite of anointing the
    celebrant is a priest or deacon)."

More information on these ceremonies are in this book. A lot of the information from the book is the The RCIA introductions for England and Wales, at PDF, at catholic-ew.org.uk/liturgy/Resources/Rites/RiteRitual.html#RCIA . (Note that the USA edition has different paragraph numbers to the UK edition.)

Regarding the sacrament of reconciliation. Those not yet baptised cannot participate in this. For those baptised, and coming into full communion with the Catholic Church, the RCIA book has:
“395 If the profession of faith and reception take place within Mass, the candidate, according to
his or her own conscience, should make a confession of sins beforehand, first informing
the confessor that he or she is about to be received into full communion. Any confessor
who is lawfully approved may hear the candidate’s confession.”

I think it is important to respect this choice of “any confessor”. So by setting it up with a particular priest I think people could feel railroaded. So if this were done it would be important to explain the options they have.

Note that with the Rite of Election/Recognition we enter a time of Purification and Enlightenment. We shift decrease the emphasis on the intellect = learning and work on spiritual preparation. For this reason we have always had our retreat day the Saturday before Ash Wednesday.

I don’t understand the question.
what is their to script about the rites? it is all there in the book, in detail, with options to fit local situations.

yes the ideal time for the retreat is Holy Saturday or at least some time during the Triduum. Our candidates have already participated in a parish or other Lent retreat earlier, so the retreat is the morning of Holy Saturday. That is not the time for stations and other devotions, it should be focused more on the sacraments they are receiving, and the readings for the Vigil, and the signs and symbols that will be used-light, water, oil etc.

they are strongly urged (the parents are downright ordered) to spend the Triduum esp. the rest of Saturday in silence and prayer, and rest including a nap,
they are encouraged to fast but to eat a light supper before the vigil
The time for stations and other Lenten devotions is during Lent, not the immediate period right before the vigil. This is my opinion drawn from my reading of the rites and instructions.

I’m baffled by this scripting rites thing too. What is there to script? The rites have been written for more than a millennium. Since I’m sure you are not talking about the Divine Liturgy (Mass), the only other liturgy I can think of would be the Liturgy of the Hours. These too are well scripted from antiquity. What’s to rite? If you want to have a liturgy, the Tenebrae services is deeply powerful and the traditional replacement for some of the Liturgical Hours during the Triduum. That would be the place to start, I think. Stations of the Cross and the praying of the rosary and such are devotional rather than liturgical, aren’t they? Or did we change the definition of liturgy again?

I disagree about having a retreat on Holy Saturday, although I know it is a common practice. What you are asking them to focus on is more appropriate for mystagogy when we reflect on what happened. If you explain a symbol it looses its power somewhat. Symols are multivalient and we need to hear from the newly baptized what those symbols meant to them, not what we want them to mean. Once they have expereinced them, then we can unpack them together. That is whay mystagogy is all about. In the great mystagogical homilies, the mysteries were not spoken about until after Inititation. This is why we never rehearse our Elect.

Our retreat is during Lent. They are encouraged to take part in other devotions but our Lenten retreat focuses on the Scrutinies and the images of water, light and new life, but not necessarily in the sense that they are going to experience them at the Vigil. Once we go over these images, then the symbols should make sense at the Vigil in their perception.

Also, those on our team are also involved in other aspects of preparing for the Vigil and to ask them to prepare and come to a retreat is overburdening them. We all go to Morning Prayer with the parish and then we do the Preparation Rites following prayer. By the time that is over it is almost 10 AM. Our Elect are then invited, if they want, to help decorate the church for Easter (which usually takes until noon), or to just stay and pray, or to go home and meditate on the readings. We leave it up to the Holy Spirit to direct them on this day. Most choose to go home and prepare themselves there. I know that I am unable to run a retreat on Holy Saturday because of all my other duties and the priests are also unavailable to assist due to their own preparation. Plus, I have my own way of preparing when all the hustle and bustle of preparing is over (and as liturgy coordinator as well I have lot of preparing to do the morning of Holy Saturday), I just sit in the dark church for an hour of silence. Then I have to drive the half hour home, shower, grab a light meal and run back to the church two hours before the Vigil to meet with the sacristians and get everything ready. Our team also has family obligations in preparing for Easter. So, all around, it is better to have a retreat earlier to free up Holy Saturday for private prayer for all involved.

Actually the RCIA has only been around for a few decades, since the re-institution of the catechumenate after Vatican II. But that is an aside. I prepare what I call a script for the Vigil. I transcribe the rites, adding the Elect’s names and putting it all in order. The book could be confusing, even for a priest who may only celebrate the Vigil once every two or three years (in a parish with more that one priest). I have a binder with the entire rites, petitions, collects etc, so the priest only needs one book. This past year the pastor decided he didn’t want to use my book, even though I prepared it and had it in the sacristy. Well, he lost his place in the rites book, he stared to bless the water before the deacon got the candle, he started to do confirmation before receiving the one candidate into the church and one other thing that I can’t remember. At the end of mass, when he usually thanks everyone, he said he was sorry for his mistakes and that if he used the script that I prepared that would not have happened. So it does serve a purpose. In the script I put not only the words of the rite but directions as well - go here, do this, do that, call up these people, wait for the deacon to bring the candle, etc. It is very helpful. I have it all color coded with tabs in a beautiful binder.

ah, I see what you mean, great idea
I had my ritual book bound in a spiral at Staples, and have color coded tabs for everything. Father has his own, and no matter what he told me in lent, there will always be changes.

usually father calls me at the last minute (after I have already prepared the candidates using the “way we have done it for the last 3 years” and he makes changes, when it is too late to warn them. I can script all I want but there are still going to be glitches. If I could just get father, deacon, server, ushers, Mass people together on Holy Saturday so we could go over all this, I would have my retreat at another time, but we don’t communicate that well here. I need the candidates here at the last minute. And the retreat is supposed to be based on the readings for the vigil, and that is the appropriate time to make the link between them and the sacramental signs. and to walk them through what they need to know (the door to the dressing room sticks, stay on the plastic mat so you don’t slip etc.)

It’s even more of a challenge when RCIA is celebrated at the Cathedral. Not only do you have to prepare the rector/administrator. You also have to factor in the bishop, especially when all three (bishop, rector and staff) are new in a brand new diocese. But, that is for another thread.

Back to the business at hand. I am a very strong supporter of having the Elect (and the Candidates) be a part of the Paschal Triduum. It was something my rector (now parochial vicar) strongly urged, not only for these groups, but, for everyone in general. Remember that these three days are to be taken as a whole. You cannot have the Resurrection without the Last Supper and you cannot have the Last Supper without the Crucifixion. They all point to each other.

The retreat can be rather hectic on Holy Saturday because of the logistics involved and because, as many of us are volunteers, we wear many hats. As Joanm noted, the same team helping with RCIA will more than likely have members who are helping with the art and environment and with the liturgy, itself. I know, from experience, how exhausting the whole thing can be. After the last Mass on Easter Sunday, I would get home and simply crash.

You mean you compile a binder from the pre-approved texts, right? And you the rubrics (“directions”) from the same sources, right? Because last I checked only the pope had the power to change these things or create new prayers, etc., except at the Prayer of the Faithful. I understand that you might need to compile them and put in the people’s names and such, but there shouldn’t be any composing involved, just writing in the physical sense (or, more likely, typing). I’m sure the binder is beautiful and helpful, but it begs the question–why aren’t the liturgical books composed in a way that is conducive to being able to use them as they are meant to be used–at mass. And the age of RCIA is really not relevant. The liturgies–both those of the mass and the hours–are ancient. Baptism and confirmation are ancient rites. There shouldn’t be anything to script–unless by script you meant compile from other sources.

I think she means, and I really can’t speak for her (only on the basis of what I have done), compiling from the authoritative sources. When I have had to plan diocesan liturgies, I have had to use sources like the Ceremonial, the Roman Pontifical, the Roman Missal and pertinent ritual books. Rather than have the bishop and/or rector flip through multiple volumes, I will compile what is needed for the particular liturgy and put in a binder (they sell these at religious good stores–almost looks like a red liturgical book) for the bishop, rector, deacon and MC to use. I also have one for myself so that I can make sure we are all on the same page. Obviously, the Roman Missal (Sacramentary) is never replaced with this book (when the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins). But, having everything in one book is certainly helpful.

Down here, we have a tendency to have bilingual Masses, due to the fact that we are on the Texas-Mexico border. Having a book that has both languages, at least for the Collect and the General Intercessions, also helps. However, for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, only one language is used. But, again, that is for another thread.

If you will note, at Papal Masses celebrated abroad, the Holy Father uses a white book. In that white book are compilations of what the Office of Liturgy for the Supreme Pontiff has put together for him, rather than have to juggle several different books in different languages. It’s pretty much the same concept.

However, what the OP has indicated is rather worrisome. I do not think that there is a need to reinvent the wheel, as you and others have rightly pointed out.

Compiling “scripts” from all the proper sources is what our parish has been doing for years. It has made for much better “flow” for the liturgies. This has proved quite valuable for liturgies for which there are numerous options --especially for those that are unique to certain times of the year like RCIA rites within the Mass or the Easter Vigil-- to have identical scripts for the celebrant, the master of ceremonies, the music director, the readers, and anyone else who has to “cue off” of another person.

It has been the experience of our parish that scripting enhances the beauty of the liturgy when the various parts of the Mass occur “smoothly”. While beauty is certainly not the most important aspect of liturgy, it is nevertheless important. We even have scripts for “normal” Sunday Masses. (Although they are much less detailed and often just refer to the Sacramentary.) And we have found that visiting clergy has been very appreciative.

Such scripting can be time consuming and it is one of the biggest tasks which our pastor delegates to his Director of Liturgy.

Well that makes a lot more sense. It just sounded from the original post like the poster was talking about composing things, rather than compiling them. I guess part of that is that “scripting” is not a great word to describe “compiling,” since it suggests composing, not faithfully putting things from four books into one. But that is my mistake. Of course, all of this is made even more suspicious to me by the idea of “new” terminology. And still the whole list of devotional activities seems strange to me, when it is missing any true liturgy. All those things are very lovely activities, but why is there no mass or liturgical hours involved? As people have mentioned, the Triduum services (to which I would like to add Tenebrae, since it is the Liturgical Hours for the Triduum). If the retreat is before Holy Week, perhaps a Mass of the Holy Spirit as part of the retreat? These liturgies are part of the core of the faith, whereas devotions are beautiful, but not central.

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