What should be taught in RCIA? We seem to omit a lot

I’ve been asked to help with RCIA. I’m not sure in what capacity (I said I would do whatever they needed), but as I learn more about what our program is like, I have a couple questions - and concerns.

It seems we focus heavily on the Scripture readings for the day (in the context of ‘what does this reading mean to you’), and there will be sessions that talk about the liturgical year, the sacraments, etc. But from what I’ve been told and have read, it doesn’t sound like we address very basic Catholic teachings in regard to this being the Church founded by Christ, what we believe about salvation and how to get to heaven, what we are obligated to believe as Catholics (in other words - things like purgatory, the Assumption, etc) or issues like contraception, mortal sin, etc.

I was told the reason is because we want to build a sense of community, and not overload people with doctrine - we just want them to experience the love of Jesus; most people aren’t ready for a ‘catechism class’.

Is this normal? In my mind, I’m thinking if people are going to stand up before the parish at the Easter Vigil and say they will believe all the Catholic Church teaches, shouldn’t we do our best to tell them what that means?

This is still the inquiry period, unless your parish has gone through the Rite of Acceptance. After the Rite of Acceptance then classes tend to get more into the doctrine of the Church; at least they’re supposed to.

Sorry for the confusion - I’m talking about what happens after the Rite of Acceptance.

It sounds like the program at your parish is liturgically-based? That is, you cover the next Sunday’s readings at each week’s class?

My parish has a program like this, and this is my first year teaching. Before I gave my first scripture reflection, one of our priests offered to assist me as I was a bit nervous about it, and he pointed out a few things which I’ve seen expressed on these boards:

  • A lot of people say that there should be more catechesis.

Agreed, but at the same time, this is a diverse group of people at different levels, and as the priest I spoke with said, it’s been proven that if someone comes in and drops a catechism on their heads, they never come back.

RCIA is supposed to be a journey, a general overview of our beliefs with assistance into a fuller understanding through introduction to resources, etc. They aren’t going to graduate and become immediate theologians.

Just as an example…on my first day “teaching”, I was prayer leader, and I just started the class with the “Our Father”. They had me print out a handout wiht the prayer on it, and I honestly wondered why…doesn’t everyone know the Lord’s Prayer?

Apparently not. One girl came in a little late so didn’t get a handout, and when I had finished my portion of the night she asked me for one…because she didn’t know the prayer.

If I had gone up there and started quoting the catechism and got into deep theological topics, she would not have asked for the handout…she would have just felt stupid, that the class would be too hard, and she would have left.

Sadly, some of the sponsers need catechesis, too, so it’s good they’re there. I try to link my reflection with the topic of the day, if possible, and at the small group session part, I try to encourage questions and give good solid answers. Last week I was able to expand on the catechesis for the day and explained a few things that weren’t included. It was really cool, but it was conversational in nature.

In the early years of the church, the catechumans were expected to study for about 3 years before being baptized, I think. I’m quite sure if w required that, we wouldn’ t have many converts.

If your group, though, has very little actual catechesis, talk to your pastor, because they at least need an understanding about what they are agreeing to. Otherwise, just do what you can, try to meet people where they are, and one lesson I’ve already learned…assume nothing. Some people don’t even know the basic prayers, because they have never been taught.

Get yourself a copy of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the documents, and read them through thoroughly.

There are two things that are supposed to be happening during the Catechesis period: first is the Breaking Open the Word, which is what it sounds like you guys are doing. Then, separately, there should also be a Catechism class - yes, in the ideal they would be coming for RCIA twice a week; once for BOW and once for Catechism.

There are several resources available; my favourite is the Liguouri pamphlet series. They have four sets; one for each Period of the RCIA.

Also, I will repeat some of the comments above me, because they are really, really important:

it’s been proven that if someone comes in and drops a catechism on their heads, they never come back.

This is absolutely true. Yes, they need to be Catechised - gently, though, and in a very welcoming manner. People do not like to be made to feel stupid; when we were children, we had to go to school anyway, but adults have a choice, and adults will not return if they have been made to feel stupid.

They aren’t going to graduate and become immediate theologians.

Keep in mind that you are training them to be ordinary Catholics. They don’t need to come out knowing all that much more than the average member of your parish. (The minimum requirement is that they be able to assent to all of the articles of the Apostles’ Creed.)

Those who are interested in deeper studies should be directed to appropriate resources for that. Make sure they know that they are welcome to do that, but that RCIA is not theology class.

…doesn’t everyone know the Lord’s Prayer?

Most people who come to RCIA have never been to Church before in their entire lives. Even those who have (coming out of Protestant traditions of various kinds) may not have taken the time to memorize any prayers. It is very rare that you are going to have Scott Hahn in your RCIA group - it is a lot more likely that you are going to have people who, if not pagans, are the next best thing to that. It is usually safe to assume that they don’t know anything, yet.

Even a lot of Catholics don’t know all their prayers, for whatever reason, and if Catholics don’t, then how can we expect people who have only seen the inside of a Catholic Church a few times yet, to know them?

In our particular RCIA class, there are mostly people who are Catholics seeking Confirmation, a few who are converting in relation to their marriages…their spouses are Catholic and they are making an inquiry. One guy seems knowledgable, but has not yet been willing to take that step.

I can’t say I know everyone yet, but I made the mistake of making an assumption…I will not make that mistake again. I hope.


Nope - you’ll make different mistakes. It’s okay, though. You won’t find out about them until you read about them on CAF. :wink:

The first thing the RCIA participant needs to do is learn to forgive his RCIA team for all of the mistakes they will make during the period of his formation. I look at our RCIA (which is pretty good to excellent, compared to most) and thank God that He’s in charge, because if not, most of those poor people would be in big trouble. :stuck_out_tongue:

But somehow, God makes up for what we lack, and they manage to come through with a reasonable understanding of the Catholic faith, in spite of the gaping flaws in the process.

I wish each RCIA program would based their lesson plans on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Each attendee should be provided their personal copy for home study and lesson reviews. It is a large book, however, most RCIA classes start in September and end in May or June. A good lesson plan would provide the means to cover the most important material in this time frame, God Bless

From what I can tell from our program, while the catechism isn’t specifically referenced, it seems to be a good overall program. There are topics from each week which build throughout the year. We talk about the Sacraments, and I think each is covered, plus our understanding of suffering, Catholic Social teaching (I’m doing this one…pray for me, please), the virtues, the Blessed Mother, Sacramentals, the Trinity, conversions, etc.

I have no basis for comparison, but so far it’s OK, but for the resources they provide, “Catholic Updates” which are all about “lateral theology”, the “all about us” stuff. It makes me cringe, but it’s not the class material.

It’s interesting, now that I’m doing this, reading about all the other programs out there.

If you have a copy of the CIC you can always use it as a reference guide. It provides a great deal of references on most topics which can be located on line, free of charge for you to build your lesson plan.

The Easter Vigil is required for RCIA Catechumans. According to the US Council Of Bishops, Candidates are NOT supposed to part of The Easter Vigil or the rest of the catechuman process…IN THEORY.

In theory, we should be examined by a Priest and others to find out how much we already know, how well we have been living as Christians, and what more we need to know and learn.

Confirmation is supposed to be at any ordinary Sunday Mass apart from easter.

NOW, do you know of any RCIA class that actually does this? The way it is supposed to be done for candidates like me?

I came into the church Easter of 2005. Having gone through RCIA I can say I wish they had spent a little more time on the Mass. What was going on, what this or that means. That would be my only wish. Otherwise, our class used the CCC and were assigned reading from it every week. I feel I had a very good RCIA class and experience.
Also I just wanted to mention, our parish has a “What Catholics Believe” class for people who think they may want to enter the Church. This is meant to be an inquiry class. Once you have entered RCIA your inquiring is pretty much over and you are committed to becoming Catholic. At least that is how I felt about it. For me, RCIA was way past the inquiry phase.

For five years I was on the RCIA team. The first year I was frustrated because I thought it was too light on doctrine, dogma, etc. But my Pastor told me to read the Woman at the Well story. Essentially, it is about how Christ met the woman where she was on her journey. The lesson I learned was that not everyone is ready to understand/appreciate grasp the doctrine. Secondly, we are all on a journey that is at a different pace. We can’t ram it down according to our schedule but we have to be sensitive to the schedule of the class.

Unfortunately, this sometimes requires or has the appearance of dumbing down the class. However, the longer I was involved, I came to understand that a focus on the basics wasn’t a dumbing down but actually an elevation. The Catholic Church is focused on Jesus Christ and our calling is to know, love and serve Him. If we all had that understanding fully internalized, the doctrine and dogma becomes only reinforcing and clarifying of that ultimate understanding.

In the end, my Pastor stressed that if at the end of RCIA, the candidates and catechumens had a hunger for the sacraments and especially the Eucharist, we will have done our role in aiding the Holy Spirit.

I do think there were some very good practical suggestions though:

  1. Be sure to take a class or two to talk about the Mass in detail. We gave an introductory overview early as we expected them to begin living a Catholic life (without the sacraments) at the beginning of the class. This allowed them to understand, grasp and appreciate the liturgy and gain the maximum possible from the Mass. Near the end, we went over it again with a more theological vs. practical explanation. For instance, in the beginning, we explained what was happening. In the end, we talked about the why’s of what was happening.

  2. Always pull what is being talked about back to scripture. While the Catechism is an easy reference point to explain Church teaching, for one raised in a faith tradition where the Scripture is the authority, they will more quickly internalize the teachings if they see it in Scripture. As Catholics, we know the two are inter-related and there is no conflict between the two. But for a person without that understanding, reference to the Catechism makes it a man-made teaching. Remember the woman at the well story:) .

  3. To satisfy the more “devoloped” we gave non-mandatory homework where they could read a more developed explanation of the lesson. We used “Catholic and Christian” by Shreck as the usual resource in this regard but sometimes referenced some web sites. When I say “developed” I mean those whose experience in Catholicism was deeper and longer and usually applied to those who had been coming to Mass for years with their spouse and family. The homework was not mandatory because for those whose experience was less it was sometimes overwhelming and discouraging.

  4. We did not emphasize social teaching and the application of a Catholic way of life until after Easter Vigil. The reason is it is easy to grasp these if one is living a sacramental life and one has benefit of the graces of the sacraments.

  5. Finally, this post by jmcrae is priceless and shouldn’t be forgotten: “Nope - you’ll make different mistakes. It’s okay, though. You won’t find out about them until you read about them on CAF. The first thing the RCIA participant needs to do is learn to forgive his RCIA team for all of the mistakes they will make during the period of his formation. I look at our RCIA (which is pretty good to excellent, compared to most) and thank God that He’s in charge, because if not, most of those poor people would be in big trouble. But somehow, God makes up for what we lack, and they manage to come through with a reasonable understanding of the Catholic faith, in spite of the gaping flaws in the process.”

I am also new at this. I don’t want to critisize anything until I’ve experienced the whole year. I do wish they would dialogue with the candidates more. it seems someones always talking and they just sit there. It would be better to get feedback on what their thinking. For no I just keep quiet unless they ask me to do a presentation on something.

If you can’t get a Catechism class going, the next best thing would be to do a mini-Catechesis at some point during each BOW, based on the Scripture readings of the day.

This is reasonably simple to do - just take the “key verse” that points to a doctrine, and mention or point out that this verse reminds us that - whatever it reminds us of.

For example, after reading this week’s Gospel reading you could mention to the participants that one of the titles of our Pope is “servant of the servants of God” and that this is because he is the successor of these same Apostles. This wouldn’t take very long to do, and would naturally generate the sort of questions that would allow you to lead them to a deeper understanding of Apostolic succession and the role of the Pope in the Church.

In your case, it may take some creativity, but it is definitely do-able, I think.

“This is the problem. What parish has RCIA twice a week? Often, the BOW gets priority over the catechesis, and what you end up with is a bunch of poorly catechized catechumens who are great at telling you how the scriptures make them feel but don’t know that the pope is the successor to St. Peter. I think we’ve got it backwards.”

Our RCIA program will be moving to two separate days after the current group finishes up after PE&M (Purification, Enlightenment and Mystogia). We currently devote about 45 minutes to B.O.W. facilitated by lay people and 75 minutes to Catechesis, often led by ordained deacons and priests, if not our co-ordinator, who spent three years in the American seminary in Belgium.

Our new pastor will become more involved with RCIA after we make the break into two separate days. He specifically asked that we break up this week’s sessions, so that yesterday we had BOW only and he will lead us in a 90-minute session on Reconciliation and the Eucharist on Wednesday night.

Catechisms were given to each candidate/catechumen two weeks ago with an hour presentation on what they are and how to use them. We facilitators will now work them into our BOW sessions so that they can better appreciate what they have.

I went through RCIA and was confirmed in 2005.

We never had Breaking Open the Word (BOW).

We had minimal catechetical training.

We had a lot prayers to the spirits of the four winds and to our animal spirit guides.

We were taught how the Church had pretty much eliminated the concept of mortal sin and Hell, except for “really bad” people like, you know, Caligula.

I ignored all this and read Thomas a Kempis and St. Alfonsus Ligouri on my own. I had to read “Catholicism for Dummies” to learn how to make a confession. I had to stumble upon Humanae Vitae myself and similar documehnts to discover the church’s real moral teachings. I read Fr. John Hardon’s “Pocket Catechism” which was well done.

I complained to the priest about all this stuff. He did not like and said it was wrong. However, this leader is there. Even my sponsor was pretty uncomfortable with what went on there.

We ask our catechists to include a question within their presentation for each candidate and sponsor to discuss between themselves for about ten minutes so that they can interact with each other. Questions at any point during the catechesis presentation are also encouraged to avoid one-way lecturing.

We also strongly encourage candidates and sponsors to meet each other outside RCIA to develop a stronger relationship. We have several scheduled social activities for them to interact, such as golfing, bowling, professional sports contests (Phoenix), picnics, etc. Also we schedule an afternoon at a local food bank as well as accompanying our eucharistic ministers when they make home-bound visits on Sundays.

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