Celebration Initiation

It Takes Time


One of the most disturbing demands of our modern culture is the “quick fix.” We live in the age of “instant” everything. We can process our own photography in minutes at our computers or through the digital processing center at the drug store. We live on fast food, quick dinners, and one-minute meals. There are express lanes on our highways, in our supermarkets and department stores. We are a people who have grown inpatient and would rather do without than wait.

Some people have the same attitude in their personal relationships. “Speed dating” is the newest rage. Internet sets for matchmaking are legion! People enter into relationships rather quickly; and often they end as quickly as they began.

This phenomenon has also crept into some people’s idea of church. Spending the time in formation, either for inquiring Christians looking at the Church and even among our own parishioners involved in parish life, is seen as too much of a hassle or too complicated. We want quick results with as little time input as possible, for after all, we are busy people.

In many parish experiences of the RCIA, this same attitude abounds. I have heard it said that people are afraid to tell Inquirer about the length of the RCIA process for fear of “losing them.” Parish ministers, at times, try to truncate the process so as to accommodate this “quick fix” attitude rather than entering into a year-round parish process.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults presumes that in the process of inquiry and formation, we are going to take our time. In explaining the Period of Evangelization, the Rite states that the Inquirer is moved to an “initial conversion, that cause[s] a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love” (RCIA, #37). This time of “initial conversion” is not something that happens quickly. Think of how long friends date before becoming serious about their relationship. It takes time to uncover the love that lives within the hearts of the lovers. It takes time to discover the Person to whom we are drawn by the cords of love. This first period of the process is so important for the Inquirer to come to know the intentions of their own heart, to see how their lives can embrace and be embraced by the person of Jesus.

The Period of the Catechumenate states this even more bluntly in saying that “a suitable catechesis is provided by priests or deacons, or by catechesis and others of the faithful, planned to be gradual and complete in it coverage, accommodated to the liturgical year.” (emphasis mine) (RCIA #75.1) It is said over and over again, that we must make sure that the catechesis during this period must cover all the significant doctrines of our faith and not only train the mind, but the heart as well, to know what it is to be a member of the Church. This is best accomplished when we take the time to allow the Church to celebrate the mysteries of our redemption and allow the catechumens participate in the life of the Church as it unfolds throughout the year. All too often, we try to teach doctrinal sessions in a logical progression bypassing the mysteries of faith that the community celebrates Sunday by Sunday.

Having experienced “at least one year of formation, instruction and probation” (RCIA, National Statutes #6), the Candidates then came make an informed commitment to Christ and His Church. Much like the time of engagement, the Catechumenate is the time for full disclosure so that there are no truths that have not been exposes or obligations uncovered. Only by taking the time to learn who is it that is drawing us into relationship can the Candidate say, “I am ready”. Then, with full knowledge of what lies ahead the Catechumen celebrates the Rite of Election.

During the third period, the Period of Purification and Enlightenment the Bride is made ready for the Bridegroom. By taking the liturgical season of Lent, to purify the intentions of their hearts, the Catechumens anticipate their life in discipleship and the demands it will make upon them. They rid themselves of all that stands in the way of their total “self-gift” to Jesus and allow his life to enlighten the dark spaces of their hearts.” When all is ready, the Church calls the Elect forward to celebrate the new life of Jesus in the Easter sacraments. Then for fifty days, the Neophytes celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, in the Sunday Eucharist with the new family.
We cannot risk not taking the time necessary to forge this relationship of love. In truncating the catechumenal process we rob our inquirers of the richness of the life that is offered to them. Take the time and savor each moment, for in each moment the bond of Christ is made stronger. The parish team must allow the inquirers to savor the process because so much will be lost if we only see becoming Catholic as a “quick fix.” It really takes time.

Fr. Joe Scardella was a regular columnist for Celebration specializing in the Rite of Christian Initiation. This column was published in the September 2004 issue.