By BOB SAYER
COLUMBIA – For participants of the “Beginnings and Beyond Institute,” held recently at the Capstone Conference Center of the University of South Carolina, many new, and sometimes difficult insights were gained into the growing process of those going through the church’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
The week-long workshop began with the suggestion that, in order to experience as fully as possible the hunger for the Eucharist felt by those in RCIA programs, participants would be asked to fast from the Eucharist until the only Mass of the week, to be celebrated on the closing evening, some four days away. As would be expected in any group of RCIA participants, or in any group of students, or in any parish, some participants eagerly followed the suggestions of the leaders; others, regular daily communicants mainly, objected to it. Others, still, even though they knew it would be difficult, attempted the fast with the belief that it could help them to better understand those they would be teaching.
In place of attending daily Mass, the roughly 100 participants (the majority from the Carolinas and Georgia) gathered, after mornings and afternoons full of instruction, for evening Liturgies of the Word, at which, several adaptations of the various Rites of Acceptance, Welcoming, Election, Reception, and the Sacraments of Initiation were demonstrated. These liturgies were celebrated at the university’s St. Thomas More Center and St. Joseph Parish, with the closing Mass celebrated at St. Peter Parish, all in Columbia. Although controversial with some participants, the liturgy-rather-than-Mass teaching model of the institute did have a practical aspect, given the number of parishes in the diocese that have no resident pastor and, therefore, must deal with the situation of being able to offer their congregations frequent liturgies and Communion services but not frequent Masses.
Participants were nearly evenly split between those veterans who have directed the RCIA activities in their parishes for several years, and those who had only recently been recruited by their pastors for the ministry. The new recruits commented on the overwhelming amount of new information and foreign terminology they were suddenly expected to learn. While the veterans were faced with having to trust that new, different, and sometimes foreign, ways of practicing their beliefs might now be called for. All of these concerns are part of the full spectrum of challenges faced by everyone who goes through the initiation process of entering into full communion with the church. And, as with any growing or learning experience, it’s not always easy.
The result of this new growth experienced by the majority of participants, especially upon reflection, was a sense of the still untapped potential of parishes for bringing in more informed new members and a much greater appreciation of the privilege of being able to receive the Eucharist.
Although each and every new method presented was not instantly accepted by everyone in attendance, the opportunity for participants to gather and share ideas and experiences with their counterparts from a wide range of other parishes in the region was extremely beneficial to all.
When asked, several of the institute’s presenters commented that this particular session was one of the most challenging they’ve dealt with anywhere else in the country. Participants of this workshop were more vocal and more persistent, not only with their questions, but in their questioning of the methods and information being offered, than any that the presenters could recall. While this might have made for a slightly tense workshop environment at times, the fact that some 100 parish leaders, from almost as many parishes throughout the southeast, all showing such a level of concern about the teaching of future members of the Body of Christ, demonstrated the apostolic mission of evangelization is still alive and well in the Catholic Church.
For scheduling information on future institutes, contact the North American Forum on the Catechumenate at (703) 534-8082.
Bob Sayer is a seminarian studying for the Diocese of Charleston, and a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.