Each year hundreds of people ask to join the Catholic Church. The Melbourne Archdiocese is a leader in Australia in promoting the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
The work of AOFE in this area is informed by a Forum Committee of priests and lay people experienced in the implementation of the rite in the parish. Fr Anthony Feeney is consultant to the office for the RCIA.
Formation of parish teams is a key element of the work of promoting RCIA. AOFE staff are able to assist parishes in beginning RCIA or in forming and developing their team.
The character of the church is to welcome all people, especially people who are searching for a deeper connection in their lives. Often people are not sure whether it is even God they desire to know. It can be a vague yet distinguishable yearning for something beyond one's self. At other times it is a more articulate desire to relate to, to know about and to investigate God and the people who believe.
The Church welcomes all people who genuinely search for God. The Catechumenate community is an ancient tradition in the church that companions and supports people who enquire. There is never any pressure to join but only a respectful relationship that allows each person the freedom to experience their own spiritual journey.
This ancient way of guidance is more recently termed the RCIA, an acronym for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Download RCIA Brochure
Many members of the Elect who are preparing for the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, may never before have experienced or participated in Holy Week. For many it will be the first time that they join with the community of faith in the prayers and the liturgies between Passion (Palm) Sunday and the Easter Vigil.
In the period before the commencement of Holy Week the Elect have been undergoing spiritual preparation through the searching of their own consciences, doing penance and developing a deeper knowledge of Christ (#126). They attend meetings; reflect on the scriptures and the Sunday readings. They read commentaries, articles and books. They contemplate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and their own personal journey. They develop an understanding of the Paschal mystery; and they develop a sense of the Paschal character of the sacraments of initiation which they are about to undertake. This is truly an intense period of faith formation and a critical period of preparation.
It is advisable in the weeks before Holy Week that RCIA teams develop a plan to assist the Elect and any Candidates who are planning to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, at Easter. The plan need not be elaborate but should to take into account the circumstances of the Elect and candidates. A simple plan could be as follows:
The four servant songs are appropriate readings for reflection by the Elect and candidates in holy week. These readings are about the suffering servant who bears the sins of many and offers up is life for them, bringing about their salvation. The four songs are the readings of the liturgy of the word on Monday Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday during Holy Week.
The First Servant Song
Isaiah 42:1-7 Holy Monday (1st Reading)
The Second Servant Song
Isaiah 49:1-6 Holy Tuesday (1st Reading)
The Third Servant Song
Isaiah 50:4-9 Holy Wednesday (1st Reading)
Note: The Fourth Servant Song
Isaiah 52:13 – 52:12 Good Friday (1st Reading)
On Holy Monday the First Servant Song begins by introducing the servant. He is chosen and has God’s Spirit placed within him. This is a servant who will bring justice.
On Holy Tuesday in the Second Servant Song, the servant wants the whole world to know that his life and mission were purposed by God. “.. Surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”
On Holy Wednesday, in the Third Servant Song, God gives his servant words of comfort and encouragement for those wearied by difficulty and oppression. “It is the Lord God who helps me”
Note that on Good Friday, the Fourth Servant Song prefigures the ministry of Jesus and tells us that the servant suffered in our place taking blame for our sins. The suffering servant offers up his life for others and brings about salvation.
During this time of reflection on the Servant Songs, the Elect and the Candidates should be asked to read and reflect on Acts 8:26-40 and Matthew 20:28 and paragraph 601 of the Catechism. This will assist them in identifying Jesus as the Suffering Servant.
Many RCIA groups will hold their last session before the Easter Vigil. Questions will be asked about Liturgy on the night. This may be a good time to introduce the Elect and candidates to the Easter song of the Catholic Church, the Exultet.
“This is the night
That with a pillar of fire
Banished the darkness of sin....”
Much of the beauty and meaning of this Easter Proclamation may be lost on the night of the Vigil. Audio versions of the Exultet are available on the internet and a printed copy of the words can be prepared. Use the audio and printed words at this last session. It will have lasting impression on the Elect and the Candidates. It will also assist them to better appreciate the words, poetry and symbolism of this magnificent prayer.
Plan to meet the Elect and the Candidates at the Mass in the evening of Holy Thursday where they gather with the community of faith for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Explain to them that this is the commencement of one liturgical celebration over the next three days from Holy Thursday to Easter Saturday Vigil.
On the Thursday we prepare them for the ritual of the Washing of the Feet, which takes place after the Liturgy of the Word. This powerful ritual:
• invites the Elect and the community to remember Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet,
• reminds the Elect and the community that leadership in the Church is about service and “washing the feet” of others, and
• reminds the Elect and the community that the Eucharist is intimately connected with the service of others.
The ritual of the Washing of the Feet clearly illustrates what has been proclaimed in the readings of the Servant Songs on Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. As the suffering servant, this act of humility, illustrates the initiative taken by Jesus for our salvation. Jesus takes on the role of servant and slave as a precursor to the unfolding Pascal Mystery. And at the Last Supper Jesus commands his disciples to serve others as he has served them. Now, in turn, as part of the Eucharist celebration, we commit to act in humble service for others.
Prepare the Elect for the dismissal. It may feel strange. But do not leave them alone. They are sent forth to break open the Word of God and to reflect on the liturgical prayers and actions they have just celebrated and to prepare for the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday.
Explain to the Elect and the Candidates that Good Friday is the celebration of the Lord’s Passion.
Invite them to participate with the parish community in the Stations of the Cross, usually held on Friday morning. They will immerse themselves in the commemoration of the Passion and the suffering and death of Jesus. And together they can reflect and meditate on Jesus’ love for the world.
Later that day, the Elect and Candidates will attend the Good Friday liturgy. Again, accompany them during these new experiences. After the prayers of the faithful they will join the community in the veneration of the cross. The ritual is a stark and simple assent to the salvation that Jesus gained for us through his death. It is also a powerful manifestation of God’s love for us.
As the Elect move into Holy Saturday they commence a day of prayerful preparation and reflection on the final moments of the journey of conversion and on the Paschal Mystery.
Invite the Elect to participate in the Holy Saturday Preparation Rites. These rites, usually held in the morning, include the recitation of the Creed, the Ephphetha rite, the choosing of a baptismal name and a final anointing and blessing. These rites will prepare the Elect for the evening Vigil and deepen the meaning of the sacraments of initiation.
Finally we accompany the Elect and Candidates in the celebration of the Easter Vigil, commencing with the Liturgy of Light. Now, the darkness of the night is broken by the Easter fire. From the fire the Paschal candle is lit. It symbolises Christ the light of the world and victory over sin. And this light of Christ and sense of victory is spread to all members of the community as the light of the Paschal candle is passed from one person to another. With all the preparation behind them and the feeling of anticipation fading, the Elect and candidates then move onto the Liturgy of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments.
RCIA practitioners are recommended to familiarise themselves with Fr Elio Capra’s recent book “Called Gifted Sent: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation and the Triduum” (2010) James Goold House Publications.
- Ross Privitelli