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RCIA Network (England & Wales)

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RCIA NetworkTheological and Pastoral Principles

Recognising the fundamental mission of the Church to evangelise, the twenty-one Dioceses of England & Wales are, to a greater or lesser extent, engaged in the liturgical-catechetical process of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or ‘catechumenate’  as the sacramental process that enables parish communities to initiate new members into the Body of Christ through the celebration of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  The process is commonly referred to in many parishes as ‘The Journey in Faith’.

The English-language text of the RCIA , described as ‘the exemplar and rule for all initiation’,  became mandatory for use in the Dioceses of England, Wales and Scotland on 1st Sunday of Advent 1988.   Since this time, many people, clergy and lay, have played their part in making real ‘the Church’s desire to restore the adult catechumenate to its rightful place in the life of our communities.

 

In his commentary in the first Study Edition of the  Rite (1976), J D Crichton speaks words that could equally apply to our 21st C culture:

Almost everywhere the Church confronts a world that is either indifferent to the Christian faith, or has rejected it.   We can be thankful then that Vatican II had the insight to emphasise in so many of its documents the truth that the Church is a community of Christ, a communion that is one by a common faith, and by one love, so that Christians, by what they have been made, are committed not only to Christ but to one another.’

 

Our role today continues to be that of encouraging the practice of the RCIA which places the Christian community at the heart of the initiation process. It is the community of faith that activity reaches out and engages in the mission of the Church, and it is their love that animates the catechumenate as a way of being Church, an apprenticeship into the Christian way of life.

Central to RCIA is the invitation and call to personal relationship – ‘communion and intimacy with Christ ‘ (General Directory for Catechesis 80).   The process offers a gradual spiritual journey that takes place in stages and steps in the midst of parish life.

 

The published Rite contains authoritative guidance on the liturgical catechetical processes.  These help adults to experience ‘the mystery of Christ, seek the living God and enter the way of faith and conversion, as the Holy Spirit opens their hearts (RCAI 1).  The Rite also contains material which assists with  adaptations for those already baptized and for children and young people of catechetical age.  All those involved in ministry (RCIA 9-16) for both liturgy and catechesis, are encouraged to read, study and pray the Rite itself, so that they are in the best position to support those seeking admission as catechumens and candidates.

 

Brief History of some of the influences on the practice of  RCIA in England and Wales

The Second Vatican Council (1962 - 65) marked the beginning of an intense period of renewal within the Roman Catholic Church. An important instrument of such renewal was The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults which facilitated the restoration of the adult catechumenate, called for in numerous Council documents. Translated into English in 1974 it was felt by many to be one of the most significant documents to emerge from the Council. The 1970's and 80's saw excited experimentation as attempts to implement it occurred across America and throughout Europe. Leading this experimentation were people such as Jim Dunning and Christiane Brusselmans.

In 1987, following these early years of practice and reflection, the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales declared the RCIA to be the mandatory process for initiating adults into the church.

 

The RCIA National Network for England and Wales had its roots in a small group of early RCIA practitioners who had experienced the Christiane Brusselmans's workshops of the early 1980's and were continuing to implement and develop the Rite nationally. They gathered annually to share and reflect upon their experience and in November 1989 were able to make a clear statement of their purpose. Their aims were fourfold and became the blueprint for all future work:

  • to critically analyse their experience of the RCIA at diocesan and parish level;
  • to identify and confront the key issues in the RCIA;
  • to look afresh at the relationship of the RCIA to the ongoing change in the Church and in the wider context of society in England and Wales;
  • to focus on methods and approaches for the development of the RCIA.

Between November 1989 and October 1998, six 'National Consultations' were held each resulting in the publication of official report/records together with resource sheets. These aimed to enable Network members further to ground the issues and ideas from the consultation in local RCIA experience and practice. In addition two smaller gatherings of network members were held. In May 1995 a formal set of Guidelines by which the RCIA National Network would operate was agreed. In September 1996 members met to discern future development in the light of experience gained so far.

 

Other work that has had influence on RCIA in England & Wales:

1997 : Bishops Conference Working Party on the theology and pastoral issues in Christian initiation, resulting in the document ‘On the Threshold’

2000 : Bishops Conference document ‘The Priority of Adult Formation’ highlighted the baptismal catechumenate as ‘model for all catechesis’

2002 : Agency for Evangelisation Report referring to RCIA as ‘small group initiative’ highlighting lack of understanding of the initiation process as a community responsibility

2004 : Listening to the views of 15,000 families – Bishops’ response, the Celebrating Family Project encouraging parishes to become more open, welcoming and sensitive to the needs of enquirers/all who come, encouraging exploration of how faith is transmitted to successive generations, and the home-school-parish partnership in the shared task www.passingonthefaith.org.uk

2005 On the Way to Life: reflecting on culture, identified a crisis in  transmission of faith

2008 CAFOD (the UK version of ‘CARITAS’) research: what part does Catholic Social Teaching play in the catechumenal process?  40% of respondents did not know if they were baptized or not.

 

RCIA Network (England & Wales) was formed in 1989.

The Network exists to help parish communities (clergy, catechists, liturgists, other ministers and all parishioners) in the implementation of the RCIA, - both as a process of initiation,  and as a model for all catechesis,  in response to the question ‘What does it mean to be a Catholic Christian in Britain today?’.   As a national network, it invites membership from anyone who is engaged in the formation of adults or children preparing for Christian initiation.

The Network seeks to help people deepen their understanding of the Rite.  It recognizes the challenges, and promotes best practice.  Principal means to this end include:

  • Regional and national meetings – conferences and study events on the Rite
  • Seeking the Living God: on-line Resources for Formation of Parish Teams
  • Guidelines for initiation of children of catechetical age
  • Network website www.rcia.org.uk for information and resources
  • BLOG ‘Walking the Rite Way’  http://www.rcia.org.uk/blog/ presenting weekly reflections on catechesis and liturgy with reference to the Rite
  • Newsletter – sharing news, views, good practice
  • Directory of Members – enabling people around the country to draw on one another’s skills and support

 

The Network is facilitated by an Executive, representative of the Network membership at National, Diocesan and Parish level.  There are strong links between the Network and the Bishops Conference of England & Wales.  Two members are appointed by the Department for Christian Life and Worship;  one is a member of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis; and  there are links with the Department for Christian Responsibility.   The Network also maintain strong links with local diocesan Adult Formation and Liturgy Advisers, as well as with national agencies and independent organizations.   Relationships with international groups are also maintained – via Eurocat and the North American Forum.