Most parish enquiry groups are a mixed bag, so I don’t think ours is unique in that we have two unbaptised teenagers and their uncatechised but baptised Mum; a person who was ‘received’ elsewhere two years ago through one-to-one instruction but has never felt she ‘belongs’ to the Catholic church, and although fully initiated, she comes along to share in the catechesis; then we have a man whose first marriage has just been annulled, now engaged to a young widow parishioner; another is married to a Catholic whose children are now being prepared for Holy Communion and he wants to think about becoming a Catholic himself; a woman from a Protestant background with a strong personal relationship with God, but no experience of ‘church practice’; and finally, a woman who met one of our neophytes in a cycling club and is interested in finding out more (about the Church, not cycling!)
When we first started using the Rites of Initiation of Adults we were worried about this sort of mix, and how to meet each person’s needs. Now we have stopped worrying! We see it as real ‘treasure’ for the parish. Using the liturgical year, and the lectionary, as mainstays for our catechesis, we have found that over a period of between 1 and 3 years our catechumens come to a deep understanding and experience of the mysteries at the heart of our faith. We are no longer ‘driven’ by the time constraints of a more programmatic approach – and we would call this more of an ‘apprenticeship’ into the Catholic Christian way of life – the sort envisaged in the Rite itself.
All these people have knocked at our door at odd intervals since last January, and we have trained ourselves (!) to say ‘Come in’ rather than ‘Come back in September’. We are muddling our way towards an all-year round ‘Come and See’ enquiry. By about Advent most people have been with us for several months, and we offer the first opportunity for the Rite of Welcome (or Acceptance). In looking at the Rite together, seeing what is required, it has been discerned (by us and them) that 3 of our 7 enquirers are ready for this step. And that hasn’t been difficult – people know when they are reay, and we can see the change in them over the months – there is an infectious enthusiasm, an openness to the Gospel, eagerness to learn to pray, to be part of community life. Others are still a little cautious about what this commitment might mean, and want to carry on asking questions.
With the limited resources in our small rural community, the team decided to have the enquiry and catechumenal sessions on the same night. This means a welcoming drink and chat, followed by prayer time and gospel sharing together, and then split into the two groups for the deepening catechesis, with two members of the team guiding the process in each group, with sponsors there to support. The main ‘pillar’ of our catechesis in Advent for both groups continues to be the Sunday gathering, with opportunity to reflect afterwards on the experience of the Liturgy – the heady mix of signs and symbols, gestures and vestures, words and silence, is rich enough fayre for any apprentice to feast on! Leading up to Christmas we have some parish activities planned, and the enquirers and catechumens are actively encouraged to take part in community life – special advent liturgies, an outreach to the elderly housebound, a presentation on our Zimbabwe project – all of this is part of the apprenticeship in the Christian way of life, deepening the awareness of Christ in the season of Advent. Yes, Christ in history, and Christ who will come again, but most importantly, the Christ who comes and is present is so many ways in our every-day C21 lives.