Review: Your Parish Is the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of the Community

Your Parish Is the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of CommunityYour Parish Is the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of Community by Diana Macalintal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have long been a supporter of and passionate advocate for the proper celebration of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in the parishes where I have been privileged to serve. I would like to hope that I have been largely successful in journeying with a range of people who have availed themselves of the RCIA process to become part of the Church that is the People of God. I would like to hope that because making disciples is fundamental to the identity of the Church as Church; if we’re not proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to others, then we really need to re-evaluate who we think we are.

And then I read Your Parish Is the Curriculum and came to realise that I had spent most of my time involved in the RCIA process over many years focussed on the wrong group of people. Instead of spending all my time on catechumens and candidates I may have been better served, and served the community of faith better, with more of my time focused on the parish community that is the privileged place where the RCIA process unfolds. I really needed to read this book many years ago; unfortunately, it was only published in 2018.

Diana Macalintal argues passionately for a recognition that the proper minsters of the RCIA process is not the parish RCIA team, or the pastors, or the parish catechists – though they certainly have important roles to play. The proper ministers of the RCIA process, a process that is intrinsic to the identity of the Church, is the entire parish itself. There doesn’t need to be a separate process that is disconnected from the parish community. Rather, following the renewal of the Second Vatican Council, the people who can assist inquirers seeking to be baptised into Christ are those who are already baptised into Christ, i.e. the parish community of the faithful. Embracing the RCIA process is the natural result of valuing our own baptism, and wishing to enable others to share that gift along with us.

If anyone was considering introducing the RCIA process into their parish community, read this book. If you would like to reinvigorate the existing RCIA process in your parish community, read this book. If you are in any way at all interested in the mission of the Church to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples, read this book.

Easily accessible and filled with practical suggestions that can be adapted to any parish setting, Macalintal communicates her own passion for the RCIA process to the reader, and encourages her reader to not be daunted by the requirements that are set out in the RCIA ritual. Macalintal encourages those who are keen to see the RCIA process in the life of their parish community to not ask people to get involved in the RCIA, but rather to consider who the RCIA can be involved in their parish.

This ‘upside-down’ approach to the way things are normally done is both liberating to those who otherwise would bear the burden of the RCIA process and challenging to an entire community of faith to recognise that it is the parish community that is the curriculum, the syllabus, and the classroom where those who are seeking can be introduced to the person of Jesus and the life of discipleship that we are all called to embrace.

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Why Involve the Community?

Welcoming seekers into “the way of faith and conversion” is the most important thing we do. Think about it. If a family had a great sense of community but never welcomed new people into it, slowly, one-by-one, the family would die off. If a parish did the same, we’d have the same fate. But the reason we need to get the community involved in welcoming seekers does deeper than self-preservation. It’s why parishes exist. The Trinity is the ultimate community of love, but it’s not a closed system. God is constantly drawing all creation into that community of love. It’s the reason God became one of us, and it’s the reason we exist as Christians. Integrating the catechumens and candidates into that Christian community of love is the biggest, most essential mission that the Holy Spirit has set before our parishes.

Diana Macalintal, Your Parish IS the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of the Community (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2018), pp. 38-39. ISBN: 978-0-8146-4465-2. Emphasis added.

The Parish IS The Curriculum

When it comes the need to ‘run the RCIA program’ one of the questions that often gets asked is what is the best resource to use. Usually the person asking that question wishes to know which book, or series of pamphlets, or videos can best be used to pass on the knowledge of the Christian faith to those who are seeking to become Catholic.

Diana Macalintal of suggests a different response to the question:

Because your parishioners have been washed, anointed, and clothed as priests, prophets, and kings, enlightened with the knowledge of Christ, endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and strengthened by the Eucharist to grow into the full stature of Christ for doing Christ’s mission, they are the best teachers for your catechumens and candidates. Therefore, your parish is the best “classroom” for forming adults for living a life of discipleship in Christ.

Diana Macalintal, Your Parish IS the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of the Community (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2018), p. 24. ISBN: 978-0-8146-4465-2.

The Vision of RCIA

If we approach the RCIA as yet one more program to implement and we delegate the implementation of that program to a small group of leaders, then we will have failed even before we begin. … the adult catechumenate changes everything. It is a paradigm shift that flows from the radical insight recovered from Vatican II that baptism matters. If that’s true, then your baptism matters. It matters most of all to the people who are seeking what baptism gives you: an intimate relationship with the living Christ active in the world. Where we find that living Christ and that relationship is in the community of Christians.

Unfortunately, that community is messy. It is imperfect, made up of imperfect people. It would be much easier, cleaner, and quicker to just leave RCIA to a small group of highly qualified Christians who meet once a week to transmit the teaching of the church to a receptive, albeit passive, group of seekers. Or maybe we could ensure that the catechumens meet only the best of Catholics among us or attend only the best of our liturgies.

Yet the Body of Christ doesn’t work that way. Only through intimate relationship with the members of the Christ’s Body will one touch and hear and see Christ at work in the world. So if you want your seekers to learn how to be the Body of Christ, they must be trained by those who are the Body of Christ: the entire Christian community.

Diana Macalintal, Your Parish IS the Curriculum: RCIA in the Midst of the Community (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2018), p. 10. ISBN: 978-0-8146-4465-2.

The Liturgy Is Fully Embodied

In stark contrast [to the “Internet of Things”], the liturgy remains a firmly embodied experience. Worship engages all the senses of our body. The liturgy employes symbols of the body and of things to invite us more deeply into the divine mystery. There is no Church, no Eucharist, without the Body of Christ – a body that is broken yet whole; messy yet blessed. In our liturgical symbolism, we continue to tell the importance of the body in a culture that imagines what is beyond it through the help of technology. Intentional attentiveness to the body in the liturgy helps to shape our digital imaginations to better discern the way forward.

Daniella Zsuapn-Jerome, “Inter mirifica Decree on the Mass Media”, in A Liturgical Companion to the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, Danielle A. Noe, ed. (Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 2016): p. 43. ISBN: 978-1-61671-314-0.

From Liturgy to Action in the World

Sacrosanctum Concilium‘s call for revisions in liturgical rites and texts made it easier for the Church to recognize and engage the public nature of liturgy. It also empowered the worshipping faithful to take part in efforts to reform social, economic, cultural, and political systems of society. The latter emphasis is what Gaudium et spes brought to our understanding of what being a community and being involved in public worship implies for our life and actions in the world.

Bernard Evans, “Gaudium et spes Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”, in A Liturgical Companion to the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, Danielle A. Noe, ed. (Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 2016), p. 27. ISBN:978-1-61671-314-0.

The Liturgy in the Life of the Church

Whether the Council Fathers could foresee the impact of the reform of the liturgy on the life of the Church is impossible to know for certain. The liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). The Church’s effectiveness in teaching, evangelization, and charitable work finds its origin in the liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium goes on to explain that it is the liturgy that inspires, nourishes, and configures the faithful to go forth as witnesses in the world. The faithful depend on the liturgy for sustenance for their work in the world.. This is an important dimension of the Church’s relationship with the world explained more deeply in Gaudium et Spes. The Church brings to the world through her individual members an example and an instrument of healing and mercy, and those gifts are given to the faithful in part through the Sacred Liturgy.

The liturgy also expresses the nature of the Church with its structure, ministries, and parts. Through the encounter with Christ in the liturgy, the Church is built up to be what she is called to be. The nature of the Church is not only expressed – she also grows by her celebration of the sacraments. The liturgy, therefore, articulates and manifests what is expressed in Lumen Gentium.

Richard B. Hilgartner, “Sacrosanctum Concilium Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”, in A Liturgical Companion to the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, Danielle A. Noe, ed. (Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 2016), p. 6. ISBN: 978-1-61671-314-0.