RCIA Week One: What is RCIA? Why Be Catholic?

Representation from a gravestone in the Christian catacombs of Domitilla (Rome), late 3rd century.

Many are probably unaware (or could care less ;)) that I have yet to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. There are various reasons for this, the most recent being timing and the lack of approval from my pastor to move forward. I trust in his assessment of me and the meeting of any requirements set by the Church and the Diocese of Arlington in her wisdom. So I do what I must in patience and charity.

And what I must do, at the moment, is to attend the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) classes offered at my local parish (Saint Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Clifton, Virginia), in order to fill any gaps in my knowledge and understanding of the Faith. There is also the positive effect of creating a small community of catechumens, candidates, and baptized Catholics who can come together in fellowship.

Saint Andrew parish offers a very comprehensive RCIA program that started yesterday, September 27, and will continue through Confirmation during the Easter Vigil Mass held on April 16, 2011. RCIA is a free service open to all who are interested in learning more about the Catholic Faith. None of the students are obliged to convert or even attend on a regular basis, with exception to those seeking entrance into the Church – of course.

Our catechetical instructors are parish Pastor Reverend John D. Kelly, V.F. and Parochial Vicar Reverend Mullaney. In order to supplement their instruction, the parish provides the following texts for reading and reference:

This first session was headed by Father Kelly, who provided for the class some historical context for this Church founded by Christ, Her earthly governance, the methodology behind the RCIA program and the story of his own conversion.

Earthly Governance of the Church
Speaking on the issue of Church governance, Father Kelly informed us that the Catholic Church’s hierarchy is rooted by Her parishes. These parishes are led by the appointed pastor and service the needs of the local community in which it resides. Parishes operate within a given geographical jurisdiction that are delegated by the bishop of the diocese. There is no rule requiring that Catholics who live in one parish must be registered members of that local church but this is certainly the norm.

Next on the hierarchical rung is the diocese. This diocese is also given geographical boundaries. Father Kelly did not go into what organization delegates the boundaries of a given diocese but logical follows that these boundaries must be approved and made so by Rome. Within his diocese, the bishop (also referred to as Local Ordinary, Prelate), who is the recipient of the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, is considered the head of that local church. Again, this local church must remain in communion with Rome in order maintain her authority and validity. All Catholics within a given diocese owe loyalty and obedience to their Local Ordinary insomuch as the governance and instruction provided by the bishop is consistent with the teachings of the Church Universal thus maintaining communion with Rome.

FYI, most persons, especially the laity, are not individuals but are members of Christ’s Body and as such should not make unilateral decisions concerning the validity of anything that a parishioner, priest, pastor and even bishop does that may be questionable. This is why we have a hierarchy as provided by Our Blessed Lord:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17 (RSV)

Arlington Diocese Map

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington covers 21 counties in Norther Virginia from as far south to King George County, as far west as Warren County
and north and east to the Maryland and District of Columbia state/district lines. Bishop Paul S. Loverde has charge over 46 parishes within his diocese. Within this context is Saint Andrew, which has approximately 9,000 registered members and only two parish priests to service them.

As a parishioner, I might add that Frs. Kelly and Mullaney do an excellent job of providing for our needs. There are four Sunday Masses, including one Latin Novus Ordo Mass ad orientum (very nice). Part of the daily Masses include a Traditional Latin Mass on Thursday nights (quite awesome), Rosary vigils and novenas. Every Friday we also are given the opportunity to Adore our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. Plus there are Bible study programs, Pro-life groups, Knights of Columbus, Bio-ethics classes and a school that goes from K-12.

The Calling and Conversion of Father Kelly
Father Kelly, along with an older brother and younger sister, hail from the glass manufacturing and coal mining areas of Pennsylvania. His parents, who recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary, were both Protestants: his father a Presbyterian and his mother a Methodist. In the interests of maintaining a united faith for their household Father Kelly’s mother joined the Presbyterian denomination where she and her husband remain today and are still very active within. Needless to say, Father Kelly’s faith upbringing was very Protestant.

However, as he grew up in towns which were heavily populated by Europeans, Father Kelly interacted daily with Catholics. According to him, one of the things that most intrigued him about the Catholic majority surrounding him was their faith was fully integrated into their daily lives. The Catholics Father Kelly grew up with went to Mass daily, wore medals and scapulars, decorated their homes with statues and holy art and lived a life of constant prayer: prayer at waking and before going to bed, prayer before and after meals, blessing themselves constantly, etc.

Already intrigued by such public displays of faith that seemed to overshadow the faith life of the Presbyterian church he attended, Farther Kelly (at age 9) was invited to attend Mass by a friend. At that point he said he, “knew what [he] wanted to be.” As one may expect, his favoring of the Church was not well received. But by the Grace of God, his parent allowed him to freely enter the Church.

Priestly Ordination, a popular devotional depiction of ordination in the Roman Catholic Church from the 1920s.

Eventually, Father Kelly held off becoming a priest out of a fear of further wounding his parents; however, within two years of graduating high school, he could no longer delay the calling of the Lord. He approached his parents once more. To Father Kelly’s surprise, both his father and mother already expected this turn of events but did not expect the delay Father Kelly imposed on himself. They always thought he would enter seminary right after graduating high school!

To date, Father Kelly has served Our lord for 25 years (in May 2011) and saw the conversion of his sister and her husband (marrying them) and baptized and confirmed their three daughters. A wise and prudent priest, Father Kelly expresses a desire to see his parents convert but does not force his beliefs on them out of charity and respect.

The Context of History
Catholics believe that the One True Church of Christ is the Catholic Church or as Father Kelly specifically calls Her, the Roman Catholic Church. He makes the distinction in part because of where our first pope, Saint Peter, ended his life in martyrdom – Rome. It is in Rome where the bishop, who is not only the Local Ordinary of Rome but the Supreme Pontiff or Leader, of the Universal Church on earth resides. From here the majority of Catholics receive their liturgical rite.

Catholics reckon that Mathew 16:18 is recounts the giving of the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter (renamed from Simon). This is a fulfillment of what Jews of the day were familiar with: those who held the keys to the synagogue were considered the authority of their area. In the case of the Church, it is this new institution of which Peter was given charge and his authority over the visible universal Church on earth. The Catholic Church is rooted in Judaism, “for salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22).”

Father Kelly also mentioned the Four Marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. No other Christian faith tradition or community can meet all of these Marks at once. The closest Church, outside of communion with Rome, are the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Their disunity with Rome goes back to the 11th or 12th century when their were effectively two divisions to the Roman Empire: East (in Constantinople or Istanbul, Turkey today) and West (Rome). This “Great Schism” is predicated on two disagreements:

  1. Is a full council/synod of bishops subject to the Primacy of the See of Peter?
  2. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone or the Father and the Son?
Christ with the Eucharist, Vicente Juan Masip, 16th century.

The Roman Church would obviously say yes to the first and elects the latter of the second.  But other than this, the Orthodox Churches maintain all of the dogmatic beliefs of the Roman Church and still validly confers all seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Reconciliation, Marriage and Holy Orders. This is not the case with all other faith traditions.

For example, the Protestant Reformation, which began with Martin Luther and continued with John Calvin of England, Zwingli of Sweden (even King Henry VIII), so far department from Christian tradition and understanding that they no longer confer or believe in any of the Sacraments sans two: Baptism and Marriage. And even in these cases there are varying degrees in understanding concerning their state as Sacraments and the graces received, through them.

This Reformation was rooted in some legitimate concerns of corruption. But rather than follow the prescription of dealing with them per Matthew 18:15-17, Luther (and later the others) decided to sing Hell’s theme song, “I did it my way.” This is not
to say that any of these men or even non-Catholics are in Hell or will be – the Church does not teach that. It is to say that these persons chose to do things per their own will in opposition to God’s will. Yet God is still able to make tasty lemonade from their lemons and good fruits along with elements of truth remain in these traditions. That said, many Catholics know and understand that the Fullness of Truth resides in the Church.

Coming Up Next: Sources of Revelation
In preparation of our next session, the RCIA class is tasked with reading chapters 1 and 39 of Father Leo J. Trese’s book The Faith Explained, which covers the subject of man’s existence and the Bible.

If granted permission, I may record these sessions and post them on YouTube, in addition to Podcast, for the education and evangelization of all.

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