Thursday, December 21, 2006

Apologetics in the Pre-Catechumenate Period of RCIA

Apologetics, or the defense of the faith, plays a very important role in the pre-catechumenate period of the RCIA process. People often come to this rite with nagging and persistent questions about the Catholic faith, and it can be difficult to continue the process and to accept everything that the Church teaches as long as these questions remain. Apologetics helps to remove those obstacles by providing a clear and concise explanation and defense of Catholic doctrine or practice as it relates to those pressing questions.

A clear and concise explanation: this is very important. If we present the faith in a way that is not systematic, or that does not follow a discernable train of thought, we can lose our audience. Thus, a clear presentation will be organized and structured so as to lead one to the necessary logical deductions. Clarity also means using words that accommodate your audience and their current progress in the journey of faith. RCIA is a gradual process of revelation through stages. The catechist does not want to present concepts that are more advanced than what the audience is ready to receive. This also means using vocabulary that they will understand, or at least explaining words before you use them.

A concise explanation is one that is both to the point and robust with meaning. Often, the catechist’s greatest challenge is fitting the breadth of Catholic teaching into a one-page handout, or a 30-minute presentation. This is difficult, but it is also necessary. If the catechist belabors his audience with lengthy dissertations, the audience is likely to feel overwhelmed and insecure in his ability to actually learn the Catholic faith. Furthermore, on a practical level, the catechist has to remember that attention spans are often very short. If he wants his audience to truly listen to and understand what he is teaching, he must accommodate their ability to remain alert and focused. Finally, the catechist must note that he has a lot of ground to cover in the 7 months between September and Easter. If he is not concise, even with his spiritual exercises during the stages of less instruction, he will deprive his candidates and catechumens of the preparation they need to enter into the Church.

So as to provide an example of clear and concise apologetics, I have included the following handouts, each one on a different Sacrament of the Church [see links at the end of this post]. Each handout is one-page in length and is divided into three sections: “Definition,” “Reasons for the Sacrament,” and “Support from Scripture.” There are many reasons why I have decided to format the handouts in this way.

The “Definition” section is important because it is often unclear to many what exactly the Church teaches about a specific doctrine. Purgatory, for example, is often misunderstood to be a middle-ground between those who aren’t good enough for heaven, but not bad enough for hell; or it is a place where you can work your way into heaven even though you didn’t initially deserve it. Providing a clear and concise definition of the subject will dismiss these errors at the onset and allow the audience to know the subject for what it really is. For each handout, I have used the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the source for my definitions. The Catechism has made as its goal the presentation of the faith, and it begins the majority of its sections with a short definition of whatever is about to be explained more fully. Thus, the Catechism is well-suited for the first section of each handout. Plus, it is always good for people to become familiar with the Catechism and to come to see it as a worthwhile and authoritative source on Catholic doctrine.

The “Reasons for the Sacrament” section is perhaps the most difficult one to complete. Even when Catholics know what they believe, they often don’t know why. Defenses from Scripture or from the Tradition of the Church don’t really answer the question. Yes, we believe in the authority of Peter because of Mt 16:18, but why do we need this authority in the first place? Why would Jesus build his Church on a person? Why would he institute a papacy? As Catholics, we often do not think of these questions, but potential converts to the faith ask them all the time. Thus, this section of the handout attempts to answer the most fundamental questions about Church teaching and to present the logic, coherence, and inner-consistency of what the Church believes.

Each handout concludes with the “Support from Scripture” section. This section is necessary, for one, because it shows that all that the Church believes is well-grounded in the Word of God as it was written down in the Bible. This is especially important for Protestants, who regard the Bible as the sole rule of faith. However, in utilizing the Bible we are also showing the person who has little or no regard for it that the Bible is a work that the Christian turns to for guidance and spiritual nourishment. We would not bother ourselves with what the Bible had to say if the Bible was not a reliable witness to the teachings of Christ and the Church. Of course, quoting Scripture also has the effect of helping the audience to grow familiar with its content.

All of these sections help not only the prospective Catholic, but the catechist as well. In defining doctrine, he comes to know the faith in its most concise expression. In listing the reasons for a doctrine, he forces himself to ask questions that he has never asked before, to plum the depth of and purpose for what we believe, and to place himself in the position of the uninstructed. In finding the support for a doctrine in Scripture, he grows more and more acquainted with that which is the very heart of catechesis.
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Pax Christi,


  1. I don't know why (it's not my style) but I like the picture you used.

  2. Your blog is truly a wonderful achievement. May I link to you on my site?

    Here are my sites

  3. I am in RCIA now and I agree with you completely. Apologetics are of utmost importance especially for converts. I have been blessed with a very good RCIA class but they are lacking a bit on apologetics. Fortunately, I know the answers are out there and seek them in other ways.

    These are great single-page explanations of the sacraments. I printed them all out for personal use.

    Love you site!

    May God bless you this day!

  4. thanks amber! i'm glad that i could be of service to you.

  5. Hey, Nicholas.

    Those look really useful. Thanks!

  6. I would love to read the handouts listed above, however the links do not appear to work properly. Where can I find the handouts?

    Jim, RCIA Instructor in Mpls., MN

  7. Jim ... I fixed the links to the handouts, so everything should be working now. Thanks for letting me know that they were broken. I hope they are of help to you.


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