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Our Spring Books issue is now live on the website. Robert K. Landers writes on Joyce Carol Oates and "pathography"; Leslie Woodcock Tentler looks at John Cornwell's "secret history of confession," The Dark Box; and John F. Haught considers cosmology's new focus on "multiverses." Also, Rita Ferrone writes on the drop in adult baptisms and communions and the fate of the RCIA, while Colleen Gibson asks: How do you tell a vocation director you're scared the life you feel called to may be dying? Find the full table of contents here

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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Rita Ferrone writes: "There are 49 percent fewer adult baptisms today than there were in 2000." That is an outstanding drop. Surely there is more than one reason for it?

Rita's overview of the history of RCIA is wonderful.  Rita speculates on possible causes for the decline in adult baptism, such as the popes, the sex-abuse crisis, and perhaps the lack of attention to the problem on the part of American bishops.  

My own speculation is that participation in RCIA always has been strongly correlated with Catholic marriage.  I believe the most straightforward explanation for the decline in RCIA participation is that Catholic "church weddings" also have been declining.  Fewer Catholic weddings means fewer future spouses to be received into the church.

If we ask, "Why are Catholic church weddings declining?" I believe we encounter here the generational drop-off in Catholic participation.  

FWIW: we have been experiencing a boomlet for in infant baptisms for the past couple of years.  I believe this correlates to a bit of a baby boom that seems to be occuring now.


How can I access the "Lenten reflections" now that they are no longer "trending topics"? Thanks,

Claire,  If you click on Joseph A. Komonchak on the list of contributors to the right here, the list

appears, and they're accessible that way..

I've just found out that if you click on "More" on the blue line at the top of the Commonweal website, "Lenten Reflections" will appear in the list.

Hi Jim P., thanks for the affirmation.

Although family unity was the most frequently cited reason for attraction to the church in the bishops' study of the RCIA, those respondents accounted for less than half of the total. The other reasons - like a life event, or search for faith, or need for authentic community - were likely to be compelling to many, quite aside from marriage. So the correlation you speak of is sometimes true and sometimes not.

I think one can also work the correlation the other way. Less openness / interest of a fiance in coming along to the Catholic Church can lead not only to the decision not to seek baptism, but also the decision to forego a church wedding. 

That said, generational shifts are a big concern, and by that I mean the decreasing opennness overall. My point of view is that the perspective incarnated in the catechumenal process is able to engage and deepen the nascent faith of those who shy away from or are turned off by certain aspects of institutional religion. So the possibility of RCIA waning is actually a bigger loss than it may seem at first, because there is no other structure quite as well grounded or likely to succeed with the coming generation.

I didn't say this in the column, but those who work in RCIA also have had a lot of push-back from people who insist that content is supreme, and who want to go back to the classroom model. Anecdotal information that I hear all the time suggests however that prospective catechumens do not respond well to such classes, and leave. Is the shrinkage also because more parishes are insisting on a content-driven model, and slighting the aspects of prayer, liturgy and community?

Finally, the RCIA is up for translation next year, and possibly massive diminishment in the process. So I think it's important to consider what has worked and look at the curve downward with care, lest we snuff it out altogether.

I didn't say this in the column, but those who work in RCIA also have had a lot of push-back from people who insist that content is supreme, and who want to go back to the classroom model. 

I'm not sure what you mean by "classroom model." Our RCIA consisted of reading articles and then having the leaders explain to us how Catholics were different from Protestants. There was little discussion. Sessions always ended with, "So, do you think you want to keep going with the process?" That strikes me as pretty "classroom."

We also had one mystagogia session that lasted about 30 minutes to see if we had questions. I gather that in other parishes, there are several of these sessions, and they often include members of the parish and provide a chance for new members to get to know their parish family.

If RCIA has been hailed as a big success, I'd had to see what went before it.

Hi Jeanne,

What you describe is pretty much the classroom model. I would not defend it.

If RCIA has been hailed as a big success, I'd had to see what went before it.

Jean - I know that my grandfather converted to the Catholic church via private instruction, in the 1950s (or maybe the 1940s).  It was so private that my grandmother and mother (who were already Catholic) didn't even know he had done it, until he announced one Sunday morning that he was going to church with them.  


Jim, does your story illustrate that private instruction wasn't any good? 

I feel my RCIA started when I was 7 and my friend's dad showed me the crucifix in the family dining room when I asked if I could hold it. He showed me Christ's wounds and told me about Doubting Thomas, and I wanted to know what happened to him because I would have demanded proof, too. I was told that Jesus will always give you the proof you need eventually. It was a wonderful experience, really.

I realize my beefs with RCIA are many, and I've aired them frequently here, but how do you NOT do RCIA like a classroom? There are writing assignments, readings, and lectures. You have to show you have learned the prayers in oral quizzes. You have to get your paperwork in on certain dates (proof of baptism for me, annulments applications for others) or you won't get "processed" and graduate on Easter Vigil with your classmates.

On most Sundays, you have to sit in the "cry room" where someone is supposed to explain the parts of the liturgy to us, but they would only be there blabbing through the readings, and then they went to the sanctuary to receive and stay for the rest of Mass while we watched through a window. It was sort of like being at one of those medical demonstrations.

Sometimes they would come and get us so we could be presented or go through the Rite of Sending. A few weeks before Easter, we were told to go to Mass in the sanctuary, but under no circumstances to get in the Communion line because Father was old and might accidentally give us Communion (and if that happened we needed to give it to one of the RCIA ladies IMMEDIATELY so she could consume it).

When you're in it, you kind of get caught up in the whole thing, and you just kind of move along with the process and, just like school, don't always admit that you're not on board.

Hi, Jean - no, I don't know if it was any good or not - it was before my time.  It was the standard thing before RCIA - that's the only reason I shared the story.  

The RCIA approach that your parish used is a lot different than what is used in our parish.  We don't do quizzes (at least, not that I've heard).  And we certainly don't make anyone sit in the cry room - my experience has always been that that's one of the circles of Hell.  Our RCIA groups sit in church with the gathered community, and then they're dismissed at the end of the Liturgy of the Word.  They do spend some time unpacking the readings and discussing the homily afterward.


As i remember, when a child receives her first Communion she need know only a few basic teachings of the Church -- the very simple stuff that used to be in the First Baltimore Catechism which even a second-grader was expected to be able to read.

Why must adults learn so much more than that or be refused Baptism?  Sounds like more material is being taught as hard and fast dogma than really is hard and fast dogma.  Surely in missionary lands there aren't such high standards for entry into the Church.  Or am I wrong?

Ann, I didn't feel that things were taught as hard and fast dogma, except for the "no abortions or remarriage after divorce under any circumstances, and raise your kids Catholic." I think the idea is that adult converts are hungry for theology and its application in their lives as Catholics see it, and they WANT to spend the months from the October inquiry classes through reception at Easter six months or so later exploring this with their soon-to-be Catholic brethren. 

Like any "school," it works only when the teachers are engaged and interested in people instead of ensuring that folks get "processed on time." (Yes, that's how they put it.)

I  thought several times about writing to the diocese about the dreadful state of RCIA in the parish, but didn't have the heart. Possibly the Lord works in mysteriious ways, since an effect of the dwindling numbers in the local parish forced it to become a "chapel" of another parish, and all the candidates and catechumens are sent to the other parish for instruction. I hear it is much better there. 

Jim, maybe all those weeks in the cry room will transfer into Purgatorial indulgences! I hope so. We sat back there like the heathens we were, watching Communion through the window and listening to babies scream and mothers scold their kids, "Kyler Justin! Get your butt OVER here and leave them donuts alone! Them are for good boys who set still and say their prayers!" 

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