Cyril of Jerusalem, the fourth-century theologian, bishop, and Doctor of the Church, wrote a prolific number of lectures addressed to adult catechumens preparing for full entrance into the Church, compiled into what we refer to as the Mystagogical Catecheses. Overflowing with rich theological exegesis and detailed descriptions of the catechumenate process, Cyril’s ancient lectures provide an exceptional insight into the practice of adult initiation into the Church—one that had fallen out of use for centuries until the Second Vatican Council’s restoration of the practice in the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” Sacrosanctum Concilium. Since then, the 1988 Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has become the primary vehicle for adult initiation in the Catholic Church. Yet, its efficacy is one of arguably varied success.
David Yamane’s paper “Initiation Rites in the Contemporary Catholic Church: What Difference Do They Make?” for the Review of Religious Research sheds some much-needed light on the current state of Catholic initiation practices in the United States. Yamane addresses the type of question both liturgists and catechists constantly wrestle with regarding the effectiveness of their work. Specifically, “Do individuals who participate in the RCIA process in the Catholic Church experience an increase in ecclesial involvement and spiritual practice?” Utilizing advanced sociological research methods and supplementing them with the work of eminent theologians, Yamane endeavors to identify the extent of change in different domains of religiosity over the course of the RCIA process, based on data collected in two waves between 2000 and 2002 and encompassing 159 individuals throughout 32 different parishes in the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. His conclusion: the RCIA process can make a significant, positive difference in the ecclesial involvement and spiritual practice of initiates, but only in parishes that have more fully implemented initiation programs. As a liturgist who has studied the rites of Christian initiation with one of the theologians referenced in this study, I agree wholeheartedly with Yamane’s conclusion. Continue reading