Postponed by pandemic, RCIA classes of 2020 joyfully enter the Church
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Despite needing to postpone their entry into the Catholic Church due to the COVID-19 shutdown and restrictions, those going through RCIA in spring 2020 proved to be a “wonderfully resilient group” according to one parish’s director of religious education.
“Lent is always a challenge for individuals, and this Lent proved to be a substantial one as our group sessions had to be cancelled with the pandemic,” said Norm Hayden, the director of religious education (DRE) at Blessed Mother Parish in Owensboro.
New members of the Catholic Church typically enter at the Easter Vigil, but since public Masses were suspended due to the pandemic during Holy Week 2020, those desiring full communion with the Church had to wait until public liturgies could resume.
However, the 10 people at Blessed Mother going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults; the journey of entering the Catholic Church as an adult) “remained encouraged,” said Hayden.
“We stayed in electronic communication, met with some individually once permitted, and shared information according to the (diocesan) guidelines,” he said.
Rick Rhodes, the director of RCIA and adult ministry at St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro, said their parish’s RCIA team, and those preparing to enter the Church, were equally disappointed when the COVID-19 shutdown threw a wrench into their plans.
“They were such an awesome, awesome group,” said Rhodes, “and not only the people who were on their journey into the Church, but also their sponsors and spouses.”
Rhodes said the 21 people preparing for full communion with the Church were “so wanting to grow in the faith and the community of each other” – which offered reassurance amid the challenges presented by the pandemic.
The suspension of public liturgies in the Diocese of Owensboro was lifted on May 20, 2020.
At long last, those undergoing their RCIA journey at Blessed Mother entered the Church on May 30, and those at St. Stephen Cathedral entered on June 14.
Hayden said their liturgy took place on the vigil of Pentecost Sunday and was planned intentionally.
“We selected the Pentecost vigil for several reasons; one being that it was still during the Easter season,” said Hayden. “All four readings and the epistle were proclaimed before the Gospel in order to share that faith tradition with others. We also discussed that first Pentecost, when the apostles first received the Holy Spirit and were given the courage to proclaim the Gospel.”
Hayden said that in today’s “current climate of fear and disunity,” that message was “joyfully received by all.”
The Mass was an additional liturgy besides the regular Saturday night vigil. It was limited to those coming into the Church, their sponsors/godparents and their families, so that they could gather while meeting diocesan and state guidelines for safely gathering during the pandemic.
“As in past years, I assisted Fr. Mike Clark (Blessed Mother’s pastor) during the Mass just to help with the logistics of where people stand,” said Hayden. “This year, we had to keep them six feet apart while figuring out how to sanitize Fr. Mike’s thumb between anointing each with the Oil of Catechumens and then the Sacred Chrism.”
Unusual logistics aside, Hayden said he felt blessed in “witnessing their courage and the relief once they had received their First Communion.”
Rhodes said the cathedral’s June 14 liturgy was held at 2 p.m., and was also limited to those coming into the Church, their families and their sponsors/godparents.
Rhodes was impressed and inspired by the commitment of those going through the RCIA process: “It was very Spirit-filled, just the Lord – not anything that I or my team did.”
He said one typical aspect of their RCIA journey is an evening during which those preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation can participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as confession).
The catechumens, since they are waiting to receive the Sacrament of Baptism and are not yet able to go to confession, are encouraged to chat with the priest about any questions or struggles they may have.
This year, though they could not schedule a whole reconciliation evening for the group, everyone was still able to go to confession on their own time beforehand.
Rhodes said that on the day the group entered the Church, one man admitted that he couldn’t fight the tears: “They just came.”
“Because they had waited for so long,” said Rhodes. “It was very emotional for some.”
Rhodes said they all met via Zoom later to discuss the experience of coming into the Church.
“It was a great discussion,” said Rhodes, who said the new Catholics “felt like such a part of the community” and were happy “to be able to receive Jesus for the first time.”
Despite everything, “God was still there, and that’s what matters,” he said.
To learn more about joining the Catholic Church through a process of education, faith sharing and rituals known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), visit owensborodiocese.org/rcia.
Originally printed in the September 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2020 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic