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  • Becoming Catholic: Finding Rome in the American Religious Landscape by David Yamane
  • Timothy Brunk
Becoming Catholic: Finding Rome in the American Religious Landscape. By David Yamane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 256 pp. $29.95.

Becoming Catholic is an important sociological assessment of the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) as that rite has been implemented in select parishes in the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. The book is, however, at the same time somewhat unsatisfying.

Following a brief overview of the history of initiation and a discussion of the mechanisms and motives of religious conversion, the author structures the book along the broad outlines of the RCIA: inquiry, entrance into the catechumenate, the period of enlightenment and purification, sacraments of initiation, and mystagogy. Along the way, the author makes effective use of personal accounts given by catechumens to illustrate his points. The key claim in this book is that the more fully a parish implements the RCIA (with rites of acceptance into the order of catechumens, public dismissals from the Mass, etc.) the more likely it is that a neophyte will take an active part in the life and ministry of the parish. Advocates of the RCIA have long suspected (if not hoped!) that such would be the case; Becoming Catholic offers [End Page 71] data to support the claim although the author readily admits that more scholarship is necessary to evaluate further the effectiveness of the RCIA. A second major claim concerns the correlation between the affluence of a parish and the kind of pedagogy a parish will employ in the RCIA. The author finds evidence that parishes that are less well-off rely more on a lecture format while parishes that are better off typically feature more discussion-based approaches to catechesis. The author suggests that these differing approaches enact different ecclesiologies; the point has merit in my view and bears additional investigation.

At the same time, the book stumbles. Repeatedly, the author argues that the RCIA is about “formation” and not merely the transmission of information, yet in key passages throughout the text, the author refers to catechumens as “students” and to catechists as “teachers.” Descriptions of liturgies, especially the Easter Vigil, are minimalist. For example, the author never mentions the Exsultet or the sweep of salvation history presented in the Vigil readings, which set the context for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. One account implies that – in clear violation of liturgical law – a deacon conferred the sacrament of confirmation on the newly baptized. The author writes of the Mass as though the aspect of communal meal and the sacrificial aspect were dichotomous. Elsewhere, the author writes of the Mass as something that unites Catholics across the theological spectrum but he omits reference to liturgy wars.

I believe that this book will be useful in classes on the sociology of religion and that especially its claims concerning fuller implementation of the RCIA and concerning socioeconomic factors should receive attention in chanceries across the country. At times, however, the text demonstrates lacunae in its grasp of Roman Catholic liturgical theology. [End Page 72]

Timothy Brunk
Villanova University


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