- Divine Blessing: Liturgical Formation in the RCIA by Timothy P. O’Malley
Divine Blessing: Liturgical Formation in the RCIA
Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2019
136 pages. Paperback. $16.95.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is complex, foreign to contemporary sensibilities, and tied to catechesis more commonly by acclamation than by explanation. As a result, “how-to” manuals dominate its literature: such books treat, for example, how to observe the ritual instructions correctly, how to conduct a year-round catechumenate, and how to lead Sunday dismissal sessions. This applied focus serves pastoral ministers well, but it is incomplete. [End Page 308] RCIA leaders and teams who have achieved ritual competence need to understand how the rites uniquely form the unbaptized.
Timothy P. O’Malley’s Divine Blessing: Liturgical Formation in the RCIA answers this need, showing how liturgical formation is the “whole” which orients all practical parts. Drawing on a deep knowledge of both the ritual instructions and the prayers of the rites, O’Malley charts a path avoiding “dry didacticism” and “excessive emphasis on individual feelings” (4). Instead, this lyrical meditation shows how “[t]he RCIA provides this reformation of desire, this education of learning to read signs well, through the church’s liturgy,” so that catechumens may participate totally in the kenotic love of God in Jesus Christ (2). He invites us to wonder at our rites and shape our catecheses so that they can cultivate an organic process of conversion and a wholehearted response of faith in the living God who transforms us.
O’Malley fruitfully frames the periods of the RCIA in terms of Luigi Giussani’s stages of Christian education: provocation, hypothesis, and verification. The first chapter demonstrates how liturgical provocation drives formation in pre-evangelization and inquiry. It causes inquirers to ask about the meaning of reality, to question contemporary assumptions, and to experience the Church’s understanding of reality as God’s gift. The rite of acceptance then “transforms the inquirers (now catechumens) into occasions of provocation for the entire church,” causing us to “wonder anew about the glorious gift of the Eucharist” (11, 56). The second chapter shows how the catechumenate proposes the ultimate hypothesis—that “God is love”—and that the proper response is “to offer one’s whole being as a sacrifice of praise to the living God,” such that “all that is human is meant to become divine” (60, 61, 73). Through catechesis and the catechumenal rites, catechumens achieve a “liturgical competency” and form a contemplative disposition to see how the liturgy answers “the deepest desires of the human heart” (12). The third chapter reveals how the scrutinies and other liturgies of the period of purification and enlightenment invite the Elect to verify the Christian hypothesis in their own bodies by “join[ing] with the whole Christian community in ‘becoming a living sacrifice’ to God” (111). A concluding chapter reflects on how the period of mystagogy deepens and [End Page 309] renews the provocation, hypothesis, and verification of the RCIA’s liturgical formation, both for neophytes and the parish more broadly.
I would strongly recommend this book to every pastor and his RCIA team for three reasons. First, this is the work of a master teacher who knows the RCIA process deeply. O’Malley’s teaching notes on the liturgy and the sacraments in chapter two are worth the price of the book alone. Here, he not only shows what catechumens must learn in the catechumenate but how to teach them through an effective and informed use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Throughout, O’Malley challenges RCIA leaders to orient all catechesis to effective liturgical formation, provoking them to reflect on how they can do this for their unique audiences and in light of their particular pedagogical gifts.
Second, O’Malley gives desire its due. When the RCIA is treated in an overly practical way, the hidden temptation is to treat it as a quasi-magical or mechanical process: perform the rites correctly, teach the necessary doctrines, and a well-formed neophyte will automatically emerge. Desire throws a wrench in this unconscious assumption. It forces us to...