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What kind of Church?
LAST SUNDAY, the Rite of Election was held in cathedrals and churches all over the country. More than 5,000 would-be Catholics committed themselves to the rigours of preparing to be received into full Communion, or to be baptised into the Church and receive confirmation and Holy Communion. It is hoped that the pull-out supplement in this paper during Lent will be of help to them in this preparation.
For the majority, their preparation to date would have been, to a greater or lesser extent, in accordance with the principles of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This was promulgated by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1972, in response to Vatican II's decision to restore the adult catechumenate. It is characterised by the celebration of stages in an adult's preparation for integration into the Catholic community, and employs a model of the Church as a people of God, on pilgrimage through life, accompanied by one another. People travel at different speeds and there is scope for adapting the process to take account of individuals' differences.
People in the parishes are involved in sharing their faith as sponsors to the would-be Catholics or in giving talks about various aspects of catholic life and belief. There is the challenge to create the sort of parish community which people from the 'outside" would wish to join, and which warmly welcomes those who make a move towards it. This is'the Vatican Council's vision of Church, the one in which most Catholics now feel at home.
Another vision of Church is one of which people become aware more through the media than by experience; the one they hear or read about rather than know. It is the "top-down" version characterised by this Saturday's Feast of the Chair of Peter. While ministries at parish level become widespread and more priests locate themselves in "teams" with lay colleagues, the picture given by Rome continues to be one of clerical autocracy.
Yet the central figure, the person of the Pope himself, while seeming to support the preconciliar model, at the same time calls upon fellow Christians to help him to reform the ways in which the Petrine ministry "may accomplish a service of love recognised by all concerned." (Ut Unum Sint,95) What are the would-be Catholics to make of this Church? John Henry Newman, who did not become a Catholic without much suffering, answered his questioner thus: "Have I found,' you ask of me, 'in the Catholic Church, what I hoped and longed for?'...I did not hope or long for any 'peace or satisfaction,' as you express it, for any illumination or success. I did not hope or long for any thing except to do God's will..."