Before I became Catholic, if there was one word that summed up my evangelical Pentecostal Protestant experience, it was “spontaneous.” If there was one word that summed up my perception of the Catholic experience, it was “rubric.” My perception was that Protestants were spontaneous and therefore “authentic,” while Catholics had rubrics and were therefore “lifeless.”
After I became Catholic, I began to work with RCIA and discovered that apparently I’m not alone. While concluding an RCIA inquiry meeting one year, I closed in an extemporaneous prayer and, when finished, one of the inquirers said out loud, “Wow! I had no idea you could pray like that. I thought Catholics could only pray memorized prayers.”
As I have settled into being Catholic, I’ve learned the key to “authenticity” in prayer is not spontaneity but sincerity. Yes, there are many rubrics and prewritten prayers, but these are given to ensure that the faithful will hear more than an individual’s personal insights. As the tears streamed down my face during the Mass where my wife and I were received into full communion, there was nothing “spontaneous” about the event. The fact that I knew what was coming did not make it any less powerful or life giving.
I’ve also learned that there is room for spontaneity. Like most things in the Church, it is both/and, with everything being done in its proper place and time. This article will examine aspects in the Church’s RCIA that allow for “planned spontaneity.” I use the phrase “planned spontaneity” because they are not truly spontaneous, but areas where the Church gives the celebrant freedom to adapt a particular part of the rite. I hope this article will inform those who direct RCIA and inspire priests to be more pastorally effective.