Evangelium: A New Way for RCIA
A popular Catholic catechetical program in England and Australia is gaining a foothold in the U.S. through the English-Catholic ordinariate.
Born in England 10 years ago, Evangelium is a RCIA alternative that has landed in the U.S., serving catechumens, candidates, lifelong Catholics and the simply curious in learning the Catholic faith.
Although Evangelium is used by many Latin-rite parishes throughout the United Kingdom and Australia, its main introduction to the U.S. has come by way of the Catholic parishes in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, one of the three dioceses created under Benedict XVI to reunite the Anglican patrimony with the wider Catholic Church.
Many Anglican and Episcopalian communities that reunited with Rome through the ordinariate used Evangelium as an approved variation of RCIA programming. Now, many of those ordinariate Catholic parishes in the U.S. and Canada are continuing to use it for preparing people to enter the Catholic Church, receive confirmation or educate Catholics in the richness of their faith.
“It’s really the best curriculum out there,” said Father Andrew Bartus, an ordinariate priest who administers the Blessed John Henry Newman Catholic Church in Irvine, California, as well as two other ordinariate mission-communities. “We get a lot of people who have fallen away or are barely hanging onto the faith. They find us, go through the program, and say, ‘Where has this been all my life?’”
The Evangelium course is a PowerPoint slide-based presentation based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The course’s 25 modules follow the division in the Catechism of the “Creed,” “Sacraments,” “Morals” and “Prayer.”
Father Bartus said the program provides a bird’s-eye view of the Catholic faith.
“It’s very conversationally driven,” he said, explaining each session takes approximately an hour. Father Bartus added Evangelium is best presented to groups of no more than 20 people in order to make sure that people with pressing concerns or questions can have them fully addressed.
The ordinariate parish typically offers Evangelium to coincide with children’s education. But the priest said Evangelium works as a program both for adults and for teenagers 14 years of age and older who are ready to engage with the intellectual and historical material. The program has helped re-engage older Catholic teenagers who had disengaged from the faith.
“None of the youth that have gone through it have come out apathetic Catholics,” he said. While there is a first time for everything, he said, so far, “They are coming out solid Catholics on fire with the faith.”
The program’s flexibility, Father Bartus said, also allows new inquirers to start learning the faith without feeling pressure to enter the Church by joining a RCIA class.
“If you don’t want to become Catholic at the end of it, you don’t have to,” he said. “That’s very easing to people.”
Filling a Market Gap
Approximately 10 years ago, Father Andrew Pinsent and Father Marcus Holden co-authored Evangelium to respond to what they felt was a “gap in the market” for RCIA and catechesis. The program is published by the Catholic Truth Society, which publishes a wide variety of Catholic books, including the ordinariates’ liturgical books.
“We try to let the faith speak for itself,” Father Pinsent, the research director of the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion at Oxford University, told the Register. He said the Church has “endless libraries of books” that explain Catholic teaching, but not many catechetical courses present the teaching itself without much commentary. The priest said they aimed to present the teaching in a way that is both “simple and beautiful,” short enough for the modern attention span, and flexible enough for the presenter, whether clergy or lay, to add more detail appropriate to the needs of the audience.
“People love it because they do get the complete panorama of the Catholic faith,” said co-author Father Holden, who uses the program at the Shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate, England, where he is rector. He told the Register that the flexibility of Evangelium allows the catechist-presenter to deliver the “key content,” but add in prayers, activities and personal examples that are specific to the audience. A well-formed catechist has the freedom to provide further explanations of the content to engage participants.
“What is guaranteed is the whole Catholic faith is taught in an effective and clear way,” he said.
Father Pinsent said Evangelium has developed smaller spin-off works, such as Credo, which focuses on the Church’s teachings outlined in the Creed. “That has now been translated into Chinese, and as of last December is now in the People’s Republic of China, by some miracle,” he said. A confirmation course is also in the works.
According to Father Holden, approximately a quarter of Latin-rite Catholic parishes in the United Kingdom use or have used Evangelium as a catechetical resource. The U.K. Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham made Evangelium its official catechism program, and a number of North American ordinariate parishes have followed suit.
Beauty as Teacher
Sacred art from various Catholic cultures at different periods of time is woven into each catechetical module of Evangelium by design. The artwork helps illuminate the beauty of the Church’s teaching.
“People respond to beauty,” Father Richard Duffield, parish priest at St. Wilfrid’s Catholic Church, told the Register. The priest said he has used Evangelium for 10 years, starting at the Oxford Oratory, before coming to St. Wilfrid’s, the York Oratory, five years ago.
“The art gives you a launch pad to expand upon,” he said. “Goodness, truth and beauty — these things reveal God to us.”
The Evangelium course at the York Oratory runs from September to Pentecost every year. Approximately 30 people have entered into the Catholic Church through the program, according to parish leaders.
Father Duffield said he knows the people who have become Catholic through Evangelium understand what they are assenting to when they receive the sacraments of initiation. But he said those who are already Catholic and go through Evangelium “are certainly transformed” in their understanding of the Catholic faith. Father Duffield said they see the truth and harmony of the Church’s teachings and how the faith is not something “you can pick and choose from.”
Sue Whitaker, who runs St. Wilfrid’s Evangelium course with her husband, Simon, told the Register that the program is “faithful and thorough.” Together with the witness of the presenter and prayer, Whitaker said, Evangelium can lead a participant into a deep encounter with Jesus Christ.
Whitaker said that the Evangelium program is not simply plug-and-play; it requires the catechist to prepare for the class, rather than just “take it out of the box and use it.”
Whitaker said her presentation runs approximately an hour and a half for each of the 25 sessions. They begin with warm-up conversation, enter into the presentation, and wind down with half an hour for questions and discussion. Finally, they finish by praying Compline, the Church’s night prayer, together.
“They come, and there’s no pressure,” she said. The beauty goes “straight to the heart,” and people keep coming back because they “are willing to be challenged in their assumptions”; in addition, they experience a “profound sense of receiving some of the mystery” of the Catholic faith.
Hearing the fullness of Catholicism in all of its beauty, Whitaker said, is something people hunger for.
“People are attracted by beauty, and they are confused by the modern world,” she said. “They are looking for the truth, and that truth is found in Christ and taught by the Church.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a
Register staff writer.
- peter jesserer smith