Each Easter Vigil loads of new Catholics are received into full communion with the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). If you're reading this, hopefully you've either been a sponsor for one of these newbies in the past or are involved with RCIA in some other capacity. If not, I recommend it! It's a chance to befriend and mentor someone for whom the Catholic Church may be a very big and very confusing place. Not only that, it's also a great place to talk and learn about the faith in a room full of people who share the same interest.
I went through RCIA myself in 2011, and I'm now going back through it as a sponsor. Confirmation & First Communion day (whether it's at Easter Vigil or another date) it a HUGE deal, and it's really important to get your catechumen a great gift – something meaningful for them. The right RCIA gifts make the whole day that much sweeter, trust me.
You want to get your candidate (if they're baptized) or catechumen (if they're not) a gift that keeps them going–food for the road, if you will–as they journey along their first few months in the Catholic Church post-RCIA. So, how do you determine what gift is best for them among the myriad of Catholic gift choices (bibles, rosaries, catechisms, prayer books, statues, crucifixes, patron saint medals, etc.) ?
The best answer is very simple: get to know them! Here are my tips for navigating this new and unique relationship–sponsor and catechumen–in order to discover the most appreciated gift.
1. Be Accessible and Available
In some cases, you might be one of only a few people the catechumen knows in the whole parish. Be sure you give them your email address and phone number and encourage them to feel free to call you with any questions or problems. This may be something as simple as, "If I go to mass on Saturday night, do I have to go on Sunday too?" and other questions that may not have been covered yet in RCIA.
Some candidates may experience backlash from friends and family or other sources of discouragement from continuing in RCIA or converting (this actually happens a lot). So it's important that they have someone supportive and available to call if they need to. And, you can also encourage them to speak to the priest if it's something serious that comes up.
Also, tell them the mass time you usually attend and where you usually sit. If you regularly attend other activities, such as Adoration or a special event happening at the parish, let them know that you'll be there. If they don't know many people at the parish, it will be helpful to have at least one familiar face as an encouragement to show up. This will also give you the chance to introduce them to more people to help them feel even more at home.
All of this advice serves to initiate an actual relationship with the candidate to help you get to know their unique background better, rather than just sitting in the chair next to them for an hour every week and staying at the superficial chit-chat level. Of course, do all of this within the comfort level of the catechumen, don't be pushy or overbearing in any way. Just focus on being open, welcoming and inviting, and let them initiate the rest through their interest level. You'll know from this whether it would be good to invite them to lunch after mass, or over to your home for dinner, to help them build a support group of strong Catholic friends.
2. Ask Well-placed Questions
In order to know what kind of gifts to get, ask well-placed questions. General questions about their backgrounds will tell you whether or not they already have the essentials like a rosary or the Catholic Bible. If they come from a nominal Catholic background, they probably already have these things. More specific questions such as, "Do you already pray the rosary?" or "Do you follow the daily Mass readings"? will help too. For example, the girl who I'm sponsoring already has a rosary that she just keeps in her car. I could tell from her response that it's probably not a nice one and that she probably doesn't use it to pray. So, a nice rosary that she will treasure along with a Scriptural rosary book is going on the shopping list.
Also, it's very important to find out if there are other people coming to their Confirmation who will also likely be giving them gifts. Try to coordinate behind the scenes as best as you can so they don't end up receiving two of the same kind of gift.
3. Determine What Their Level Is
Since you'll be sitting through RCIA and participating in the discussions, pay careful attention to the knowledge level or spiritual level of your catechumen. Do they already have a good grasp of the Catholic faith? Do they need a lot of supplemental catechesis? Are they the academic type? Do they have particular doctrinal issues that they're struggling with? Do they need resources to help them deal with non-Catholic friends and family? Do they need some serious spiritual direction? Who are they choosing as their Confirmation saint? A little bit of observation will go a long way to helping you choose the right gift.
For example, if the candidate comes from an anti-Catholic circle of friends and family, Catholic books on Apologetics are made to order. Unless of course they're already academically inclined (then they might have already read them, thus their conversion) in which case you may want to try something heavier that they probably haven't read, such as books by the Doctors of the Church. A young mother may very much appreciate something small for herself and something else that she can use to catechize her children at home. Someone who doesn't read much may appreciate a Catholic DVD more than a book, and so on.
What do you think of these tips? Are they helpful? Do you have any other advice for choosing RCIA gifts?
Copyright 2013 Gretchen Filz
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