I have read a number of blogs and articles about RCIA that cast a lot of doubt regarding the structure of the program and its value. Most recently a blogger implied that candidates deserved individual treatment regarding their initiation into the Church and should not be forced to associate with the unbaptized and the uncatechized. Regarding this I would like to offer a few observations of my own.
First of all; the RCIA is not a theology course. It is an experience that involves awareness of Catholic teachings but it also involves a degree of formation in Catholicism as well as providing for prayerful discernment regarding the call to Baptism or to full membership in the Catholic Church. This means that RCIA sessions should not be "just" about theology or "just" about the religious feelings and experiences of the group. All participants need to be exposed to enough of the Catholic vision of faith in order that they can draw from these riches on their own faith journey. They also need to be able to understand how their own faith journey relates to the story of the entire Church. So, I cringe when I read about catechists dealing with Aquinas and the Summa just as much as I cringe when I read that many groups learn nothing at all about Catholic doctrine.
Regarding the catechized and the uncatechized; I have certainly been part of groups where a candidate had a wealth of knowledge about Christianity (especially about scripture). Despite this most of the people (including sponsors) that I have met during my years of participation in RCIA groups have been seriously lacking in knowledge of their faith. My own hope when I encounter one of these well catechized candidates is not that they proceed to full membership in the Church ahead of the rest of the group (as was suggested by the blogger I mentioned earlier). What I would hope to happen is that these people are able to use their gifts and their knowledge to enhance the growth and the experience of other members of the group. Remember, that is what the Church is all about.
I also accept that there needs to be a process of discernment for people making such a momentous decision regarding their faith. Discernment, despite the impatience of the candidate or the catechumen takes time. In our parish a few years back one candidate who did not have the time or the patience for RCIA was given private instruction and baptized in a short period of time. A year later in a different diocese this same individual had already left the Church and was heavily involved in some new-age group. In our Parish people are normally in RCIA for about one year. In many ways, this is not enough time to do all that is asked of us yet it does provide some time for the element of discernment that is proper to religious initiation.