The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin and brought you to new life through water and the Holy Spirit.” With these words, spoken to the neophytes immediately after their Baptism at the Easter Vigil, the Church professes our belief in the unique power of the sacrament of Baptism.
Baptism has a special significance for catechists, since the truth it bears — salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — is the faith we proclaim in our teaching. Understanding our Baptism — and drawing on its graces as a source of inspiration and strength — is a necessity for all who proclaim the Catholic faith to others.
At the root of all Christian discipleship is the Sacrament of Baptism, for it is in Baptism that we become a new creation and are clothed in Christ (cf. RCIA no. 229). Jerry Galipeau’s new book You Have Put on Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality is an extended reflection on this reality, told mainly through stories of Dr. Galipeau’s discovery of the power of his own baptism.
The very first chapter recounts a pilgrimage Dr. Galipeau took to the church where he was baptized in an effort to connect his ministry to the roots of his participation in the life of Christ:
“I reached out and gave the top lid of the font a little push and, sure enough, it began to move. The lid opened and inside I saw three small chambers, probably enameled over some kind of steel (rust had formed around the edges) that once held the baptismal water. I just stood there and stared inside this font, thinking to myself, ‘My little head was once right here.’ I was overwhelmed with emotion. ‘Right here,’ I thought, ‘right here is where my life changed forever.'”
Subsequent chapters unpack the baptismal character of Lent and the ways in which a Catholic parish might help parishioners to rediscover the power and meaning of their baptism.
The book comes with an enhanced CD-ROM containing four instrumental tracks, sheet music for the hymn “God, Who at the Font once Named Us,” and the script for a parish-based baptismal reflection session (as described in the third chapter). The files are all reproducible for parish use.
You Have Put on Christ is a short but moving reflection on the grace of Baptism and a great resource for parish liturgists and catechists.
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a sucker for free books. Even given the pile of unread material sitting in a milk crate on my living room floor, I’ll take any opportunity to snatch up free books. So when I saw that Nick Wagner was giving away 20 copies of his new book, The Heart of Faith: A Field Guide for Catechumens and Candidates, in exchange for a written review, I quickly sent in my request.
Interest in freebies aside, I can justify my request on professional grounds. To be sure, my interest in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is fairly new. However, since the National Directory for Catechesis (NDC), echoing the General Directory for Catechesis, states that “The baptismal catechumenate is the source of inspiration for all catechesis,” it seems self-evident to me that catechetical leaders need at least a basic understanding of the RCIA in order to fulfill the bishops’ vision for catechesis in America.
Which brings us to The Heart of Faith. Mr. Wagner is clear from the beginning that his book is not a catechetical textbook or program for the RCIA. Anyone looking for an outline of the Church’s doctrine, a theological explanation of the liturgy, or a guide to Sacred Scripture will be disappointed. (The book does end with appendices dedicated to postures of prayer, particular Catholic customs, and the annulment process, but they are hardly exhaustive.)
Rather it’s a companion book for those entering into the RCIA. It outlines in a general way what will happen during the periods of the rite, what to expect at particular times, and offers suggestions for symbols, gestures, and stories that catechumens and candidates should keep an eye out for. (In this respect, calling the book a “field guide” is very apt!) Indeed, the book invites the reader multiple times to “pay attention” to what is going on during the RCIA process: “Most of what you’ll be doing in the catechumenate is learning how to pay attention… [S]eeing God is mostly a matter of paying attention. And the first step in paying attention is knowing what to look for.”
The meat of the book is Mr. Wagner’s outline of four disciplines of the Church: Worship, Word, Community, and Service. In these chapters Mr. Wagner invites the reader to reflect on the liturgy, Sacred Scripture, the Church, and poor. Again, while not exhaustive, the material is presented clearly and concisely. Several times I started to take exception with some language or use of terms, only to remind myself that the book is aimed at those without a lifelong grounding in the Church’s tradition; from that vantage point, the book is a good “first step” into the faith.
Mr. Wagner does a nice job of differentiating between catechumens (those who have not been baptized) and candidates (those who have been baptized outside the Catholic Church). Too many parishes simply lump the two groups together, ignoring the clear directives of the rite. While the majority of the book is applicable to catechumens, candidates will find lots to reflect on and good questions, suggestions, and advice for their particular situation.
I have two main critiques of The Heart of Faith. First, while it impresses on the catechumens the importance of Baptism and Eucharist, it has less to say about the other sacrament of initiation they will participate in at the Easter Vigil. A little more explication on Confirmation would be a welcome addition.
My second concern is that the book — like many parish RCIA programs — stops with the Easter Vigil, neglecting the final period of the rite: the period of mystagogy. I’m sure that Mr. Wagner, as a member of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, is aware of this; my hope is that a future book will present a mystagogical catechesis on the initiation rites to compliment this preparatory book.
These concerns aside, The Heart of Faith: A Field Guide for Catechumens and Candidates would be an excellent gift from a sponsor or family member to someone entering the Church. More information on the book is available at faithfieldguide.com/the-heart-of-faith.
On April 26, 1642, an immense crowd was gathered round the triangular gallows at Tyburn, and an elderly Welshman, who had come to be hanged, stood up in the cart to make his speech. He was Edward Morgan, a Flint-shire man who had been to school at Douai and made priest at Salamanca. He had been imprisoned in the Fleet for fourteen years, and suffered great hardships, before being brought to trial under the Parliament. He waited till the crowd was quiet, and everybody was astonished at his cool and smiling demeanour. He began with the sign of the cross, and gave out a text : ‘The Good Shepherd giveth His life for His sheep.’ He explained that he was going to be hanged simply because he was a Roman Catholic priest, and was very glad to die for the Good Shepherd who died for His flock. ‘I offer up my blood for the good of my country, and for a better understanding between the King and Parliament.’
Then he went on to preach a full sermon on the Unity of the Church, and persisted in finishing it in spite of several interruptions from the Protestant ministers. There is one God, one faith, one baptism, he said; so there must be one Church. He gave proof that the Catholic Church was the one true Church going back to the apostles, and showed that the recent sects are all too new to have any claim to be the Church of Christ. At the end he asked God to forgive all who had injured him, and also (he said) ‘my own innumerable sins.’
Then, ‘with a merry countenance,’ he told the hangman to do his duty and said: ‘I pray thee, teach me what to do, for I never was at this sport before.’
Whereupon the minister said : ‘Mr. Morgan, this is not a time to sport, nor is it a jesting matter.’
‘Sir,’ he replied, ‘I know it is no joking matter for me, but good sober earnest. But God loveth a cheerful giver, and I hope it is no offence to anyone that I go cheerfully and merrily to heaven.’
He was allowed to hang until he was dead, before the rest of the sentence was carried out.
– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part I: the Creed (1939)