Catechesis and the RCIA: The Catechumenate

This is the fourth post in a series on the theological connections between the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and catechesis in the Catholic Church. Previous posts gave an overview of the series, explored the characteristics of the RCIA, and addressed the precatechumenate.

Theological Underpinnings

The second period of the RCIA  is the catechumenate. This is the period most familiar to the average Catholic, due to the dismissal of catechumens that occurs after the Liturgy of the Word during Mass. Like the precatechumenate, there is no definite time frame for this period. While bishops can establish the duration of the catechumenate, it “should be long enough — several years if necessary — for the conversaion and faith of the catechumens to become strong.” (n. 77)

The  Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults  states that the catechumenate “is an extended period during which the candidates are given suitable pastoral formation and guidance, aimed at training them in the Christian life.” (n. 75) This formation has four  components:

  1. Catechumens should  receive  “a suitable catechesis… planned to be gradual and complete… accomodated to the liturgical year, and solidly supported by celebrations of the word.”
  2. “[T]he catechumens learn to turn more readily to God in prayer, to bear witness to the faith… to follow supernatural inspiration in their deeds, and to practice love of neighbor.”
  3. The Church provides “suitable  liturgical  rites” to “help the catechumens on their journey.”
  4. “[C]atechumens should also learn how to work actively with others to spread the Gospel and build up the Church.”
In addition, the catechesis inherent to this period “should be of a kind that while presenting Catholic teaching in its entirety also enlightens faith, directs the heart toward God, fosters participation in the liturgy, inspires apostolic activity, and nurtures a life completely in accord with the spirit of Christ.” (n. 78)

Practical Applications

This period has the most direct implications for the Church’s catechetical ministry and there is a lot to unpack from these few paragraphs.

First, it is important to note that catechesis is not a “quick fix”; it takes time to be formed in the faith. There maybe circumstances in which children or adults need to be “brought up to speed” (for instance, when a child is brought forth for First Communion without adequate catechetical preparation), but it should be understood that, once the need for expediency is passed, that the individual will enter a process of formation that will complete what is lacking. There are no shortcuts to the faith that leads to conversion.

Second, while it make be tempting to focus solely on doctrine, the teachings of the faith are only a quarter of the content of catechesis. Equally important are formation in prayer, liturgy, and the apostolic work of the Church. (This idea is not limited to the RCIA; consider the four pillars of the Catechism.)  Ideally these four should not be mutually exclusive but should be approached in such as a way as to highlight the integral nature of the faith, for they cannot be understood independently of each other.

Finally, this period reminds us that catechesis is not an end unto itself; it is an ongoing process of preparation for our ultimate destiny, communion with God. While memorizing the Church’s doctrine or mastering the Catechism  is laudable, if it doesn’t lead us to faith the words are nothing more than “a loud gong or a clashing cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1)

Original photo by PiLoTiTo/flickrCC

Other posts in this series:

  1. Catechesis and the RCIA: Mystagogy (March 7, 2012)
  2. Catechesis and the RCIA: Purification and Enlightenment (February 6, 2012)
  3. Catechesis and the RCIA: The Catechumenate (January 18, 2012)
  4. Catechesis and the RCIA: The Precatechumenate (January 4, 2012)
  5. Catechesis and the RCIA: Characteristics (November 22, 2011)
  6. Catechesis and the RCIA: Introduction (November 14, 2011)