Imagine a parish where every so often the pastor introduces an inquirer to the worshiping assembly saying, “This is Jose; this is Barbara. They have a desire to become part of our church.” Then the Pastor simply leaves the rest to the people in the pews.
We could make a case that this is the perfect scenario for full implementation of the catechumenate! Those seeking to know God in Christ and in the church are simply entrusted to the company of believers who shepherd or apprentice them into a new way of life. Key words from the RCIA support this perspective:
- The initiation of catechumens is a gradual process that takes place within the community of the faithful (4)
- The people of God should understand and show by their concern that the initiation of adults is the responsibility of all the baptized…. Hence, the entire community must help the candidates and the catechumens throughout the process of initiation (9)
- Opportunities should be provided for them (inquirers) to meet families and other groups of Christians (38)
- [A] sense of Church, and some experience of the company and spirit of Christians (42)
- [Become] familiar with the Christian way of life … helped by the example and support of sponsors, godparents, and the entire Christian community … social consequences … take part with the faithful in the liturgy of the word … work actively with others to spread the Gospel (75)
- [T]he reminder of baptism already received or the preparation for its reception, as well as the theme of repentance, renew the entire community along with those being prepared to celebrate the paschal mystery … For both the elect and the local community, therefore, the Lenten season is a time for spiritual recollection (138)
- This is a time for the community and the neophytes together to grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives through meditation on the Gospel, sharing in the eucharist, and doing works of charity. … the community of the faithful … should give them thoughtful and friendly help (244)
- [T]he distinctive spirit and power of the period of post baptismal catechesis or mystagogy derive from the new, personal experience of the sacraments and of the community (247)
It is true that in pastoral practice, particularly in very large parishes, it is helpful to have a team whose primary focus is responding to inquirers and facilitating the initiation process in their parish communities. Leadership in catechumenate ministries is essential to its full implementation and to the assembly’s growing understanding of its own role in the process.
As team members, it behooves us to examine our assumptions and to reflect on some keys to involving the assembly in the work of Christian Initiation. These can be helpful to us in letting go of a “proprietary” approach to our ministry and doing all we can to involve the parish community at large.
So here are five keys to help you in that examination.
5 keys to involving the assembly in the work of Christian initiation
- Understand that initiation is a sacramental, liturgical process and liturgy is primarily “the work of the people,” not of a designated team: am I willing to trust that the liturgical assembly has the power to apprentice catechumens and candidates into a life of discipleship?
- Examine personal attitudes and beliefs about the role of the assembly: am I convinced that this is not a “specialized” ministry but one that belongs to all the baptized as both privilege and responsibility?
- Believe assumptions about the role of the assembly found in the ritual text: am I familiar enough with the Rite’s vision of the role of the assembly to understand it myself, to share it with others, and to let go of attitudes, procedures and methods that hinder its implementation?
- Understand the languages of liturgy: do I have the eyes, ears and heart to “read” the languages of sign, symbol, gesture, song, proclamation, silence, touch, taste, etc. that make up the liturgical experience and to help others discover the power of revelation and catechesis that flows from that experience?
- Realize that the conversion journey of catechumens and candidates is also the journey of the entire community, an ongoing journey deeper into the Sacred Mysteries: do I understand that initiation ministry is done with rather than to catechumens and candidates who are apprentices to the Catholic Christian way of life?
These are all “yes” or “no” questions. Simply answering “yes” or “no” will not change anything and will not move us closer to the vision of the Rite. Where you answered “yes,” consider how you will continue to build on that strength. What will be your benchmarks for becoming more effective in that area? Where you answered “no,” consider what resources you need to explore the concept more deeply and what actions you will take to move to a more effective model of initiation in your parish. Click the comments link to share your insights and suggestions. It’s our ministry, after all!
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