Here is a quote that might surprise you:
If the eucharist is to be celebrated, the catechumens are normally dismissed at this point….
Why is that surprising, you might wonder. Isn’t it normal to dismiss catechumens before the Eucharist? It is surprising, for some of us, because the statement comes at the end of the combined Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens and the Rite of Welcoming Baptized Candidates (see RCIA 528).
If we have just celebrated this rite, it means we have standing before the assembly a group of baptized candidates and unbaptized catechumens. The RCIA expects us to dismiss the catechumens, but it says nothing about dismissing the candidates. Did the rite perhaps mean to imply that the candidates would also be dismissed?
I don’t think we can say that. Take a look at the the uncombined Rite of Welcoming the Candidates. At the end of that rite, there are only two options. Either the entire assembly is dismissed because Eucharist will not be celebrated or “the liturgy of the eucharist begins as usual” (433). There is no dismissal of the candidates by themselves. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults clearly expects that baptized candidates will remain with the assembly for the celebration of the Eucharist, even though they cannot yet share in communion.
If your parish is like most parishes with an active catechumenate, you are probably dismissing the baptized candidates right along with the catechumens every Sunday. For some parishes, that may be because it is “the way we’ve always done it.” But other parishes have thought about it and made a conscious decision to dismiss the baptized along with the unbaptized. Let’s look at why that might be.
Why do we dismiss?
First, let’s clarify the reason for dismissing anyone. When the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was being introduced in the 1970s and 80s, we first heard about the dismissal. In those early days, many parish leaders objected to it. The practice seemed, on the surface, to be inhospitable. Why would we ever “kick people out” of the Mass?
The RCIA is concise in its explanation of why the catechumens are dismissed. It is simply because they are not yet part of the “priestly people” and therefore are not empowered “to participate in Christ’s new worship” (75.3). Note this is a bit more significant than dismissing the catechumens because they cannot share in communion—a reason that is frequently offered to them by well-meaning RCIA teams. The fundamental reason for their dismissal is that they cannot yet perform the priestly function of offering. They cannot offer the Prayer of the Faithful, and they cannot offer the sacrifice of praise in the Eucharistic Prayer. Liturgical offering is a priestly function that the catechumens look forward to but cannot yet perform.
Why do we dismiss baptized candidates?
Presumably, we dismiss the baptized candidates because they cannot share in communion. By their baptism, they are part of the priestly people and therefore they are empowered to offer. So the reason for their dismissal can only be that they are not yet able to share in the eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ. Some might say it is a sign of hospitality to dismiss those who cannot eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper.
But the RCIA does not say this. In fact, in the United States, it would seem that the opposite is the case. If in the combined rite, the catechumens are dismissed and the candidates are not, clearly the rite intends for the candidates to perform their priestly role even though they cannot yet fully participate in the fruits of that role.
Also, note that we do not dismiss other types of baptized people who cannot share in communion. Catholic children who have not yet celebrated first communion are expected to remain in the assembly. So are those who find themselves in a state of sin that prevents them from coming to the table. And Protestants married to Catholics who are not in the RCIA are not dismissed. If it is a sign of hospitality to dismiss those who cannot share in communion, why wouldn’t we dismiss everyone who cannot receive?
What do we do during the dismissal session?
Another reason some parishes dismiss the baptized candidates is so they will benefit from the breaking open of the word. While this is no doubt a great benefit, there is no reason it has to happen during Mass. Breaking open the word can happen just as effectively after Mass or on another day during the week.
But what about the catechumens? Should they go ahead with their own breaking open the word immediately after they are dismissed? They might or they might not. The RCIA does not give any direction for what happens to the catechumens once they are dismissed. It only says they are dismissed because of what they cannot yet do—participate in Christ’s new worship. It does not say what they are dismissed to do. Note that the second dismissal formula at the end of the Rite of Acceptance indicates they are to “reflect more deeply upon the word of God,” but that does not necessarily mean with others in a formal session immediately after dismissal (RCIA 67 B).
What about creating community among those in the RCIA?
If the catechumens are dismissed and the candidates are not, doesn’t that make forming community more difficult among those who are in the catechumenate process? That might be the case. I’m not sure. But neither the catechumens nor the candidates asked to “join the RCIA.” They asked to join the church or to come into full communion with the church. The dynamics of a small Christian community that often take place within the catechumenate can be very beneficial in the conversion process. But the catechumenate is not the sole place in which catechumens and candidates should experience those dynamics. In fact, one reason often given for neophytes drifting away from parish life is they feel lost in the larger parish once they are no longer participating in their small RCIA community. As part of their catechesis, both the catechumens and the candidates should be learning how to form deep spiritual bonds with many groups in the parish—not just with each other.
What would happen if we stopped dismissing baptized candidates?
The key question here is not should we or should we not dismiss the baptized candidates. For me, the question is what is the benefit to the candidates if we don’t dismiss them? And is that a greater benefit than if we do dismiss them? I think the two primary benefits of dismissal as it is practiced in most parishes are the powerful conversion that takes place during the breaking open of the word and the conversion that takes place by participating in a small faith sharing community. Clearly both of these processes can happen without dismissing baptized people from the assembly. Most of us have never been dismissed from Mass before Eucharist, and we have experienced both of these conversion processes.
The benefit of allowing the baptized candidates to perform their priestly role by participating in Christ’s new worship is immense. All catechesis for baptized people is “post-baptismal.” What that means is the candidates are always reflecting back on the gifts they have already received in baptism. If, from the outset, we treat the candidates as “gifted” and allow them to make use of their gifts, they will grow into a heart-felt knowledge of the power of those gifts during their formation. They will experience a deep conversion process. In turn, we and the rest of the assembly will grow into a renewed understanding of the power of our own baptism. And will deepen our own conversion. Those are benefits we cannot afford to pass up.
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8 thoughts on “A powerful conversion process for baptized candidates in the RCIA”
I’ve resigned to generally dismissing our candidates, though I know it isn’t by the book.
In thinking of having only the catechumens dismissed and then gathering the candidates and catechumens together for a session of “Breaking Open the Word” following Mass, what specifically should the catechumens do in the half-hour between dismissal and the formal gathering?
Personal prayer? Journaling? Drink coffee and chat about the homily? Should this be supervised by a member of our team, or let our team member finish Mass?
Thanks for the ideas and sharings.
I’d say any of the above are fine. Right now, our (two) catechumens are drinking coffee and chatting after they are dismissed. No team member present. Then we join them after Mass.
I am assuming these two catechemens are adults if you are leaving them alone. We are dismissing two adult and around 20 children catechumens each Sunday along with our uncatechized candidates. Having the children wait for the one or two child candidates to Break Open the Word after mass would just not work for us. While I understand the theology of what you are saying, I think there is enough value in dismissing the candidates that much more thought needs to go into this before instituting a policy of only catechumens are dismissed. I would be interested in why Canada does dismiss some candidates.
Why is the “priestly” participation of the Catechumens different during the Liturgy of the Word? If their dissmissal is because their prayers is not effective. Wouldn’t their responses at the beginning of Mass be a problem as well? What’s the difference?
Hi Leon. The catechumens do not yet share in the priestly vocation of the People of God because they are not yet baptized.
Hi Nick, Thank you for this great site. I love your reasoning in this article. I’m a baptized Methodist married to a Catholic, just beginning RCIA in a very small group. At this point the leader refers to everyone as catechumens, whether baptized or not. In my case I’ve been attending mass every Sunday for a long period of time. I made a covenant with God when I decided to join my husband in regular attendance. The first dismissal will be coming up in a few weeks. My heart knows I should continue to stay for the whole mass, alongside my husband as one of the faithful, making use of my gifts. In the article you stated that “Protestants married to Catholics who are not in the RCIA are not dismissed”. Is there official citation of that in the RCIA manual or elsewhere?
Hi Rosalyn. Here you go:
The National Statutes are an appendix to the RCIA text. Also note that in the Rite of Welcoming the Candidates, the candidates are not dismissed at the end of the rite.
Just as an aside, that rite would not be appropriate for you. It is only for uncatechized baptized candidates (see RCIA 400). I only cite it to point out that even uncatechized candidates, who have no understanding of the Mass or of Christian living, still remain for the entire liturgy because of the dignity of their baptism and their membership in the order of the faithful.
Thank you, Nick! I’m most grateful to have this material at my fingertips. I’m trying to decide if I should email it to the director or print it and leave it on the table anonymously at meetings. It’s a relief to have this support. And as you mentioned, (as in my case) “all catechesis is post- baptismal”. This helps me put my catechesis in the right context. The RCIA director also refers to us as “converts”, which seems off the mark because I’m already Christian.