If I said that through baptism, a person is made one with Christ, we would all agree to that.
If I said that a person who is baptized outside of the Catholic Church is made one with Christ, there might be some resistance. We would want to know who baptized the person, how the baptism happened, and if the correct “matter and form” were used. But if we were satisfied that the baptism was “valid” (as are all main-line Protestant baptisms), most of us would agree that an Episcopalian or a Lutheran or Methodist or Presbyterian is one with Christ.
But what if I said that we are not baptized into the Roman Catholic Church? And Episcopalians are not baptized into the Episcopal Church? And so on? All Catholics and mainline Protestants believe and profess the Nicene Creed. In our liturgies, we all say: “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”
When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ. We all share that common baptism, with no distinction. We all believe what is professed in the Nicene Creed.
That does not mean that one denomination is the same as another and that there are not significant differences that continue to divide us. But at the most fundamental level, all Christians share a common faith that unites us. At the level of what is professed in the Nicene Creed, we are one.
Not everyone knows or understands this, of course. But as RCIA teams, we have to know it and teach it. The unity of baptism is a core teaching of our faith. And I think most of us cover the theology of baptism in one or more of our presentations during the formation process.
What we might not be conscious of, however, is how the way we implement the catechumenate process often counteracts what we say. If actions speak louder than words, we might be unintentionally teaching something the church does not intend. Here are a few practices we might reexamine.
How we might be misforming baptized seekers
Placing baptized seekers in a precatechumenate class. The precatechumenate is not a class. It is a time of evangelization. We who are baptized go out to share the good news of Jesus with those who do not know Christ. Baptized seekers are already one with Christ and do not need to be evangelized. Depending on the person, he or she might need “new evangelization” or reconciliation, but these are not the same thing as evangelization of those who have never encountered Christ. If we “evangelize” baptized people, we teach that their baptism was imperfect or invalid.
Celebrating a Rite of Welcome. If baptized seekers are already one with us in Christ, what are we welcoming them to? If we are all already part of the universal church, it seems odd to welcome them to that which they already belong. I think there can be pastoral exceptions to this and that there are rare times when a formal “welcome” might seem appropriate. But in most places, we have made the exception the rule and we put all baptized seekers through a rite of welcome. This seems to confuse what we say we believe about sharing in one baptism.
Placing baptized seekers in the catechumenate. The catechumenate is a time of initiatory catechesis. It is a training in Christian life. During the catechumenate, we teach the unbaptized catechumens how to live in a way that is faithful to what they will eventually profess in the Creed. Baptized seekers already profess the Creed. They might not be living out what they say they believe. But that is also true of many Catholics, some of whom share in communion every Sunday. We do not put those Catholics in the catechumenate, nor should we put other baptized Christians in the catechumenate. We do have to do something with them, but we do not treat them as catechumens.
Dismissing baptized seekers from Mass. There are strong pastoral and theological reasons for dismissing the catechumens from Mass. I can think of none for dismissing baptized seekers. If the baptized seekers leave with the catechumens, we are teaching them that they are more like the catechumens than like the baptized faithful. Our actions say they are not one with us. This is not true. They are one with us in Christ, and they have rights and duties as members of the faithful. Those rights and duties include offering the sacrifice of the Mass. They cannot yet share fully at the Lord’s Table, but this is also true of many Catholics who remain with us for the entire liturgy. Dismissing the baptized seekers from Mass is one more way in which we teach that their baptism was not a full and complete baptism.
Receiving the baptized seekers into full communion at the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil is a celebration of baptism, that is, initiation into Jesus Christ. The baptized seekers should be present at the Easter Vigil, but as members of the faithful, not as pseudo-catechumens. Their reception into full communion should ordinarily take place at a Sunday liturgy, not at the Easter Vigil. Celebrating reception on an ordinary Sunday teaches that they are “ordinary” Christians, just like the rest of us. They are not half-Christians or almost-Christians who somehow become “full” Christians at the Vigil.
What about your process?
What are you doing in your formation process to teach the unity of baptism? How are you making your teaching consistent with your unspoken actions?
7 thoughts on “Does your RCIA teach one baptism — in both words and actions?”
isn’t it interesting…that even though we recite the same creed…we use this Creed to bring baptized Christians from other faith traditions into the Catholic Church. Any words of wisdom about this?
Hi Joann. The person who is to be received into full communion recites the Creed with the community, but it is not the recitation of the Creed that effects the person’s reception. It is the “Act of Reception,” which the minister says after the Profession of Faith. See RCIA 492.
Because of our resources, we place baptized Christians in the same sessions as the Catechumen. However we have adapted our approach to take those differences and make them into teaching experiences. It has allowed us a wonderful opportunity to introduce seekers to the Cannon and explain how each individual situation is different, why some can be received earlier, or why some go through the scrutinies but others don’t. etc.
In addition, we do no combine the rites of welcome and acceptance. Must of our candidates however, do appreciate the rite of welcome as, in my experience, gives them a sense of belonging and inclusion that they seek.
We are now working on not dismissing candidates. Logistically, this has been challenging thus far.
PLACING BAPTIZED SEEKERS IN THE CATECHUMENATE: question for you Nick. In what preparation process would you put someone who was baptized as Catholic in infancy but never went to Mass all his/her life, uncatechized. There may be only one or two at the most of them and the rest are unbaptized. Should we separate from the catechumens this one (or two) baptized Catholic who needs to complete the initiation process?
Hi Julia. There is no perfect answer. As Martha says above, sometimes resources limit us in being able to carry out the ideal vision presented in the rite. If I had your situation, I would probably include Catholics who have zero experience with church in the catechumenate. But, as Martha points out, I would also take that opportunity to explain how each situation is different, and that the baptized candidates might complete their initiation at a time other than the Easter Vigil.
This article is VERY important. I am Episcopalian with strong connections to the Roman Catholic branch of THE CHURCH. I minister in the RCIA for years and am now the catechumenate director at an Episcopalian cathedral. Over and over, on blogs and in person, I hear Roman Catholics talk about being baptized into the Catholic Church and professing the “one-true church” erroneous doctrine (read Vatican II for a correct Roman Catholic statement of the relationship with other Christian denominations). As St. Paul reminds us, we are all baptized into the Body of Christ.
By the way, Episcopalians/Anglicans recognize Roman Catholic confirmations and do not “re-confirm.” That is not a two-way street because Roman Catholics do not recognize Anglican bishops. Furthermore, most Episcopalian parishes welcome everyone who is baptized to communion. Again…how seriously do we take the baptism into the Body of Christ?
Thank you for the article. You are correct…proper use of the process and the rites can help clear up the confusion.
Bishop Gerald Barnes from the Diocese of San Bernardino has taken this separation of catechumens from candidates seriously and has asked all parishes to catechize and initiate candidates into the faith in such a way that the parish congregation understands the different status of those coming into the church. We no longer combine the Rite of Election ( in a vicariate group with the bishop) with the Call to Continuing Conversion( we do this a the local parish level) and candidates receive their Profession of Faith, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist at appropriate times in their conversion journey, but not at Easter Vigil (reserved for catechumens only).