One of the most misunderstood elements of the catechumenate process is the ritual dismissal of the catechumens from the Mass after the homily. Many catechumenate team members resist dismissing the catechumens because, to the team, it seems inhospitable. In other parishes, there is a tendency to go overboard, dismissing everyone including baptized candidates and even the Catholic sponsors.
At the root of this confusion is a lack of clarity about the importance of the ritual dismissal and its purpose. The dismissal of the catechumens is important for this reason. It ritually expresses the identity of the catechumens and their role in both the celebration of the liturgy and in the body of Christ.
The liturgy and our identity
Identity is super important in the liturgy. What we do in the liturgy forms us as members of the body of Christ. St. Paul teaches us that we all have different gifts and different roles in the mission:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. (Rm 12:4-8)
We learn this important aspect of Christian discipleship by rehearsing it in the liturgy:
All, therefore, whether ordained ministers or lay Christian faithful, in fulfilling their
function or their duty, should carry out solely but totally that which pertains to them.
(General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 91)
The identity of the catechumen within the body of the Christ is that of “apprentice” (see Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, 14). Even as apprentices, they are already members of the household of Christ, and they are coresponsible for the mission of evangelization (see RCIA 47 and 74.4).
The catechumens are formed in this identity through their participation in the liturgy because the liturgy is structured around our roles and gifts within the body of Christ.
The catechumens should be properly initiated into the mystery of salvation and the practice of the evangelical virtues, and they should be introduced into the life of faith, liturgy, and charity of the People of God by successive sacred rites. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1248)
Why dismissal is essential to the RCIA
A key rite that introduces the catechumens to the mystery of salvation and forms them in their evangelical mission is their ritual dismissal from the Mass.
At first, this may seem counterintuitive. How do the catechumens learn about their mission and their role in the body of Christ if we are sending them away? But then consider what happens with the baptized priesthood. We are also sent away (or sent out) at the end of Mass. Not because the Mass is over and now there is nothing left to do. But in order to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” (Roman Missal).
As apprentices in faith, the catechumens are still in training. They have not yet been initiated into the priesthood of Christ and must undergo a conversion process before they can fully join in the sacrificial life of discipleship.
Ritually, they are not yet ready to enter into the priestly, sacrificial part of the Mass — the liturgy of the eucharist. Spiritually, they are still learning how to make their lives “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rm 12:1).
So then, the catechumens, after having heard the word of God proclaimed, are ritually sent out to “share their joy and spiritual experiences” and to “reflect more deeply upon the word of God” (RCIA 67). For the catechumens, the liturgy of the word is their ritual “job.” Once they have completed that, they are sent out from the liturgy to exercise their discipleship in the world, just as the baptized priesthood is after they have completed their ritual work.
3 important things about the dismissal
The ritual element that crystalizes all of this is the ritual dismissal of the catechumens. This simple ritual action does three important things.
- It teaches the catechumens that they are in a conversion process, preparing them for the day when they are “led by the Holy Spirit into the promised fullness of time begun in Christ” (RCIA 206).
- It alerts the members of the parish that we have catechumens among us, and that the community must “give help to those who are searching for Christ” (RCIA 9).
- And it teaches the baptized candidates, who are not dismissed, that they have a privileged place in the body as members of the baptized priesthood.
The ritual dismissal is vitally important for the formation of the catechumens and also serves to reemphasize the role of the baptised priesthood in the gospel mission. We shouldn’t ignore it, and we shouldn’t celebrate it with anyone who is not a catechumen.
What does the ritual dismissal look like in your parish? How do you help them understand what is happening? Share your thoughts in the comments below.