The new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (which is not yet published), will make an interesting change to the ritual text in English. The current translation says that before inquirers can celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, “sponsors, catechists, and deacons, parish priests (pastors) have the responsibility for judging” if the inquirers are ready to take this next step (RCIA 43; emphasis added).
The new translation will change “judging” to “discern”:
It is the particular responsibility of pastors, with the help of sponsors, catechists and Deacons, to discern the outward signs of their spiritual dispositions. (OCIA 43; emphasis added)
How was this term chosen?
The Latin word is the same in both instances: iudicare. One of the new principles for translation is that the texts “must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrase or glosses” (Liturgiam Authenticam 20). An exact translation of “iudicare” is “to judge.” But that is not the translation that is used in the proposed new translation.
It is used in the current translation, which was issued in 1988 under a different set of translation rules. All of the translations of liturgical texts before 2000 were supposed follow this rule: “To keep the correct signification, words and expressions must be used in their proper historical, social, and ritual meanings” (Comme le Prévoit 13).
It was in following that rule (or rather, not following the rule) that we currently have “iudicare” translated as “judging.”
Discerning and judging
“To judge,” for most of us, has a historical and social meaning that is quite negative: we try to avoid judging others; we have a dark impression of the “final judgment”; most of us agree that prejudice (pre-judging) is a sin; if we ever have to go to court and appear before a judge, we know something is wrong.
So when we are asked to judge the inquirers’ readiness for taking the next step on the journey of faith, we recoil a bit. We echo Pope Francis’s famous line: “Who am I to judge?”
“To discern,” however, has a much more positive feeling for most of us. When we discern, we are recognizing what is there, not deciding if it should or should not be there. Discernment feels more collaborative. An inquirer would never appear before a single “discerner” who would hand down a decision—as a judge might. The rite makes clear that discernment is a collaborative process among sponsors, catechists, deacons, and pastors. And discernment, for Christians, clearly involves the action of the Holy Spirit.
The action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of the seekers is the key to understanding what the rite is asking of us, whether the translation is “to judge” or “to discern.” In a real way, the Spirit is constantly prompting us with choices on the journey of faith. We come to a fork in the path, and we have free will to choose to go toward God or to veer away from God. The Spirit is always guiding us to make the right choice.
Taking care with our discernment
For seekers who are new at this, they may not always recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Or they may clearly understand the right choice but be tempted to choose the self-indulgent path instead. Or job is to accompany the seekers on the journey of faith, constantly discerning (or judging) with them what their next step is. When it comes to really big steps—like entering the Order of Catechumens or becoming one of the Elect—we have to be extra careful in our discernment (or judgment) so the seekers progress at the pace set out for them by the Holy Spirit.
In the catechumenate process, and all of Christian life, really, discernment is a process of making the right judgments at the right times so that we more and more align our hearts with God’s will.
How are you approaching discernment with your seekers? How do you help inform their decision making during the catechumenate process? Share your thoughts in the comments below.