Do you remember the Third Sunday of Lent in 2020? Most of us celebrated Mass that day, and many of us celebrated the first scrutiny with the elect. And for most of the parishes in the United States, that was the last time we would be in church together for a very long time. The COVID-19 pandemic completely disrupted our lives.
We are about to experience another disruption. It won’t seem as big or as consequential as a COVID-19 shutdown. But in many ways, the impact of the coming disruption will dwarf the pandemic. We are once again coming up to Lent and getting ready to send our catechumens for the rite of election.
If we have taken their formation seriously, the catechumens have they been in “a long period of formation of heart and mind” (OCIA 118). Through the training they have received from our parishioners, those who are ready for election now have “an enlightened faith and a considered intention” (OCIA 118) to be initiated at the Easter Vigil. And perhaps most importantly, we have discerned they are ready “to follow Christ with greater generosity” (OCIA 118).
If those we intend to send for election actually show these signs of readiness, they will be a disruption to our parishes. The disruption happens because these soon-to-be-elect will no longer be in formation. Their formation period (the period of the catechumenate) comes to an end at the rite of election. But neither will they be full members. They will be betwixt and between. They will be in what anthropologists call a “liminal state.” (“Liminal” comes from the Latin word “limen,” which means “threshold.”)
If those we intend to send for election actually show these signs of readiness, they will be a disruption to our parishes.
The things we try to avoid
One thing that’s true of humans, however, is we don’t much like liminality. Think of a time you were between jobs, or seriously ill, or broken up from your significant other. And remember out of balance we were (and maybe still are) because of the pandemic. Liminality is disorienting and sometimes painful. We tend to avoid or deny or minimize liminal states if possible.
And so with our catechumens, we sometimes send some for election who are not yet ready because we don’t want to have a difficult conversation with them.
Or we might continue through Lent with weekly catechetical classes as though nothing has changed because we don’t want to let go of the safe structure of a textbook.
Or we may skip or diminish the scrutinies because we don’t want to face what the exorcisms challenge us to.
With our catechumens, we sometimes send some for election who are not yet ready because we don’t want to have a difficult conversation with them.
Yet, the purpose of the catechumenate is to create a disruption—not disruption that is harmful or painful, but disruption that is transformative and life-giving. Like the arrival of a new baby, the catechumens and their spiritual journey can bring new growth and renewal to our parishes.
This Lent, let us resist the temptation to do the bare minimum and instead embrace the full potential of the catechumenate. Let us ask ourselves, what can we do to support our catechumens, our parishes, and ourselves in this transformative process? By doing so, we will experience a renewal of spirit that surpasses even the impact of the pandemic.
How do you embrace this kind of disruption in your parish? What’s holding you back from having tough but necessary conversations with your catechumens? Share your thoughts in the comments below.