By Dr. Kathy Kleinlein (Director of Catechesis and Safe Environment)
(Florida Catholic) –Â The first Sunday of Lent, Feb. 26, is an important day in the Catholic Church; it is when catechumens in parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice celebrated the Rite of Sending. Immediately afterwards, the catechumens travelled to Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. Here their names were placed in the Book of the Elect before Bishop Frank J. Dewane. The Bishop also welcomed the candidates as a celebration of the call to their continuing conversion.
The more than 400 catechumens and candidates who were recognized by Bishop Dewane will be welcomed as part of the Easter Vigil celebration. They represent nearly every parish in the Diocese of Venice and are part of more than 150,000 people who will join the Catholic Church across the country.
The catechumens are part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). There is much confusion among cradle Catholics about who the catechumens are, why they travel to the Cathedral on the first Sunday in Lent and what their year-long journey in RCIA is all about.
First, letâ€™s clarify what RCIA is not. It is not a program for Catholics who are returning to the Church, or for Catholics in need of Confirmation or even for Catholics who simply want to know more about their faith. For these groups, parishes have in place systematic and well developed adult faith formation programs which are for the aforementioned candidates.
RCIA is for those who are unbaptised and unchurched, who come to inquire about becoming part of the Roman Catholic faith. Many times they are those who have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. RCIA is not simply a course on Catholicism. It is a journey of discovery, a journey of faith in four phases. First the catechumens learn about who God is.
The first phase of RCIA is called the period of Evangelization and Pre-Catechumenate. It is a time of discernment, and at this stage, the participants are called inquirers. They begin to discover who God is by talking about their personal faith journeys, by sharing with one another how they were led to seek baptism. Then they discover, through the same way, who Jesus is and how He is leading them to His Father through their personal journey of discovery. In the final part of phase one, they uncover how God is acting in their every day lives through the influence and action of the Holy Spirit.
Having now made the decision to become Catholic, the inquirers are accepted into the Catechumenate and the second period commences. During this time, the journey of the catechumens takes on deeper meaning as the catechumens learn about the traditions of the Catholic Church. Scripture is used to help the catechumens grow in their personal relationship with God; the importance of the Sacraments is studied and the catechumens begin preparing for the Rite of Election and the coming Easter Vigil.
The third period of the catechumenate is the period of Purification and Enlightenment. On each of the final three Sundays in Lent, the catechumens go through a series of Scrutinies during which they examine their readiness to accept Christ and the Catholic faith in the form of the Sacraments of Initiation. This period culminates at the Easter Vigil when the catechumens are received through Baptism into the Catholic Church. The final period of the RCIA is the time of Mystagogy (post-baptismal catechesis). During the weeks following the Easter Vigil, the newly initiated live more profoundly their experience of Baptism and Eucharist as they begin the journey of discipleship and growing union with Christ.
At this point you might be saying, â€śWait a minute. What about those other people who are baptized Christians in another denomination and want to become Catholic? Arenâ€™t these people required to be part of the RCIA process?â€ť These others are called candidates. Because they have been baptized in the name of the Trinity, the Catholic Church does not require re-baptism. They have already experienced a journey of faith and have an understanding of how Jesus leads us to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. Many have been attending Mass with their families for years and have even sat through parent classes as their children prepared to received Sacraments. It is obvious, then, that candidates are on a completely different spiritual level than catechumens.
Candidates, therefore, should be, and are in a separate group and are not necessarily required to wait an entire year before being welcomed into the Church. However, the Easter Vigil is still an appropriate and most beautiful time for this to occur. The Bishop does invite the candidates to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election as a form of welcome, but because they are already in the Book of the Elect as baptized Christians, they do not bring their names forward; rather they come forward and make the sign of the cross with Holy Water as a reminder of their Baptism and sign of their continuing conversion.
Now is an exciting time for both catechumens and candidates. The catechumens are anticipating rebirth in Baptism; the candidates are anticipating new life in our Catholic Faith, joining in a community of believers which number in the tens of millions across theU.S., and more than one billion around the world. There is purposeful symmetry in the lives of the catechumens and candidates and the life of the Church at the Easter Vigil. The Church has been in darkness from Good Friday until the start of the Vigil. The catechumens have been in spiritual darkness, and the candidates have been separated from us in faith. As the lights in the Church are turned on and grow ever brightly during the Easter Vigil, the catechumens are welcomed into this new light and the candidates are joined to us in the Eucharist. And for us, as faithful, cradle Catholics, it is a time to celebrate most joyously our growing Catholic community which on this most holiest of nights, is truly the most rich in faith
Dr. Kleinlein is the Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education. She can be reached at 941-484-9543 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.