GDC 88-89: “The baptismal catechumenate: structure and progression”

Nothing really new for those involved in RCIA, or those who followed our analysis of it here on this site. The emphasis of the GDC is on a careful progression for those initiated into the Church:

88. Faith, moved by divine grace and cultivated by the action of the Church, undergoes a process of maturation. Catechesis, which is at the service of this growth, is also a gradual activity. “Good catechesis is always done in steps”. (Cf. RCIA 19) In the baptismal catechumenate, formation is articulated in four stages:

– the pre-catechumenate, (RCIA 9-13) characterized as the locus of first evangelization leading to conversion and where the kerygma of the primary proclamation is explained;

– the catechumenate, (RCIA 14-20; 68-72; 98-105) properly speaking, the context of integral catechesis beginning with “the handing on of the Gospels”; (RCIA 93; cf. 1977 Synod of Bishops, Message to the People of God 8c)

– a time of purification and illumination (RCIA 21-26; 133-142; 152-159) which affords a more intense preparation for the sacraments of initiation and in which the “the handing on of the Creed” (RCIA 25 and 183-187) and “the handing on of the Lord’s Prayer” take place; (RCIA 25 and 188-192)

– a time of mystagogy, (RCIA 37-40; 35-239) characterized by the experience of the sacraments and entry into the community.

89. These stages, which reflect the wisdom of the great catechumenal tradition, also inspire the gradual nature of catechesis.* In the patristic period properly, catechumenal formation was realized through biblical catechesis, based on recounting the history of salvation; immediate preparation for Baptism by doctrinal catechesis, explaining the Creed and the Our Father which had just been handed on, together with their moral implications; and through the phase following the sacraments of initiation, a period of mystagogical catechesis which help the newly baptized to interiorize these sacraments and incorporate themselves into the community. This patristic concept continues to illuminate the present catechumenate and initiatory catechesis itself. This latter, in so far as it accompanies the process of conversion, is essentially gradual and, in so far as it is at the service of one who has decided to follow Christ, it is eminently christocentric.

* This gradual nature is also apparent in the names which the Church uses to designate those who are in the various stages of the baptismal catechumenate: sympathizers (RCIA 12), those who are disposed to the faith but do not yet fully believe; catechumens (RCIA 17-18), those who have firmly decided to follow Jesus; elect (RCIA 24), those called to receive Baptism; neophytes (RCIA 31-36) those just born into the light by the grace of Baptism; the Christian faithful (RCIA 39), those who are mature in the faith and active members of the Christian community.

As someone who has worked closely with catechumenate ministries, some of the emphasis here was a bit surprising. The Lenten presentations of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer are dowplayed in many parishes. The focus is more on the conversion Gospels of John (4, 9, and 11), the rooting out of sin, and the spiritual preparation for Easter. I’ve not seen in other places the emphasis on the catechumenate period as “handing on of the Gospels,” an optional ritual in the Rite of Acceptance, alongside the “handing on of the Creed (and) the Lord’s Prayer” for Lent.

This material and that which follows in sections 90-91 is a good refresher for people serving in catechumenate ministry: sponsors, catechists, godparents, and others. It can help assure a parish it is on the right track with their emphasis and focus in ministry. Finding commentary on liturgy after a rite has been implemented can be illuminating. (The first General Catechetical Directory was promulgated one year before the first edition of the RCIA, and this document dates nine years after RCIA mark II)

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in General Directory for Catechesis, post-conciliar catechetical documents, RCIA. Bookmark the permalink.

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