Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Catechizing the Assembly: Rite of Acceptance

From September 21 to 23, 2006, catechumenate directors, team members, liturgists, and catechists gathered to discuss the issues and challenges of implementing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in our diocese and to study the Rite of Acceptance and the Scrutiny Rite. (Read about some of the strategies we discerned in this Word document.)

One primary concern that was raised from that gathering was the need for simple resources to help catechize and prepare the assembly for the rites of initiation.

So, catechumenate ministers of the diocese: we hear you!

Below is part of the unformatted text from a bulletin insert that you can download, print, and copy for FREE for use in your parishes to help you catechize about the Rite of Acceptance. I ask that you simply include the author and copyright information on any copies you make.

Get the fully-formatted ready-to-copy bulletin insert (pdf) here.

Christian Initiation of Adults
Rite of Acceptance
Becoming Catholic

by Diana Macalintal
© 2006, Diana Macalintal.
All rights reserved.

Responding to God’s Call
God works in many different ways. Most of the time, God works through ordinary people and events—a parent, a friend, a beautiful sunset, a song, an inspiring story. Other times, we hear God’s call during crisis moments or major life-changes—a birth, an engagement, a sickness, a death. Sometimes, we just have a feeling that something is missing.

No matter what a person’s reasons are for becoming Catholic, the Church’s hope and prayer is that when God calls them, they will respond.

One part of the Catholic Church’s mission is to help people respond to God as best they can. For Christians, initiation and on-going participation in the life of the Church are the primary responses to God’s call. Through the process of becoming Catholic, we try to help people learn how to respond to that call not just for the moment of baptism but for everyday of their lives. The way we learn how to become Catholic is by actually doing what Catholics do. So the process of being initiated into the Church is not so much about learning things as in a classroom but learning a way of life as an apprentice learns a discipline from a master and that master’s community.

For discussion: Do you remember when you first heard God’s call? Was it through a person or a significant event? What were you being called to do? How did you feel about what you were being called to do? Who helped you take the next step?

Being Accepted
Becoming Catholic is a process. The Catholic Church has recently recovered and developed a process that some of the earliest Christians had used when people came to them asking to be baptized. The first part of this process is called “Evangelization and Precatechumenate.” In this initial phase, an unbaptized adult or child over seven is moved by some experience to inquire about the Catholic Church. Through some informal contact with a member of the Church, he or she begins to explore issues of faith, questions they’ve always had about the Church, or anything that has moved them to seek some kind of relationship with the Church. This part of the process can happen anytime for as long as needed.

When the inquiring person and the Church community believe that the person is starting to show some signs of a Christian faith and is ready to commit to becoming Catholic, the person is invited to celebrate a ritual called a “Rite of Acceptance into the Order of the Catechumenate.” By celebrating this rite, the person is officially and publicly declaring his or her intention to enter into a formal relationship with the Church, learning its ways and participating in its lifestyle. The Church, in turn, accepts their commitment and pledges its support throughout the person’s journey of faith.

This rite makes the person an official member of the Church as one who is preparing to be baptized. Therefore, the person is given an official title and role to play in the Church, that of “catechumen” which means “one in whom the Word of God echoes.” In preparation for this rite, the Church also gives the inquiring person a gift—one of its own baptized
members to be a sponsor or companion of the person through the next part of the process of becoming Catholic called the “Period of the Catechumenate.”

For discussion: What important commitments have you made? How did you symbolize making that commitment? Who supported you in making it?

The Threshold
The door or threshold of the Church is an important symbol in many Catholic rites. Doors symbolize transitions and new ways of life. For Christians, Christ, the Good Shepherd and the gate for the sheep, is the most important door, because “whoever enters through [Christ] will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). But doors are also liminal spaces, in-between places that are neither here nor there. Even though Christ has died and risen to save us from death, we still live in the in-between time until Christ comes again to welcome all of creation through the doors of the kingdom of God.

In the Rite of Acceptance, those wishing to answer God’s call are met at the threshold of the Church by the baptized and are ritually welcomed to enter into the Church’s doors.

The Cross
To enter into Christ also means entering into his dying and rising, for he said, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Those who answer God’s call will need to learn how to let go and die to their old ways of life, and this will often be painful and difficult. But the cross is also the sign of our salvation. So in the Rite of Acceptance, the Church consecrates—sets apart and makes holy—those who are committing themselves to following Christ by signing their bodies with the cross.

For discussion: Think of all the ways the cross touches you—in the sign of the cross, in crosses you wear. What does the cross mean to you?

The Word and the Assembly
In order to learn how to take up the cross of Christ each day of their lives, these catechumens will need to be nourished by the Word of God, for “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In the Scriptures that they will hear every Sunday in the Mass, God speaks, and in the Gospels, Christ proclaims to all those assembled that God’s promises last forever. No matter what things the catechumens will encounter—suffering, pain, obstacles, doubt, fear, sin, death—God will never leave them. God’s love through Christ never fails.

Where we encounter Christ and his love most clearly is in the assembly. When God’s people gather on Sunday to proclaim the Scriptures, offer prayers for the world, and remember Christ in the sharing of a meal—the Eucharist—Christ is truly present. It will be through the assembly that the catechumens learn how to live as Christ. The assembly models for them how to die to selfishness, how to forgive others, how to preach the Good News, and how to live in hope through the Holy Spirit. The catechumens will depend on the Spirit of God found in the assembly to apprentice them into a life of discipleship.

Because they are not yet baptized, the catechumens cannot yet participate in the prayers of the faithful. These prayers are the Creed, the General Intercessions, and the Eucharistic Prayer which climaxes in Communion. Therefore, after the homily, the catechumens, accompanied by a member of the baptized, are sent to feast on the Word of God, to reflect on how God is continuing to call them in this part of their faith journey, and to discern how they are to respond.

For discussion: What are your favorite Scripture passages? How have these words nourished you? How do you see these words lived out in the assembly? What do these words call you to do?