A Ritual Journey: Blessings of the Catechumens
The period of the catechumenate immerses the catechumens in the gospel Word that leads to faith and Christian life. As we have seen, celebrations of the Word of God—in addition to ongoing catechetical instruction—feed and structure that immersion, along with various ritual acts that apply the Word to the lives of the catechumens. These include: Minor Exorcisms; Blessings of the Catechumens; and Anointings of the Catechumens. We turn this week to the Blessings of the Catechumens.
These prayers of blessing provide ongoing strength for the conversion journey. They can be used at the conclusion of any Celebration of the Word, during catechetical sessions, or as frequently as desired for the benefit of the catechumens. The RCIA indicates that these blessings should be prayed over all the catechumens as the presider extends his hands over them. Then the presider may lay hands upon each of the catechumens in silence, applying the words of the blessing to each of them. Of these acts of blessing the Guide for Celebrating Christian Initiation with Adults indicates,
“As with the Word of God, blessings are meant to stir in us remembrance of all the good that God has bestowed upon us throughout history. This stirring of memory prompts us to ask in faith for more. Blessings, then, are an act of faith—an act of faith for the Church and an act of faith for the catechumens” (Guide for Celebrating Christian Initiation with Adults, 49).
They root the catechumens and the church nurturing them to faith in the remembrance of God and His mighty acts of salvation. They point the catechumens toward the mighty act by which God will incorporate them into His rule and reign: the baptismal flood of rescue and renewal.
The RCIA provides nine distinct blessing prayers that each focus on different aspects of the journey toward conversion including the battle with sin, evil, and Satan; strengthening of faith; equipping for life in conformity with the faith; and understanding the Word, among others. The first prayer blessing (A) is general in application:
“Lord, form these catechumens by the mysteries of the faith, that they may be brought to rebirth in baptism and be counted among the members of your Church. We ask this through Christ our Lord” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 48).
Another example is the fourth blessing (D) which prays that the catechumens may grow in understanding truth and be free from falsehood:
“God our Father, you have sent your only Son, Jesus Christ, to free the world from falsehood. Give to your catechumens fullness of understanding, unwavering faith, and a firm grasp of your truth. Let them grow ever stronger, that they may receive in due time the new birth of baptism that gives pardon of sins, and join with us in praising your name. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (D)
The pastor’s use of the blessings throughout the catechumenate period leads catechumens to understand communion with Christ as an ongoing act of and participation in blessing. To be in Christ is to be blessed to participate in the life of the Triune God and to participate through Christ in the life of the Triune God is to be blessed. This life of blessing is finally realized at the eschaton when God establishes in full His rule and reign. As Shawn Madigan contends in Liturgical Spirituality and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults:
“Blessings are a form of praise and petition that reveal and bestow the power of the new creation in Christ. The Christian vision of the eschaton that is here, but not yet fully, suggests that blessings have a role to play in bringing the ‘not yet’ into the ‘now.’ When Christians bless, they remember that God has already blessed all creation in Christ and continues to bless all people through the Spirit. Christian blessing is intended to affirm and strengthen the experience of the mystery of joyous communion in Christ that is beyond what we can hope or imagine” (Shawn Madigan, Liturgical Spirituality and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 35).
The prayers of blessing are the mantle God provides covering the catechumens in the Word as they make the journey from their old lives into new life in Christ.