A Ritual Journey: Welcome of Inquirers to the Catechumenate

A Ritual Journey: Welcome of Inquirers to the Catechumenate

In the process of faith formation the stage of Inquiry leads into the stage of the Catechumenate (this term can be used to denote both the entire process of faith formation and more narrowly the second stage of the process). We’ll explore the stage of the Catechumenate more fully at a later time. The Inquirer crosses over from the stage of Inquiry into the stage of the Catechumenate through the rite of Welcome of Inquirers/Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. In both the Lutheran Welcome to Christ and in the Roman Catholic RCIA this is a public rite usually conducted within a congregation’s regular worship time. It is a threshold crossing rite for the inquirer. They now change status/role (or order as the RCIA puts it) within the congregation’s life. As an Inquirer they were on the edges of baptismal life in the congregation, exploring what this baptismal life might mean. After their Welcome into the Catechumenate their status is much more public. The congregation promises to support them as they begin formally the journey toward baptismal initiation into the church and to lead them to fully know and follow Christ by faith. The Inquirers who are now becoming Catechumens, as Roman Catholic Ronald Lewinski says in his book, An Introduction to the RCIA, “make a public promise to follow the way of Jesus, and they commit themselves to the formation process that leads to the initiation sacraments” (33).  The rite of Welcome to the Catechumenate is a threshold rite because it requires spiritual discernment, both on the part of the inquirer and on the part of the congregation, as to whether the inquirer is ready to make the commitment into the next step in following the Lord Jesus by faith supported by this assembly. It is a serious commitment. The rite ritualizes the embrace of that commitment. Here is the outline of the rite in Welcome to Christ and in the RCIA.

Welcome to Christ
Presentation of Inquirers
Entrance Hymn
Hymn of Praise
Prayer of the Day
Reading and Responses
Hymn of the Day
Signing with the Cross
Presentation of a Bible
Prayer and Blessing of Catechumens
The Prayers

Dialogue with New Candidates
Candidates First Acceptance of the Gospel
Affirmation by the Sponsors and Assembly
Signing with the Cross on Forehead
Signing of the Senses
Concluding Prayer
Invitation to the Service of the Word
Instruction on the Word
Readings and Responses
[Presentation of a Bible]
Intercessions for the Catechumens
Prayer over the Catechumens
Dismissal of the Catechumens
Prayers of the Church

In following weeks I will walk through some of the specific aspects of the Rite of Welcome. The most significant aspects of the rite are the presentation and dialogue with the candidates, the signing with the cross and of the senses, the presentation of a Bible, and the prayer and blessing of the candidates. Note that the RCIA presumes a gathering of the congregation, possibly at a Mass, but not necessarily on Sunday (as indicated by the omission of the entrance rite), whereas Welcome to Christ presumes that it takes place at a Sunday Divine Service. The goal of the rite is to transition the inquirers into a lifelong pattern of faith formation. As the blessing prayer of Welcome to Christ says:

Merciful and Most High God, creator and life-giver of all that is, you have called all people from darkness into light, from error into truth, from death into life. We ask you: grant grace to [names] and bless them. Raise them by your Spirit. Receive them by your Word. Form them by your hand. Bring them to the water of life and to the bread and cup of blessing, that with all your people they may bear witness to your grace and praise you forever through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A pattern of faith formation—raised by the Spirit, received by the Word, formed by God’s hand, brought to the water of life and the bread and cup of blessing.