A Ritual Journey: Prayers for Christian Life

As I mentioned last week, the Catechumenate stage in the RCIA is filled with a number of minor rites in addition to the Celebrations of the Word of God. The rites include: Minor Exorcisms; Blessings of the Catechumens; and Anointings of the Catechumens. They all flow from and lead back to the service of the Word in the Sunday liturgy and reflection on the Word in weekly catechumenal gatherings.

This week I’d like to focus on the Minor Exorcisms. The name is unfortunate since we usually think of exorcisms as casting out the demonic. The Roman Catholic Church titles the ritual action of casting out the demonic as Major Exorcisms. Minor exorcisms, both in the Catechumenate period and in the Enlightenment period during the Scrutiny Sundays (more on those in a subsequent post), are prayers for Christian life. Since the Catechumenate period is aiming to form the catechumens in understanding the shape of life in Christ this seems a most appropriate title: Prayers for Christian Life. Welcome to Christ doesn’t have any so-called Minor Exorcisms although it does have Prayers of Encouragement (p. 16) that can be used at any catechumenal gathering. The RCIA describes the Minor Exorcisms as “composed in the form of petitions directly addressed to God. They draw the attention of the catechumen to the real nature of Christian life; the struggle between flesh and spirit, the importance of self-denial for reaching the blessedness of God’s kingdom, and the unending need for God’s help” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, Study Edition, 42). While the labor of self-denial isn’t a means for reaching God’s kingdom in a Lutheran understanding of justification, this description captures well the nature of these prayers for a Christian life. They pray that sin and evil may be cast away from the lives of the catechumens so that they may live as children of the light, become members of the church, and bear witness to the truth (RCIA, 43).

There are 11 prayer options (A through K), each of which confront different manifestations of sin and evil in the lives of the catechumens. Prayer A provides a good general example of these prayers:

God of power, who promised us the Holy Spirit through Jesus your Son, we pray to you for these catechumens, who present themselves before you. Protect them from the spirit of evil, and guard them against error and sin, so that they may become the temple of your Holy Spirit. Confirm what we profess in faith, so that your words may not be empty, but full of the grace and power by which Your Son has freed the world. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen (RCIA, 42).

This general prayer for protection from the power of evil, error, and sin focuses in the other prayers on specific instances of sin and evil.  Guide for Celebrating Christian Initiation with Adults summarizes some of these directions (47):

Remove hesitation in faith (B), remove from them the snares of the world—love of money, hatred, quarreling (B), greed (C), lust and pride (D), fatigue, and loss of hope (H).

It also summarizes the “requests that God may provide for, or strengthen, the good” (48) in the catechumens appearing in the second half of each of the prayers:

A spirit of faith, reverence, patience, and hope (B); open hearts to understand the gospel (C); help in finding blessings in poverty, hunger, mercy, and purity of heart; endurance in persecution (D), that with hope, they may join God’s priestly people (H).

These prayers can be tailored to speak to sins and evils confronting each group of catechumens or each catechumen individually. They provide models of prayer that can be used at celebrations of the Word throughout the Catechumenate period. When leading these prayers the pastor would extend his hands over the catechumens as a whole or over each catechumen individually as they bow or kneel.

The strength of these Prayers for Christian Life is that they acknowledge the ongoing battle against sin, evil, and Satan in the lives of Christians from the moment they enter into preparation for baptism. They put into practice what Martin Luther advocates in his postscript to his 1523 Order of Baptism, that the church would takes sides against the devil, resisting him boldly in life and death (Luther’s Works, vol. 53, 102).