A Ritual Journey: Formative Aspects of the Welcome Rite
As I mentioned last week, the most significant aspects of the welcome 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. We’ll take up the signing along with a brief video discussion of it at one congregation next week. The other formative aspects of the rite position those who are now catechumens as ones who are becoming part of the household of Christ since they are now in the process toward full baptismal incorporation into Christ. The rite leads them into this status by placing them publicly before the congregation, directing them to an ongoing encounter with the Word, and praying for them and blessing them publicly.
The Presentation of Inquirers and Dialogue with the New Candidates
The Presentation of the Inquirers positions them at the center of congregational activity and focus. Usually done at the entrance to the nave, the inquirers gather with their sponsors and the presiding minister presents them in Welcome to Christ (WC) with these words:
Dear friends, we are gathered at this door today to meet these persons who have been called by God’s Spirit to inquire into the Christian faith and life in this congregation. Together, let us welcome them to this community of faith in Jesus (p. 9).
Then the sponsors present each inquirer by name to the congregation. The presiding minister then dialogues with each candidate:
P: What do you ask of God’s church?
C: To hear God’s Word with you (RCIA: Faith)
P: What do you seek from God’s Word?
(RCIA: What does faith offer you?)
C: Faith and fullness of life (p. 9). (RCIA: Eternal life)
The presiding minister then points them toward baptism in the dialogue referred to in the RCIA as The Candidates’ First Acceptance of the Gospel. In WC, the presiding minister asks if the inquirers will “be faithful in learning the way of Christ?” Questions are then put to the sponsors and catechumens asking if they and the assembly will welcome and support them as they hear the gospel. Through this presentation the inquirers enter into the focused hearing of God’s Word in preparation for baptism and the assembly promises to intensely nurture them in that process.
The Invitation to the Word and Presentation of a Bible
Preceding the signing with the cross in WC and following it in the RCIA, is the invitation to hear the Word of God with the assembly. The RCIA text is: “Come into the church to share with us at the table of God’s Word” (p. 28). In WC it is “Come into the church to hear the Word of God with us” (p. 10). The presentation of a Bible may follow with the following text in WC: “Receive this Bible. Hear God’s Word with us. Learn and tell its stories. Discover its mysteries. Honor its commandments. Rejoice in its good news. May God’s life-giving Word, sweeter than honey, inspire you and make you wise” (p. 12). This invitation to and presentation of the Word of God makes explicit that the living Word of God is at the center of the catechumenate and of the catechumens’ journey toward baptism. They will hear the Word proclaimed in worship and in catechumenal gatherings and read and study the written Word in and outside of the congregation.
The Prayers over and Blessing of the Catechumens
The final aspect of the rite is the prayers over and blessing of the catechumens. In the RCIA following the service of the Word and before the Prayers of the church, this takes the form of intercessions, a concluding prayer over the catechumens, and a blessing dismissal of the catechumens to go and study the Word during the Lord’s Supper. In WC the catechumens are invited to kneel and the presiding minister may lay hands on each candidate’s head or over all of them jointly. The salutation, prayer for the catechumens, blessing of the catechumens, and brief congregational song follow. Prayer and blessing are a feature of every subsequent rite in the catechumenate, both in the worshipping assembly and in catechumenal gatherings. The assembly demonstrates its commitment to nurturing the faith and Word-directed life of the catechumens through its devotion to prayer for them and the Word of God’s blessing in Christ which it speaks to them. Word and prayer surround the catechumens and ritually indicates that these things will surround them throughout their baptismal life.
Go Make Disciples: An Invitation to Baptismal Living, a resource intended to accompany the Welcome to Christ materials, encourages a period of reflection on the Rite of Welcome for the catechumens (p. 95). Possible questions include:
- How did you experience the rite?
- Were you surprised by anything?
- Were you confused by anything?
- Is there anything that you wish could be explained?
Through the Rite of Welcome inquirers have crossed the threshold and become catechumens entering into an “open-ended period of apprenticeship, and formation in worship, prayer, reflection on scripture, and ministries of service and justice to others in need” (p. 94).