The most pastoral thing we can do
catechumens is to “kindly dismiss” them, before the prayer of the faithful begins….
I have a friend, a good friend, who also happens to be a priest. He is dead sent against dismissing the catechumens from the liturgy before the general intercessions. Whenever he presides at a liturgy with catechumens present, he will call them forward for dismissal after the intercessions. He thinks it is more pastoral for them to learn to pray with the worshiping community, particularly in this important prayer of the assembly.
What isn’t clear to my friend and isn’t clear to a lot of parish leaders is the hierarchical role of the various orders in the assembly. In a typical parish on Sunday, there are likely to be present three or four orders: the catechumenate, the faithful, the presbyterate, and sometimes the diaconate. Each of these orders has a distinct part to play in the liturgy. The various parts and their cooperative action are a metaphor for the parts of the Body of Christ. Just as an arm cannot do the work of a leg, those who are in the order of the faithful cannot do the parts assigned to the order of presbyters. Nor can catechumens do the priestly work of the faithful.
To offer the prayer of the faithful is a sacrificial act. Therefore, it is a role for the baptized priesthood. Those in the order of the catechumens do not yet share in this formal intercession for the needs of the church and the world. Likewise, they are not yet empowered to participate in the great sacrifice of praise that we offer in the Eucharist. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, “The meaning of the [Eucharistic] Prayer is that the entire congregation of the faithful should join itself with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of sacrifice” (78).
Note the participation of the order of the faithful in the Eucharistic Prayer is not first of all about participation in Communion. Thus, baptized candidates seeking reception into the Catholic Church—as well as Catholics who may be restricted from sharing in Communion, and indeed any baptized person—are encouraged to participate in the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1271-1273, 1651.)
In the liturgy, the role of the catechumens is to conform their hearts and minds more fully to Christ in preparation for their baptism “which will join them to God’s priestly people and empower them to participle in Christ’s new worship” (RCIA, 75.3). However well intentioned it might seem, it is not a pastoral act to prematurely anticipate that unity. The most pastoral thing we can do for the catechumens is to “kindly dismiss” them, before the prayer of the faithful begins, to do the work of conforming their hearts and minds to Christ. (See RCIA, 118.)