After unbaptized inquirers celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, they are changed. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults says they are consecrated (see RCIA 41).
What do catechumens do?
Consecrate comes from the Latin word consecrare, which means to make sacred (com- + sacrare). To make something sacred means to set it apart for special use or purpose. When the inquirers become catechumens, they become sacred—dedicated to a special purpose. We need to then ask, what are the catechumens consecrated (set apart) to do?
There are many things we can say about the purpose the catechumens now have; at the most basic level, we can start with their title, catechumen. The word catechumen is Greek. It means one who hears or one whose ears ring. In the ancient Middle East, people thought the ear canal was connected to the heart. So if someone heard something truly meaningful, not only would his ears ring, his heart would begin to beat more strongly.
Thus, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, after finally hearing Christ’s words, would say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32).
The purpose of the catechumens, then, is to hear Christ speaking to them in a way that makes their hearts burn.
What do parishes and RCIA teams do?
Now think about what that means for us. Where is the Emmaus road for the catechumens in your parish? Who is walking on that road along side them, talking with them and opening the scripture with them? That would be us, of course. We are the voice of Christ for the catechumens.
The job of the catechumens is to hear God’s word in such a way that their hearts burn; that means our job is to speak God’s word in a way that causes their hearts to burn. How do we do that?
Our post-ritual task list
There are many, many ways that we walk with the catechumens and speak God’s word to them. As a starting place, turn to paragraph 47 of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults to get the big picture on how we do this. The RCIA says:
- We embrace the catechumens as our own with a mother’s love and concern
- We remind the catechumens they are joined to the church and are now part of the household of Christ
- We nourish the catechumens with the word of God
- We sustain the catechumens by means of liturgical celebrations
- We offer the catechumens blessings and other sacramentals
I don’t think, however, these tasks are the primary things we do with catechumens after the Rite of Acceptance. Instead, what often happens after the Rite of Acceptance is that we begin a series of classes with the catechumens. In the best of these classes, the hearts of the catechumens may indeed burn. Too often, however, the “teaching” is directed at the head and not the heart. And even in classes that do cause hearts to burn, the focus on head knowledge still seems primary.
A sacred purpose
What might happen if, instead of sending the catechumens to school, we walked with them on the journey of faith, offering them a mother’s love and concern in the ways listed in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults? Their hearts might then start to truly burn for Christ. And if that happens, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they will run to find others to tell them, “The Lord has risen indeed!” (Lk 24:33). That is the purpose for which they are consecrated.
Share your thoughts
What do you think? Does your RCIA process make the hearts of the catechumens burn with the love of Christ? How do you do you make that happen? What can you do in the future to make it happen even more?
See also these related articles:
- Rite of Acceptance…why your role is crucial. And yours. And yours…
- Does your RCIA process make catechumens’ hearts burn?
- “Destruct” your precatechumenate to prepare RCIA inquirers
“Fireball” by The Wandering Angel | Flickr