Why dismiss the catechumens before Jesus becomes present?

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAAt a recent TeamRCIA Institute, a participant was flummoxed about the dismissal of the catechumens after the homily. Why, he wanted to know, would we dismiss people who are learning about Jesus before Jesus is made present in the Mass (at the moment of consecration)?

The real presence(s) of Christ

It’s a head-scratcher. Throughout most of history, we have focused on Christ’s presence in the eucharist as something that happens at the specific moment the bread and wine are consecrated. However, the Second Vatican Council recovered for the church a deeper tradition. The Council said that Christ is also present in several other ways in the liturgy:

  1. [Christ] is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross” [Council of Trent],
  2. but especially under the Eucharistic species. By his power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes [St. Augustine].
  3. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.
  4. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” [Matt. 18:20]. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 7)

Free report: Is It Really Possible to Involve the Whole Parish in the RCIA?

The recognition of the multiple ways in which Christ is present does not diminish the real presence in the consecrated bread and wine. Likewise, to say that Christ is really present in the eucharistic elements does not deny Christ’s presence in other ways in the liturgy. Pope Paul VI wrote:

This presence is called “real” not to exclude the idea that the others are “real” too, but rather to indicate presence par excellence, because it is substantial and through it Christ becomes present whole and entire, God and man. (On the Holy Eucharist, 39)

Catechumens need to know why Christ is present

In fact, by recognizing all the ways in which Christ is present in the Mass, we deepen our understanding of the meaning of real presence. Recognizing the multiple modes of Christ’s presence helps us to better understand why Christ is present.

I think of the miracle of the eucharist as similar to the miracles of the gospels. Often, when Jesus performed a miracle, the nonbelievers focused on the wrong questions. They wanted to know things like did Jesus have the authority to do this, did he really do it, and how did he do it.

For Jesus and for the true disciples, the right question is why did he do it? So our question, and the question we have to teach the catechumens to ask, is why is Jesus present to us in a real way in the liturgy?

The mission of the church

The primary reason Christ becomes present in the liturgy is to gather all of us together, in Christ’s name, to accomplish “this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 7).

This is the mission of the church — to glorify God and restore all creation to holiness. Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

“Worship” itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. (On Christian Love, 14)

Know what we are saying “Amen” to

Dismissing the catechumens before we celebrate the second half of the Mass is not denying them Christ’s presence. It is preparing them for the ultimate purpose of Christ’s presence. At the Easter Vigil, when, for the first time, they eat Christ’s Body and drink Christ’s Blood, the catechumnes-now-neophytes will be laying their lives on the line for the sake of loving others—even the unlovable. That takes deep commitment and mature faith. Our job as catechists is to make sure they know what they are saying “Amen” to when they enter fully into the eucharistic banquet.

Your thoughts?

What is your experience of dismissing the catechumens from Mass? How are you preparing them to participate in the eucharistic banquet?

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIACheck out this webinar recording: “Find out if your RCIA catechesis is ‘suitable’ for catechumens” Click here for more information.

See also these related articles:
  1. How to teach catechumens the meaning of liturgy
  2. Why dismiss the catechumens before Jesus becomes present?

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  1. At All Saints, Dallas, Texas, all baptized and unbaptized are dismissed after the homily because we have very few unbaptized candidatates. The thinking is when theiy are dismissed the group goes over scripture readings and the the priest’s or deacon’s homily. My idea is to have them leave after the Prayers of the faithful except for the unbaptized who leave after the homily. This way the baptized would hear the Nicene Creed and Prayers of the Faithful. Futher All Saints has a year round Inquirey program and depending where the person is spiritually, the person can make the profession of faith prior or after the Easter Vigil. The formal Catechism begins in September to Easter Vigil with Mystagogia following until Pentecost Sunday.

  2. Hi Jim. I know a lot of parishes dismiss the baptized candidates, but there really is no provision in the rite for that. In fact, I think it mis-catechizes the candidates about the dignity of their baptism and their role in the baptized priesthood. These two articles describe why that’s true:



  3. Peace
    Letting stay the whole Mass is more welcoming and blessings for the catechumens. It is easier for them to asks questions and for us to answer them fully to the whole mystery they are encountering which is the plan of God for all of us. For me the element of belonging is immediately initiated
    God bless

  4. Our RCIA Team has including the Candidates in our dismissal catechesis using RCL Benzinger FOUNDATIONS OF FAITH. It is implied in their instructions that all on the Journey are dismissed.
    But we have found other materials that say only the Candidates should be dismissed because the Baptized are already members of the Church of Christ.

    Most of our seekers are baptized in other faiths or baptized Catholics who have never been catechised or completed their initiation sacraments. If we were to exclude them from dismissal we would end up with one-on-one reflections on the gospel which can be difficult. The candidates enjoy and benefit from the discussion on the readings, hearing others thoughts and ideas still insights in them.

    Please share your thoughts Dismissal Catechesis.

  5. Hi Robin. I’m not sure where the phrase “dismissal catechesis” originated. I know a lot of people talk about it, but the RCIA does not mention it. What happens after the dismissal of the catechumens is that they “share their joy and spiritual experiences” (see RCIA 67). Some people do breaking open the word after dismissal, which is fine if it stays focused on sharing joy and spiritual experiences. But the dismissal is not an occasion for catechesis.

    I have done dismissal with just one catechumen before. We don’t necessarily reflect on the gospel, though we might. Mostly it’s a conversation over coffee about what they experienced in the liturgy.

    The baptized candidates are never dismissed from Mass. I know some people say they should be, but again, that provision cannot be found in the RCIA. It rite presumes the baptized candidates are dismissed with the rest of the faithful after the final blessing. This article describes the reasons we dismiss the catechumens and not the baptized candidates: http://teamrcia.com/2011/10/a-powerful-conversion-process-for-baptized-candidates-in-the-rcia/

  6. We do not dismiss our RCIA candidates or catechumens. The early historical reasons for doing so are no longer present, we can instruct all year on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, many of our RCIA people have been coming to Church with their spouses who are Catholic and their children, and have been and we want them to continue to worship as a family. Taking “out” the spouse at a particular time in the liturgy is not practical. The issue of a ride home, being picked up after the RCIA sessions, etc. all presents problems for the family. Our candidates and catechumens come forward at communion time and receive a blessing from the priest. At the end of Mass, they and the team all process out together, behind the altar servers, with the Presider following behind us. We also have a small team, and as we have our RCIA on Sunday following Mass, no one on the team needs to attend two Masses on any given weekend. It works!

  7. Hi Sr. Kathleen. The reason for dismissing the catechumens is not historical, it is pastoral. The catechumens perform a prophetic ministry for the church through their dismissal. The dismissal catechizes both the catechumens and the assembly about the nature of baptism. This article describes what I mean in more detail: http://teamrcia.com/2011/08/time-to-recover-the-prophetic-power-of-the-rcia-dismissal/

    As I mentioned in my reply to Bob, if a catechumen is already a believer and already living a Christian life, we might make an exception for that person. Ordinarily, however, catechumens would only remain in the eucharistic assembly “for serious reasons” (see RCIA 67C).

  8. Our joint parishes do not dismiss anymore because we realized that so many of our Candidates have been part of our faith community for years prior to joining RCIA and they are already believers who just had not walked through the formal process yet. To suddenly ask them to leave the assembly they have already been part of just didn’t seem like the appropriate pastoral approach.

  9. Hi Bob. Baptized candidates are never dismissed from the eucharistic assembly. As you point out, they are already believers. Even for uncatechized candidates who are not living their faith, they are already part of the baptized priesthood through their baptism, and so it would be inappropriate to dismiss them. Only catechumnes are dismissed. Occasionally, we come across a catechumen who is already a believer and already a living their faith–perhaps because they are married to a Catholic and have been coming to Mass for years. To me, that catechumen would be an exception to the rule, and I would not necessarily dismiss him either.

  10. With 50% of Neophytes disappearing from Mass within 1 year after the Easter Vigil, we need to re-examine dismissal. 1) Catechumens feel rejected when told to leave Mass – NO MATTER how much you try to rationalize it. 2) We are communicating a bad subliminal message: by merely “breaking open” scripture, we communicate that after the Vigil, if there are stresses on Sun am, then by AGAIN “breaking open” Scripture, then they can effectively “worship.” After all, this is what we have held for the last 6-9 months. In all situations, actions teach much more than mere words.
    We have always taught Catholics that graces are available by attending Mass, even if they are for some reason are unable to receive Eucharist. We should ‘t deprive our catechumens of the graces that flow from attending the whole Mass – which is the “source and summit of our faith.”

  11. Hi Deacon Frank. I hear that 50% number a lot, but I never find any actual documentation for it. In fact, parishes that do a full catechumenate (not just 6-9 months) with true discernment of conversion report a much higher retention rate. These parishes are also doing weekly dismissal of the catechumens. As I tried to point out in my article, the catechumens do not receive less grace than the rest of us. Christ is present to them in the word, the minister, and the gathered assembly.

  12. We always dismiss after the Rites are performed however, I often wonder why we do this when at all the other Masses they attend they are allowed to stay. For instance school masses during the week, regular Sunday masses, weddings, funerals, etc. It seems that it is only for show when they leave at the Masses celebrating the Rites. I know it is often to break open the Word which we do every week for the preceding Sunday readings.

  13. Being only a bump bigger than a mission parish we rarely have a catechumen but mostly candidates and thus do not have the personnel needed to go thru all the work of having the catechumen dismissed. It just doesn’t make sense at this point. We are not there yet. Fr Bob

  14. Hi Fr. Bob. We’re all on the journey. The rite allows for catechumens to remain in the liturgy “for serious reasons” (see RCIA 67C). It seems to me your situation qualifies as a serious reason. Thanks for your commitment to this ministry.

  15. Thank you for this Post, one of our catechumens does not want to be dismiss. Do I need to tell her its a requirement or is it.

  16. This is just the kind of formation our RCIA ministers need. Many faithful, wonderful people volunteer as RCIA ministers, but have never really appropriated the riches of the ancient, original faith or its revivification with the documents of Vatican II. I will be making sure my team members have read this one!

  17. Hi Mel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you found the post helpful. I hope your team members do also.

  18. While I understand the value of dismissing the candidates if there is a gathering at this time, we are two small parishes in Iowa and gather with our RCIA process every Thursday evening. We encourage that EVERYONE is invited and WELCOME at our Sunday Mass. I am certainly NOT comfortable telling them to leave.

    We do not want them to come forward to receive the Eucharist at Communion but why not be present for the Mass with the Parish Faithful and grow in their faith as they anticipate that day that they will be able to join with us also at the Table of Eucharist on Holy Saturday.

    I have many who feel the greatest issues they have with the Catholic Church is that we are not open and Welcome to outsiders. This is one example where we can be and yet still stand with our faith that they will be able to celebrate completely on Holy Saturday after they have completed the RCIA Process and grown in the faith, love and grace of God for that special day.

  19. Hi Deacon Jim. I agree with you about not telling the catechumens to leave. I wouldn’t do that either. But that’s not the same thing as a liturgical dismissal. When the group of catechumens are ritually dismissed, the group “does not disperse. With the help of some of the faithful, the catechumens remain together to share their joy and spiritual experiences” (RCIA 67).

    If the catechumens understand that they have a role to perform as members of the Body of Christ, and part of that role includes the ritual dismissal, they won’t feel offended or unwelcome. This article describes more about that: http://teamrcia.com/2011/02/five-things-your-rcia-team-may-not-know-about-the-dismissal/

  20. I understand the rubrics of the Rite and our parish dismisses catechumens after the homily. Personally, I agree with the sentiments of those who believe that the Word can be broken open at any time (following Mass would be ideal). I think the sense of inclusion is important enough to rethink the idea of dismissal. Having the catechumens come forward and receive a blessing at communion and receiving the blessing at the end of Mass is a powerful message and act of grace and love. Perhaps this is one of those areas where Pope Francis will see fit to have the process reexamined by some appropriate ecclesial body and change the rite accordingly. Until then, we will continue to dismiss, but my heart will yearn for our catechumenate brothers and sisters to be able to participate actively and fully in all of the Holy Mass as appropriate to their status (blessings Vs communion),

  21. Hi John. Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate your efforts to follow the rubrics and teaching of the church even though you would prefer a different practice. It seems to me that as catechists, we have to be as faithful as possible to the structures the church gives us.

    Having said that, I don’t share your hope that Pope Francis might lessen the emphasis on the dismissal. I think when the dismissal is done well, it is a very important component in the formation of the catechumens. I think Max’s comment below says it better than I could. See especially his paragraph that starts: “The dismissal reinforces and honours the dignity of baptism.”

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for your dedication to this ministry.

  22. Greetings and blessings to all participating in this energetic discussion on dismissal from Max in Australia.

    This is the discussion on RCIA #67 and the subsequent critical analysis and reflection on what is actually being said and asked for by the Church in #67 that is desperately needed within the RCIA community worldwide.

    My observation of some responses is that we still need to become fully familiar with the Rite and the rubrics within the rite. In many cases it is the rubrics within various clauses that give us the Church’s intention for that action. RCIA #67 is one such case.

    To understand the concepts and requirements of dismissal of catechumens requires us to discuss and appreciate the role and responsibilities of the baptized in the liturgy versus the role and responsibilities of catechumens in the liturgy. It also requires us to look at, discuss and reflect on the other RCIA clauses that relate to and/or support #67.

    Once we understand these concepts we will appreciate “the catechumens are now part of the household of Christ, since the Church nourishes them with the word of God and sustains them by means of liturgical celebrations” (RCIA #47).

    The dismissal reinforces and honours the dignity of baptism. It teaches the community that there is a difference between the unbaptised and baptised and that there is a different role and function for each with the baptised having a specific role in the liturgy of the Eucharist that is not yet available to the unbaptised catechumens.

    Dismissal is also important because it has a critical role in preparing catechumens, over time, for their eventual role and responsibilities in the order of the faithful. RCIA #75.3 and #82.4 spell out this concept: “at Mass they may also take part with the faithful in the liturgy of the Word, thus better preparing themselves for their eventual participation in the liturgy of the Eucharist. Ordinarily, however, when they are present in the assembly of the faithful they should be kindly dismissed before the liturgy of the Eucharist begins . . . for they must await their baptism . . . to participate in Christ’s new worship.” (RCIA #75.3) And again: “celebrations of the word of God arranged for the benefit of the catechumens have as their main purpose: . . . to prepare them gradually to enter the worship assembly of the entire community” (RCIA #82.4). RCIA # 83.2 is also specific on the matter of dismissal: “After the liturgy of the Word they should, if possible, be dismissed, but an intention for them is included in the general intercessions”.

    Therefore, from these passages in the Rite, we can see that mother Church does not see dismissal as something optional, light-weight, or something that might be done just during lent, or just on the scrutiny Sundays, but rather, once becoming a member of the order of catechumens through the Rite of Acceptance, it is expected that catechumens will be dismissed each time that they are at Mass as an essential part of their preparation for entry into the order of the faithful.

    The rubrics within RCIA #67 tells us what should happen with the dismissal: “After the dismissal formulary, the group of catechumens goes out but does not disperse. With the help of some of the faithful, the catechumens remain together to share their joy and spiritual experiences”. This instruction from the Rite is very simple but very clear: does not disperse (remains as a body of catechumens) . . . help of some of the faithful (dismissal leader) . . . share their joy and spiritual experiences of what has just happened during the liturgy of the Word.

    However, I can also hear you now saying “but what about catechesis?”

    The Rite tells us clearly that catechesis is needed: “A suitable catechesis is provided by . . . planned to be gradual and complete in its coverage” (RCIA #75.1) However reflecting on RCIA # 7.2, 47, 67, 75, 82 and 83 we can see that the Rite sees dismissal and catechesis as two separate actions with different people involved: Dismissal – “Some of the faithful” (#67.A) and Catechesis – “whole community (priests, deacons, catechists and faithful)” (#75.1). It is clear from the Rite and its rubrics that we should not be confusing and mixing what takes place in a dismissal session with what happens in a catechetical session.

    The next discussion point is “what to do and talk about in a dismissal session along with who leads it”. This is beyond this current forum discussion, but I do refer you to one of Nick and Diana’s webinars – October 2013 – “What every RCIA team needs to know about dismissal” for the answers. I’m sure Nick also has links to some of his other posts as well.

  23. Hi Max. Thanks so much for your detailed and thoughtful reply. I agree that it is always helpful to go back to the rite and look at what it actually says. Your analysis is very helpful.

    Here is a link to a podcast we did on what happens during the dismissal. The discussion of the dismissal starts at about 11:00. http://teamrcia.com/2014/09/episode-91-how-to-do-an-rcia-dismissal-session-2/

    And here is a link to the store page for the webinar you mentioned, “What every RCIA team needs to know about the dismissal” http://teamrcia.com/catalog/08-036ndrec/

  24. I am brand-new to overseeing RCIA at our parish. One of the first things I did was attend one of your seminars at our diocese. When I asked the team why we dismissed both groups when it wasn’t called for in the Rites, they looked at me and said its just the way we do it here.

  25. Hi. Thanks for being bold enough to raise the question. I hope you will keep raising it. Sometimes it takes a while for teams to change.

  26. Culture comes into play on this matter. From my experience in my culture most catechumens have been coming to Mass long before they decide to enter the Catechumenate. The same is true of the Candidates. In those cases I believe it is awkward, to say the least, to all of a sudden dismiss someone after the homily, someone who for years has been sitting there through the whole Mass. Remember the dismissal in the Early Church was done because there was a strict control: only the baptized were allowed to be present for the Consecration (thus the names of the two parts of the Mass were The Mass of the Catechumens and the The Mass of the Faithful). As for the Candidates they are Christians already, so it does not make sense to dismiss them either.

  27. Hi Ramón-Luis. Thanks for your comment pointing out the need to pay attention to culture. Blessings on all your work.

  28. Hi Nick, Thank you for this discussion on a contentious issue in the RCIA.
    Thank you especially to Max Norden for his excellent analysis and thoughtful insights!
    I intend sending this piece to the RCIA Coordinators in Melbourne. I feel sure it would be very helpful.
    As Parish Liaison – RCIA for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, I have had to explain the importance of dismissal many times to Coordinators and Teams. I quite often couldn’t convince them. However, Max’s article, so brilliantly outlined will be my ‘go to’ explanation in the future!
    Thank you again, Nick, Max and all the contributors, it has been time well spent reading your thoughts and comments.

  29. Joy
    Thanks for your comments on dismissals. I hope we get an opportunity to meet at the Christian Initiation Australia Network (CIAN) conference in Perth later this year. For US, UK and Canadian readers, if you have the time and resources, you’re welcome to come to the conference and enjoy the Australian hospitality and great weather (it’ll be late spring here in October). Full details are here: http://www.cianetwork.net/

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