Looking again at why RCIA dismissal is important

One article that has received a lot of comments here on TeamRCIA is “Why dismiss the catechumens before Jesus becomes present?” (Scroll down to the end of the article at the link to see all the comments so far!)

Dismissal is such an integral part of the formation of catechumens that the RCIA lists it as one of the four ways we train catechumens for the Christian life. Dismissal is a right and responsibility of those who are catechumens. We should also note that the RCIA never mentions dismissal of those who are baptized. One of our long-time readers from Australia, Max Norden, offered a great comment to Nick’s post above that can help all of us understand better the meaning and importance of dismissal. We reprint his comment here with his permission. And add your own comments below to join in the conversation!

Click for your FREE WORKSHEET: “Who should enter the period of the catechumenate?”

And if you’re wondering where to find all the RCIA number references that Max mentions below, be sure to have your own copy of the official Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It’s the one book you absolutely must have if you’ll be doing RCIA ministry (note: this link is for the United States edition).

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.

Here is a link to a podcast on what happens during the dismissal. The discussion of the dismissal starts at about 11:00.

See also these related articles:
  1. Looking again at why RCIA dismissal is important
  2. Why dismiss the catechumens before Jesus becomes present?
  3. Episode 91: How to do an RCIA dismissal session
  4. Episode 42: RCIA dismissal with children
  5. Four ways the RCIA dismissal teaches faith

Image: Farrel Nobel, unsplash, CC0


  1. Maybe it’s a dynamic of the Florida community my parish is in, but it seems that we usually only get one or two catechumens and at least a half dozen to a dozen candidates in our yearly program. It seemed very strange and uncomfortable to dismiss only the one or two catechumens every Sunday, so a few years ago we started allowing the candidates to be voluntarily dismissed to support and enrich the experience of breaking open The Word for themselives and the catechumens. Is this liturgically incorrect?

  2. Good Day, Wow this sent a nervous shiver up and down my spine. As a 3 year RCIA Neophyte Catholic this process and journey of Dismissal is a very recent memory. Blessed by my fabulous RCIA Teachers, my confidence was built week after week until the first moments of dismissing. This was tough on some occasions. Why do I have to leave? Redundant in asking I knew why from my teachers and that prepared me. We (5) Candidates sometimes awkwardly lined up at the Altar week after week. A Teacher would stand behind us if alone. This Altar thru The Church walk prepared me for the 3 Scrutinies to come. Leaving my Catholic Wife behind at The MASS was tough like nights before our Wedding I was missing my Bride to be. Sometimes I said jokingly I’m going to a Baptist meet and greet for coffee. Of course I stayed and worked on the muscles of Catechesis and Prayer on to Conversion.
    Now at 3 years Confirmed “statistics say” New Catholics often fall away. For me now I’m a 3rd year RCIA Team Volunteer.
    I am Blessed and that’s why I’ve missed only 3 Sunday’s over almost 4 years. May God Bless All Parish RCIA’s Worldwide and Thank You for your Evangelizations.

    Christopher Michael Shields
    Our Lady Comforter of The Afflicted

  3. Hi Michael, you raise a valid point on the reasons we often want to dismiss candidates with catechumens. As RCIA practitioners we have many opportunities to provide catechetical moments for not only our catechumens and candidates, but also for our parishioners. The weekly dismissal of catechumens is such an opportunity. But to make it catechetical foe everyone we in RCIA teams need to understand why the Church sees a difference between catechumens and candidates. Sadly, over many centuries, the Church lost focus on the fact that baptism ordains all of us into the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2: 9). For many centuries the baptised were led to believe that this “royal priesthood” was the preserve of the presbyters. However, at the discussions of Vatican II, the Church again reaffirmed that all the baptised are ordained into a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart with the responsibility to sing the praises of God. Vatican II also reaffirmed that the highest thing we can do as a baptised Christian is to pray the Eucharistic Prayer (again this prayer is not exclusive to the presider). In fact, prior to Vatican II some may remember that the Mass was divided into two parts: (no, not liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist, that description comes out of Vat II) The Mass of Catechumens and Mass of the Eucharist. The catechumens were asked to leave at the end of the Mass of Catechumens, that is, be dismissed and only the baptised could remain for the Mass of the Eucharist.
    So if we dismiss candidates with catechumens we do two things: we deny them their baptismal right to pray the Eucharistic prayer, and we run the risk that the catechetical message we send the candidates and the rest of the parish community is that somehow their baptism is not as good or valid as ours.
    Please don’t confuse the fact that candidates need catechetical instruction to prepare them for their reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church, but the focus and nature of that instruction must recognize that, like you and I, they are already members of the royal priesthood.

  4. I very much appreciate all the comments and clarifications on dismissing only the unbaptized. There’s something which concerned me, though, with how the question for this segment was posed, “Why dismiss the catechumens before Jesus becomes present?”

    Jesus is already present in the gathering of the assembly, and Jesus is present in the proclamation and hearing of the word. I believe we’ve never really been able to regain that sense of multiple presence to which the Second Vatican Council directed our attention. We dismiss catechumens prior to the Profession of Faith, because the catechumens are not yet baptized, so not yet fully part of the faithful. The already baptized candidates ARE part of the faithful, but not yet in full communion. Catechumens are on a journey first to the font. Candidates are on a journey to the table.

  5. Hi Rick. Thanks for your comment. I think your insights are spot on. I posed the question as it is often posed to me, and then I answered it using many of the same points that you did. Blessings on your ministry. Thanks for your dedication.

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