How do you know if the inquirers or catechumens “know enough”? When are they ready to move to the next stage?
Discerning readiness is often a subjective art. Discernment in terms of faith is not a completely rational process in the way that decision-making is often simply weighing the pros and cons and choosing the most beneficial option. Discernment is more of a listening and careful observance of the movement of the Spirit and God acting in a person’s life. It is also a group activity and is not meant to be done alone. (Click here to read more about the process of discernment and the four points that assist in discernment.)
The process of becoming initiated into the Church is often measured by one’s depth of conversion to Christ. Rather than counting how many sessions a person has attended or how many hours he or she may have spent participating in parish activities or how many things they know—although these are important—discerning readiness primarily involves looking for the outward signs of internal conversion. When a person’s mind and heart turn more readily to Christ, we can see it in the visible actions and attitudes of that person.
In discerning their own readiness, the inquirer or catechumen tries to pay attention to these changes happening in their life. They are assisted, supported, and called to honest discernment in this process by the catechumenate team, their sponsor, the parish members and staff, the pastor and other clergy, and even the diocesan bishop.
Though it may seem more pastoral to “err on the side of the Spirit,” we also need to remember that the Spirit is one of truth. Discernment moves a person and a community to a deeper sense of the truth”in one’s identity, in a parish’s mission, in the obstacles that prevent us from being who God intends us to be. When discernment is done with openness and trust in this Spirit of truth, we will surely be more pastoral, for we will help both the inquirer or catechumen and the parish community deepen its commitment to discipleship. As many have often found, expediency on our part doesn’t always lead to strengthened commitment to Christ.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults gives some very clear criteria for readiness at each period. Here are the main things to look for in the inquirer or catechumen to discern their readiness to take the next step.
When a person’s mind and heart turn more readily to Christ, we can see it in the visible actions and attitudes of that person.
For inquirers discerning becoming catechumens
“The prerequisite for making this first step is that the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidates. Thus there must be:
- evidence of the first faith that was conceived during the period of evangelization and precatechumenate
- and of an initial conversion
- and intention to change their lives
- and to enter into a relationship with God in Christ.
Consequently, there must also be:
- evidence of the first stirrings of repentance,
- a start to the practice of calling upon God in prayer,
- a sense of the Church,
- and some experience of the company and spirit of Christian through contact with a priest or with members of the community.
- The candidate should also be instructed about the celebration of the liturgical rite of acceptance.”
“Before the rite is celebrated, therefore, sufficient and necessary time, as required in each case, should be set aside:
- to evaluate and, if necessary,
- to purify the candidates’ motives and dispositions.”
[Before the rite of acceptance is celebrated] “with the help of
- the sponsors,
- catechists, and
- parish priests (pastors)
have the responsibility for judging the outward indications of such dispositions [of the candidates].”
For catechumens discerning becoming elect
“Before the rite of election is celebrated, the catechumens are expected:
- to have undergone a conversion in mind and in action and
- to have developed a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching
- as well as a spirit of faith and charity.
With deliberate will and an enlightened faith they must:
- have the intention to receive the sacraments of the Church,
- a resolve they will express publicly in the actual celebration of the rite.”
[The Bishop says to the godparents:] “God’s holy Church wishes to know whether these candidates are sufficiently prepared to be enrolled among the elect for the coming celebration of Easter. And so I speak first of all to you their godparents.
- Have they faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the Church?
- Have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence?
- Have they shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer?
[The Bishop says to the catechumens:] “Since you have already heard the call of Christ, you must now express your response to that call clearly and in the presence of the whole Church. Therefore,
- do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church
- through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the eucharist?”
“Before the rite of election the
- and the entire community,
in accord with their respective responsibilities and in their own way, should, after considering the matter carefully, arrive at a judgment about the catechumens’ state of formation and progress.”
“[T]o exclude any semblance of mere formality from the rite, there should be a deliberation prior to [the Rite of Election’s] celebration to decide on the catechumens’ suitableness. This deliberation is carried out by the
- deacons, and
- catechists involved in the formation of the catechumens, and
- by the godparents and
- representatives of the local community.
- If circumstances suggest, the group of catechumens may also take part.”