In your RCIA process, do your catechumens and baptized candidates know the difference between Eucharist and communion? In 2008, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Center released a pastoral letter in which he ended his diocese’s practice of celebrating communion services in place of weekday or Sunday Mass. His reason for doing so was, partly, because he thought the celebration of communion services caused people to misunderstand the difference between Eucharist and communion.
This is how he described the difference:
It is offering that differentiates Mass from a Communion service, and it is offering that provides the context for full, conscious and active participation. The internal participation of offering, expressed and deepened by external participation (vocal responses, singing, postures, etc.), is the heart of what it means to “celebrate the Eucharist.” Both internal and external participation are necessary, since each one deepens and reinforces the other.
In the popular mind, all too often the purpose of Mass is still seen as an action simply to consecrate hosts; some people think their participation in the Eucharistic Prayer is all about watching the priest and then receiving Holy Communion. They do not understand the need to offer themselves with Christ to the Father in the Spirit during the Prayer, nor do they understand that their parts in the Prayer (Introductory Dialogue, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen) are the outward signs of their participation in the entire Prayer.
Viva la difference
This gets at why I think baptized candidates should remain with the assembly during Mass and not be dismissed with the catechumens. We tend to lump all those who are “becoming Catholic” together into something we call “the RCIA.” When it is time for dismissal, we send out all the “RCIA” folks, making no distinction between baptized and unbaptized. The argument is sometimes made that since the baptized candidates cannot receive communion, it is more hospitable to dismiss them. But that denies their essential difference. We are putting all the emphasis on their reception of communion and neglecting to teach-by-example about their role as full and active participants in the sacrificial, priestly offering.
Sure, they aren’t going to understand the fullness of that role at first. Most Catholics don’t either. But by joining themselves with Christ’s offering, and with proper mystagogical reflection led by us, both the baptized candidates and the catechumens will come to learn about the dignity of baptism in a profound way.