I have a challenge for you and your team—especially if you have been together for a while and have mastered the basics. (If you are a new or reconstituting team, you can find some help with the basics here.)
My challenge is for your and your team to take a next step in your efforts at evangelization. My sense is that many teams think of themselves more as “catechists” than “evangelists.” (Drop a note in the comments box if I’m wrong about that.) I think the emphasis needs to be switched. Ideally, we would be evangelists first and worry about catechesis after we had spent a fair amount of time out in the field doing some harvesting.
Here is what I mean. It is not unusual for me to encounter teams that have been together for five years or more. They are functioning well, and they have a very smooth process. Everything looks very good. And then I start asking some questions.
Who is really in the catechumenate?
After a little bit of conversation, I find out their precatechumenate “starts” in September. Their catechumenate period starts in December—often on the First Sunday of Advent—and ends when the following Lent begins. Almost all of the people who are in the catechumenate are baptized Christians. And almost all of those folks are married to or associated with Catholics. They’ve been coming to Mass for years and were pretty active as children and teens in their original faith tradition. Or they are Catholics who dropped out in high school or college and are now returning and need to be confirmed.
Often times, rites are celebrated with these folks that are meant for catechumens. If I suggest they not celebrate catechumenal rites with baptized people, the response is always, “But then the parish would miss out on these wonderful rituals!” Liturgist Kathleen Hughes supposedly replied to such responses by suggesting that if nobody had died in your parish this year, you might celebrate a funeral liturgy anyway for the benefit of the parish.
What is the purpose of the catechumenate?
Her point, and mine, is this. The catechumenate is about bringing people to faith. If they already have faith, the catechumenate has no purpose for them. If they require deeper faith, or an update in faith, or a course in Catholic faith, or they just need to “catch up” on their sacraments, the catechumenate is not for them. Yes, of course, they need a loving, supportive, faith-based, conversion-centered process to provide them with whatever it is they do need. And if teams want to do that ministry, I think that’s terrific. It is a real need in parishes. But it is not the catechumenate.
In the same way, the catechumenate is not a parish renewal program. Yes, parishes need stimulating, life-giving, participative liturgy. And the rites of the catechumenate can certainly provide that. But the rites are meant to be part of an entire parish process of effective, converting, making-Christ-present liturgy. They cannot renew parish liturgy on their own, and they should not be used that way.
Are you ready for the next step?
So my challenge to is this. Spend some time looking at what your team does, mostly. Are you mostly teaching Catholic doctrine to baptized people? Or are you mostly creating opportunities for evangelization and conversion? Doing the latter is more difficult and will require a next-level of commitment for some people. If you are ready to take that next step, we’ll look at some strategies in future posts.
Read all the posts in this series on evangelization: