In the year 756, Justus and Johanna brought their newborn son, Primus, to the cathedral in Avignon, France, to present him for baptism. The acolyte wrote down the name of their son and directed the young family to stand on the right side of the church, along with all the other parents of infant boys. The families with infant girls stood to the left. When all were in place, the presbyter prayed over the children while the acolyte imposed his hand over them.
At the conclusion of the prayer, four deacons, each carrying a large book containing one of the gospels, processed in. They were preceded by two candles and incense. The deacons placed the gospel books on the four corners of the altar. The first deacon then read the opening verses of Matthew’s gospel. The presbyter followed with an explanation of Matthew’s symbol—a human being. The second deacon read the opening lines of Mark’s gospel. The presbyter then explained the lion symbol associated with Mark. And so on through Luke’s gospel (the ox) and John’s gospel (the eagle).
Next came the presentation of the Creed and the the presentation of the Lord’s Prayer. (See The Hallelujah Highway by Paul Turner, pages 96-97.)
A simplified rite for the RCIA
That was the ritual the framers of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) drew upon when they inserted the “Presentation of a Bible” into the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. Obviously, such an elaborate ritual could not be easily incorporated into an already complex rite such as the Acceptance. So they simplified it and made it optional.
When we turn to the Rite of Welcoming the Candidates, we find a close parallel to Presentation of the Bible from the Rite of Acceptance. As with everything in this rite, we have to ask about its appropriateness for baptized people.
What did baptism accomplish?
Through their baptism, the candidates have already been incorporated into the Word Made Flesh. Would those who are already one with the word need an additional presentation of the word? If we are dealing with truly uncatechized candidates, we could perhaps argue that they have not really ever heard the word. Then, the presentation might serve as a kind of ephphetha so that their ears will now be opened. But if that’s the case, wouldn’t the presentation be better placed before the Liturgy of the Word or even before the Rite of Welcoming itself is celebrated?
With the Presentation of the Bible, the Rite of Welcoming seems more intent on paralleling the Rite of Acceptance than it does on following the overall vision the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults sets out for baptized candidates:
The prayers and ritual gestures acknowledge that such candidates are already part of the community because they have been marked by baptism. (412; emphasis added. In Canada, see nos. 457 and 465.)
What do you think?
When we want to acknowledge that the candidates are already part of the community, what would be a more appropriate way of ritualizing the already-accomplished reality of their incorporation into the Word Made Flesh? How would we do that in a way that clearly distinguishes them from the unbaptized?