In the last few posts, we have been exploring running as a metaphor for living the Christian life. We have been looking at the three levels of training that are necessary to “run” as a Christian:
The General Directory for Catechesis identifies these levels as:
- Primary or first proclamation and catechesis (evangelization)
- Catechesis at the service of Christian initiation (initiatory catechesis)
- Catechesis at the service of ongoing formation in the faith (lifelong catechesis)
In this post, we’re going to take a quick look at the final level of training, lifelong catechesis.
When does RCIA catechesis end?
All three of these levels overlap, and in the real world, some activities in one level might take place in another level. They are not watertight categories. However, the GDC divides them out this way to give a sense of the progression of catechesis. We should treat beginners as beginners and veterans as veterans.
So strictly speaking, lifelong catechesis is not part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The elements of lifelong catechesis are meant to take place after initiation. To use the running metaphor, it is only after someone has started a lifestyle of running that we begin to explore things like the history of racing, the metabolic changes in physiology, the details of organizing a marathon to raise funds for a cause, and the fine tuning of moving from an average runner to an excellent one.
So what does lifelong catechesis look like? The GDC lists six examples, which are not meant to be a complete list.
The catechumenate is all about Scripture study, but only in a very basic sense. The catechumens reflect on and live out the Scripture they hear proclaimed at Mass. As part of their postbaptismal catechesis, they will be expected to study Scripture “read not only in the Church” but also study in a way that will help them discover divine truth. In this kind of Scripture study, the word of God found in Scripture is deeply integrated with the word of God found in the Tradition or teaching of the church. (See GDC 71.)
Catechumens are expected to live out the social implications of the gospel even before they are baptized (see RCIA 75.4). Once they are baptized, they will be expected to acquire a more systematic understanding of the social teaching of the church. This in-depth knowledge is not for the sake of knowledge only. It is so the faithful can read the signs of the times and be able to interpret them through a Christian lens. The GDC says: “In this respect the study of the social teaching of the Church is indispensable, since ‘its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching’” (71).
This seems a little odd, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you expect that the catechumens would experience liturgical catechesis before the liturgy of their initiation? Well, remember, these are not watertight categories. So sure, they might get some preliminary liturgical catechesis. But look closely at what the GDC says: Liturgical catechesis “explains the contents of the prayers, the meaning of the signs and gestures, educates to active participation, contemplation, and silence” (71). An in-depth, systematic teaching on these elements of liturgy is going to be much more effective with folks who actually know how to worship and do so regularly. Liturgical catechesis is primarily, though not exclusively, a postbaptismal event.
This is another example of lifelong catechesis that might slip into the initiatory catechesis of the RCIA. The GDC says: Occasional catechesis “seeks to interpret determined circumstances of personal, family, ecclesial, or social life and to help live them in the prospect of faith.” The emphasis here is on interpretation. A catechumen is primarily focused on learning how to live the gospel in all of these “occasions” of their life. A baptized Christian is continuing to live the gospel life and also engaging in a lifelong study of how to interpret that life in harmony with the teaching of Jesus and, by extension, the teaching of the church.
The catechumens are all about spiritual formation, especially once they become elect (see RCIA 139). Postbaptismal spiritual formations is deeper. Postbaptismal spiritual formation “seeks to reinforce conviction, open new perspectives, and encourage perseverance in prayer and in the duties of following Christ” (71).
Unfortunately, this is often the starting point for many RCIA processes, even in the evangelization stage. While some theological instruction might take place in the earlier stages of catechesis, “comprehensive formation includes more than instruction.” The focus of the RCIA is on initiatory catechesis, which is “an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life” (GDC 67). After RCIA, after baptism, catechesis begins to focus much more heavily on “a systematic deepening of the Christian message by means of theological instruction, so as truly to educate in the faith” (71).
To return to the running metaphor, we have to think of ourselves as excellent coaches. Every runner is going to need a different training regimen. For some runners, even brand new ones, some level of technical instruction and study might be helpful. But that is not the primary goal and it is not helpful for all trainees all the time. The primary goal is to get them running. The in-depth study follows once they’ve done a few laps.
Share your thoughts
What do you think? How do you blend the various levels of catechesis in your process? What are some of your successes? What are some of your challenges?