Four ways the RCIA dismissal teaches faith

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAWhen I went to my very first workshop on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, I was a little bored. But when the priest who was droning through a stack of overheads got to the “dismissal,” I perked up. I was raised to believe you didn’t leave Mass early. And if you did, you snuck out during communion when no one would notice.

Now, here was an official rite of the church telling us to send folks out in the middle of Mass. I knew right away that was going to cause a fuss. Of course, I thought causing a fuss was a good thing. Anytime you can get people’s attention, you have a teachable moment. Unfortunately, the way the dismissal is sometimes implemented, it isn’t always teaching what the rite intends.


The catechumens are in a different order

The first thing the dismissal teaches us is that the catechumens are not yet members of the faithful. They are in the Order of Catechumens. In the liturgy, different orders have different roles. This isn’t just for the sake of efficiency. Our different roles in the Mass symbolize the different roles we have in the world. Each of us has a role, a part to play, in Jesus’ mission. When the catechumens leave the liturgy before the prayers of the faithful, they remind us who we are—members of the royal priesthood.

The baptized candidates are in the same order

A baptized person is in the church, in the Body of Christ. Through baptism, we are made one with Christ. It doesn’t matter if the baptized person doesn’t know that or doesn’t believe it. It’s a done deal. It can never be changed.

During the liturgy, the place of the baptized is in the liturgy. Baptized candidates should never be dismissed. To dismiss them is to teach they they are not yet part of the Body and that their baptism is somehow “less” than that of the rest of us. In the RCIA itself, there is no option for the dismissal of baptized candidates until the final dismissal at the end of Mass.

Dismissal is not catechesis

Some folks are fond of referring to the gathering after the catechumens are dismissed as “dismissal catechesis.” This is unfortunate. The rite says that what happens during this time is that catechumens “share their joy and spiritual experiences.” I think doing a little breaking open of the scriptures is fine, but it is not a time to “explain” the gospel or the other readings. The catechumens should be doing most of the talking.

Dismissal is required

The rite is very serious about the dismissal. It is only for “serious reasons” that you would be allowed to skip it (see RCIA 67 C.) And if you do skip it, that should be a one-time thing, not a regular occurrence.

When the dismissal is done well and done consistently, it does indeed teach. It teaches us about the different orders of ministry, the power of baptism to change us, the joyfulness of our encounter with Christ, and how crucial all this is in forming Christians for life.

What is your experience?

Has the dismissal of the catechumens been a teachable moment in your parish? Please share your story, and let us know how it works for you.


“Different Idea” by renjith krishnan |

See also these related articles:

  1. Honoring the Baptized
  2. How to lead a 30-minute dismissal session
  3. Is my pastor right about dismissal?
  4. Eucharist and communion—what’s the difference?
  5. Five things your RCIA team may not know about the dismissal

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  1. Our parish is part of a regional RCIA process with 4 other parishes. During this session, there is a separate session for children with their own instructors. Our parish, due to the very small numbers of children, does not have our own instructor for them. Is it also mandatory that unbaptized children withing the process are to be dismissed even though there may not be an age-appropriate instructor available?

    thank you.

  2. Thanks, for this concise reminder of the meaning of the dismissal and related issues. Too often, we see parishes dismissing everyone in the RCIA (not distinguishing baptized from unbaptized) because it’s “convenient”, or not dismissing any of them for the sake of “hospitality”. When we don’t honor our rituals and symbols, they loose their meaning.

  3. You have opened up a serious challenge for me in this article. Many years in our parish we have only one person for Baptism. If the catechumen is to be dismissed alone who will s/he share the readings with besides the catechist who leads the dismissal session? We have always dismissed candidates along with the catechemen(s).

  4. Our sole catechumen this year was very sincere and enthusiastic about completing the process and receiving the Sacraments of Initiation at the Vigil.
    On his own he attended daily Mass throughout the Lenten Season, even though he had not received any of the Sacraments.
    I fail to see the benefit of a purely symbolic ritual that required him to be dismissed following each of the Scrutinies. What followed was not a big secret to be withheld from him nor instructional for the remaining Assembly.
    I cannot imagine informing this young man that he was not welcome to attend Mass until he had completed his formation and received Baptism.

  5. I agree with Steve on this one. Often times, those in the catechumenate have been coming to mass for months if not years already – and many understand what is happening at mass as much if not moreso than some of the “cradle Catholics” that are present. The idea of dismissing them now that they have shown an interest in becoming fully initiated Catholics through baptism seems an antiquated practice that serves very little practical purpouse (other than providing a “hoop” for those to baptized to jump through).

  6. This past year, we received into the Church 4 catechumens:
    -a mother and two teenage sons from one family. Though unbaptized, they considered themselves Catholic, having attended Mass with their father/husband for years.
    -an unbaptized, uncatechized man.
    Right or wrong, we only offer a dismissal at one Mass, which the family couldn’t attend. The father (the Catholic one in the family) worked on Sunday and so only the 7:30 AM Mass worked in the family schedule. I choose to have them go to Mass as a family vs. be at the Mass with the dismissal.

    For the other fellow, however, the dismissal worked very well. He was faithful in attendance and an eager learner. Our dismissal is Scripture & catechetical focused, however, fitting as I understand it the intent described in the dismissal script (#67, B) “to reflect more deeply on the Word of God.”

    However, most of the parish doesn’t understand the difference between catechumen and candidate. When one highly engaged, devout, and educated parishioner asked me what the difference was, I knew we had a long way to go.

    Perhaps the problem is too few people understand or recognized the value of Baptism. Maybe because the Sacrament hasn’t been fruitfully received?

  7. One way I have dealt with children catechumens being dismissed is to enlist the help of junior high or high school aged students to lead dismissal for the children while the adults are meeting. Our set up allows both groups to meet in the same place, 2 rooms that share the same door but separate space. After some training, these older students can usually do a better job talking to kids more on their level and get a second opportunity to reflect on the readings themselves. Friends on the Way has a dismissal session included in its weekly lesson packet.

  8. I have been involved in RCIA these last two years, the director of our RCIA doesn’t believe in dismissing the catechumenate.

    While I respect that some of them may already be going to Mass, and some may have been going for years because their spouse and/or children are baptized Catholics, I don’t see why there should be a big stink about dismissing them – especially if we are dismissing them to a meeting room where we are encouraging them to think about what they’ve just witnessed, how they can take it out into the world, etc.

    Personally I am having a hard time discerning if I want to stay involved with RCIA next year, and am so distraught with the experience I had this year that I am thinking about joining another local parish. Please pray for me and my fiance, Derrick. (He was in the RCIA program this year but was told not to come back because [I] lead him to the Catholic faith.)

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