When 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.
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