If I said that through baptism, a person is made one with Christ, we would all agree to that.
If I said that a person who is baptized outside of the Catholic Church is made one with Christ, there might be some resistance. We would want to know who baptized the person, how the baptism happened, and if the correct “matter and form” were used. But if we were satisfied that the baptism was “valid” (as are all main-line Protestant baptisms), most of us would agree that an Episcopalian or a Lutheran or Methodist or Presbyterian is one with Christ.
But what if I said that we are not baptized into the Roman Catholic Church? And Episcopalians are not baptized into the Episcopal Church? And so on? All Catholics and mainline Protestants believe and profess the Nicene Creed. In our liturgies, we all say: “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”
When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ. We all share that common baptism, with no distinction. We all believe what is professed in the Nicene Creed.
That does not mean that one denomination is the same as another and that there are not significant differences that continue to divide us. But at the most fundamental level, all Christians share a common faith that unites us. At the level of what is professed in the Nicene Creed, we are one.
Not everyone knows or understands this, of course. But as RCIA teams, we have to know it and teach it. The unity of baptism is a core teaching of our faith. And I think most of us cover the theology of baptism in one or more of our presentations during the formation process.
What we might not be conscious of, however, is how the way we implement the catechumenate process often counteracts what we say. If actions speak louder than words, we might be unintentionally teaching something the church does not intend. Here are a few practices we might reexamine.
How we might be misforming baptized seekers
Placing baptized seekers in a precatechumenate class. The precatechumenate is not a class. It is a time of evangelization. We who are baptized go out to share the good news of Jesus with those who do not know Christ. Baptized seekers are already one with Christ and do not need to be evangelized. Depending on the person, he or she might need “new evangelization” or reconciliation, but these are not the same thing as evangelization of those who have never encountered Christ. If we “evangelize” baptized people, we teach that their baptism was imperfect or invalid.
Celebrating a Rite of Welcome. If baptized seekers are already one with us in Christ, what are we welcoming them to? If we are all already part of the universal church, it seems odd to welcome them to that which they already belong. I think there can be pastoral exceptions to this and that there are rare times when a formal “welcome” might seem appropriate. But in most places, we have made the exception the rule and we put all baptized seekers through a rite of welcome. This seems to confuse what we say we believe about sharing in one baptism.
Placing baptized seekers in the catechumenate. The catechumenate is a time of initiatory catechesis. It is a training in Christian life. During the catechumenate, we teach the unbaptized catechumens how to live in a way that is faithful to what they will eventually profess in the Creed. Baptized seekers already profess the Creed. They might not be living out what they say they believe. But that is also true of many Catholics, some of whom share in communion every Sunday. We do not put those Catholics in the catechumenate, nor should we put other baptized Christians in the catechumenate. We do have to do something with them, but we do not treat them as catechumens.
Dismissing baptized seekers from Mass. There are strong pastoral and theological reasons for dismissing the catechumens from Mass. I can think of none for dismissing baptized seekers. If the baptized seekers leave with the catechumens, we are teaching them that they are more like the catechumens than like the baptized faithful. Our actions say they are not one with us. This is not true. They are one with us in Christ, and they have rights and duties as members of the faithful. Those rights and duties include offering the sacrifice of the Mass. They cannot yet share fully at the Lord’s Table, but this is also true of many Catholics who remain with us for the entire liturgy. Dismissing the baptized seekers from Mass is one more way in which we teach that their baptism was not a full and complete baptism.
Receiving the baptized seekers into full communion at the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil is a celebration of baptism, that is, initiation into Jesus Christ. The baptized seekers should be present at the Easter Vigil, but as members of the faithful, not as pseudo-catechumens. Their reception into full communion should ordinarily take place at a Sunday liturgy, not at the Easter Vigil. Celebrating reception on an ordinary Sunday teaches that they are “ordinary” Christians, just like the rest of us. They are not half-Christians or almost-Christians who somehow become “full” Christians at the Vigil.
What about your process?
What are you doing in your formation process to teach the unity of baptism? How are you making your teaching consistent with your unspoken actions?