Earlier in this series on the rites of the catechumenate process, we discussed liminality. To live in a liminal state is the live betwixt and between, neither here nor there. The Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens is the first and clearest rite that puts seekers into a liminal life.
There are two powerful ways in which the Rite of Acceptance accomplishes this. The first is by signing the seekers with the cross. And the second is by bringing them across the threshold.
Are the seekers ready and willing to say yes?
One of the most effective rituals in the Rite of Acceptance is the signing of the body. The signing is a direct response to the affirmation of the seekers to follow the gospel. At the beginning of the rite, the presider asks the seekers why they have come and what they are seeking. The period of evangelization and precatechumenate has prepared them to “answer in their own words” (RCIA 50). (The responses given in the ritual text—“Faith” and “Eternal life”—are merely examples and not meant to be repeated verbatim.)
The presider then confronts the seekers with the paschal mystery. In the section of the rite titled “Candidates’ First Acceptance of the Gospel,” he poses an “if-then” question to the seekers. Three example formularies are provided that are meant to be adapted “to the answers received in the opening dialogue” (RCIA 52). Each of the examples can be thought of as essentially asking: “If you are seeking _____, then the way to get that is to follow the way of the cross. Are you ready and willing to do that?” (see RCIA 52 A,B,C).
What do we hear proclaimed in the Rite of Acceptance?
Presuming the seekers answer yes, the signings of their bodies with the cross then follows.
The theology of each signing is proclaimed as part of the rite.
- Forehead: “Learn to know him and follow him.”
- Ears: “Hear the voice of the Lord”
- Eyes: “See the Glory of God.”
- Lips: “Respond to the word of God.”
- Heart: “Christ may dwell there by faith.”
- Shoulders: “Bear the gentle yoke of Christ.”
- Hands: “Christ may be known in the work which you do.”
- Feet: “Walk in the [paschal] way of Christ.”
The signing of the feet leads directly to the next powerful moment in the Rite of Acceptance—the crossing of the threshold. This symbolic moment, sadly, is often not implemented in parish rituals. In those communities where it does take place, both the catechumens and the baptized faithful experience a transforming encounter with Christ’s paschal mystery.
The rite has the signings take place in the courtyard or outside the doors of the church. The opening dialogue (why have you come and what are you seeking?) and the signings, especially of feet with the exhortation to “walk in the way of Christ,” lead to the catechumens physically walking out of their old lives and into their new life of divine mystery. They literally move from outside the church to inside the church where they “are now part of the household of Christ” (RCIA 47).
The RCIA welcomes someone into a new way of life
We said in an earlier post that for the rites of the RCIA to be effective, we have to begin with the end in mind. In this initial rite for the seekers, we have to know what the “end” is so that we know how to begin. And this can get a little complicated.
It’s complicated because the “end” is really a beginning. The “end” is initiation into a paschal life.
If that is the “end” that we have in mind, then in this initial Rite of Acceptance, the minute the seekers step over the threshold, we are not so much welcoming them into a new life as much as we are welcoming them into a new way of life. We are welcoming them into a four-part training process to live as disciples. We are welcoming them into a tribe of people radically committed to the gospel and the way of self-sacrificing faith.
While the seekers are, indeed, moving from one state to a new state (from outside the household of God to inside the household of God), they are also paradoxically moving into a state of semi-permanent liminality. Or to say that in churchy language, they are moving into the reign of God that is here but not yet fully realized. Their gospel mission will be to join us in proclaiming that reign to new seekers who do not yet know about God’s unbounded love for the world. The catechumenate and all the rites of the catechumenate will both teach them how to proclaim the gospel and lead them deeper into the paschal mystery.
What does the Rite of Acceptance look like in your parish? How are you using that moment to teach the paschal mystery to your seekers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.